I flew overnight from London to Amman, slept a couple of hours in
the airport and then got a Royal Jordanian plane to Baghdad. I had to
leave a day early because I heard that Baghdad airport was going to be
shut on Thursday as a security measure before the referendum on the
constitution (as if suicide bombers with hundreds of miles of open
border to choose from would enter Iraq by plane). I’m annoyed because I
had to miss the Paul Foot award for investigative journalism at
Simpson’s-in-the Strand that Richard Ingrams invited me to.
As soon as I get off the plane I call Gaylan, my translator and
assistant, to make sure he is waiting by the winged statue at the first
checkpoint. In the car he says there have been many more attacks in his
district, a Sunni area in west Baghdad. Two Nissan Patrol vehicles used
by Badr Brigade, the Shia militia, were ambushed by two heavy machine
One man had escaped wounded but found nobody to help him in this Sunni neighbourhood.
Back at the Hamra hotel in Jadriyah nothing has changed.
The bodyguards of a Lebanese-American businessman down the corridor from my room have disappeared.
I go with Nancy Yussuf of Knight Ridder to the Convention Centre in
the Green Zone because she says there is a briefing by an American from
the US embassy that might be interesting.
I hate this entrance to the Green Zone and it is worse than ever.
Gaylan says he and Mohammed, my driver, were 100 yards from a suicide
bomb here last week but were protected by the concrete barriers.
We get out of the car some distance from the first barrier.
we cross the road a battered old red car stops in front of us. The
Iraqi soldiers think it might be a bomber. I look through the
windscreen and see an old man who seems confused about where he is. The
soldiers open fire and bullets pass between the car and me. I stumble
back to get cover behind a concrete wall. After a few minutes the old
man gets his car going again and drives off. I pass through the seven
checkpoints to the Convention Centre where I see Ed Wong of the New
York Times who says the briefing has been cancelled.
Nancy rings up US embassy in a rage to say their noshow almost got us killed.
taken the trouble to get here, I stay. Across the road is the al-Rashid
hotel where I lived for so many months under Saddam. These days it is
run by a weird American colonel, paranoid even by local standards, who
insists that guests register under numbers not names. There are a
surprising number of press conferences because of the referendum.
US general called Lynch shows by bar charts that the insurgency is on
the run with the US army closing in. No different from all the other
ludicrously optimistic military spokesmen operating here for the past
two years. I suppose it is designed for audiences in Indiana and not in
I drive to west Baghdad to see Dr Mahmoud Othman, a member of the
National Assembly and a veteran leader of the Kurds. He lives in
Al-Qadassiyah, an area of villas surrounded by high walls and nervous
checkpoints, originally built by Saddam Hussein to keep his ministers
safe from assassination.
We do not even get close to the first entrance. There is razor wire
across the road and an American soldier gestures us back. We go to
another entrance to which Dr Mahmoud sends an escort. He says
“corruption, terrorism and occupation”
make up the fatal triangle
destroying Iraq. He thinks the Iraqi government should negotiate a
withdrawal of US forces so the resistance would lose its patriotic
These are unusual views for a Kurd, most of whom want to hug the Americans forever.
go and see another friend in al-Qadassiyah. He says the al-Jaafari
government is a wreck. Al-Jaafari, the prime minister recently issued
an instruction to appoint a new electricity minister. This was
withdrawn when somebody pointed out to him that there already is an
Referendum day and no vehicles on the streets. It is all very
peaceful. I walk to a nearby polling station in a 100 per cent Shia
district where they are all voting ‘yes’. We have a pass from the
Ministry of the Interior for our car. But the official who gave it to
us said: “Don’t drive anywhere. The soldiers will shoot you long before
you can show them this permit.”
A British journalist asks me if I think things are getting better in
Baghdad, more activity in the streets, less tension. I doubt it. It
just means there hasn’t been a suicide bombing for a few days or the
kidnapping of a foreigner for a few weeks.
I go out to do some shopping. I sit in the back of the car with
blinds on the side and back windows. There is a heap of Arabic
newspapers beside me so I can cover my face if needed.
drives a second car about 100 yards behind us to look for anybody
following us. With so many soldiers, Iraqi and US, with itchy trigger
fingers in the city I decide not to go out late at night.
iftar, the meal at the end of the day in Ramadan, with Adnan Pachachi.
He is setting up a secular party with Iyad Allawi, the former prime
minister. Why is home cooked Iraqi food so much better than anything I
get in the hotel?
I try to go to Pachachi’s meeting at the Alwiyah Club but there are
so many armed guards around that I cannot even get close. Gaylan says
it is too dangerous to go on and we should turn back. I agree
reluctantly but I am irritated to have wasted the afternoon.
I visit Hoshyar Zebari, the Foreign Minister, in the Foreign
Ministry building. Security is efficient but swift. The Kurds run the
only effective parts of the government. Hoshyar says the problem with
the trial of Saddam is the difficulty in getting judges or protecting
witnesses. Everybody is too frightened.
I go back to the hotel to write up the interview.
The trial of Saddam. Rather to my joy it turns out that journalists
who devoted weeks to getting places in court – behind a bulletproof
glass barrier – are the only ones who couldn’t hear what was happening
in court because the sound equipment didn’t work. All the security
guards in the hotel have brought transistor radios to listen to the
hearings. The trial is amazing because so many faces have to be
The prosecutors are visibly more frightened than Saddam and the other accused.
In the evening the worst of news. Rory Carroll has been kidnapped. He was in the room just above mine in the hotel.
went to Sadr city to sit with a Shia family watching the trial of
Saddam and write about their reactions. Somebody must have known he was
there and followed him. His driver and translator were released, so it
sounds as if it was done for money and not politics, but who knows? I
go to the Guardian room. Everybody is shell-shocked. There is nothing
helpful I can say or do. They ask me not to give too many details
though by now the story is beginning to run on the wires and the BBC. I
go downstairs feeling a bit numbed.