Christmas Eve In Baghdad,
Explosions Abound

By Dahr Jamail
(ICH) Arriving back at my hotel with Ahmed this evening, everyone is flittering about talking about the attack on the big hotel. We obtain a few sketchy details, but enough to head us in the direction of the most heavily fortified hotel compound in Baghdad. Racing down Sa'adoun Street in a taxi we are told a suicide bomber had blown himself up in the Sheridan, killing a soldier and many of the guests.
At the entrance of the compound a machine gun carrying Iraqi policeman tells us the French Embassy was hit, not the hotel. So we walk towards the entrance of the inner compound that leads towards the Sheridan, and an American soldier tells us he doesn't know what happened, but pointed us towards the French embassy just down the street.
He is quite friendly to me, so I ask him where he's from, "I'm from California."
I can tell he isn't sure if I'm an American, due to my beard and Kefir wrapped around my neck, so I say,
"I'm from Alaska. How are you doing man?" He replies, "Hanging in there brother. Hanging in there. I was born in Anchorage, but now I live in San Diego."
I tell him to keep hanging in there and he thanks me. As we begin to walk away I hear him say, "Merry Christmas." I swing around and tell him the same, and see him smiling.
At the French Embassy, which is completely intact, we meet a group of cameraman and the main security guard for the embassy. We are told the following story.
At approximately 8:30pm, a car pulled up near a palm tree in a small field near the Tigris River, approximately one block from the Sheridan Hotel. Two men calmly got out from the car and unloaded a small Russian made Katusha (sp?) missile. By the time it had launched and slammed into the top floor of the Hotel, creating an explosion that shook the windows of my hotel five blocks away, the Iraqi guards nearby panicked to find where it was launched from.
We walked another block down the street to find the guards who were responsible for manning the checkpoint, which is about 40 meters from where the missile was launched.
One of the guards tells us that he spotted the men loading the launcher back into the car and jumping inside the car. As the car drove away the guards told us they shot at it over 120 times, but the attackers sped away nonetheless while returning fire.
We walk down an unlit side street back towards my hotel. We stop at a tea vendor on the street, about two blocks from the area where the missile was launched. Ahmed asks the tea man what he heard, because Ahmed didn't think the guards story really stacked up. There were no shell casings around where they said they fired 120 times, and the guards couldn't tell them what type of car it was, even though they'd shone their spotlight on it.
The tea man tells us he heard the huge explosion by the missile, but no bullets at all. He asked us if maybe the guards used slingshots, because they didn't hear any shots, a mere two blocks away.
The stories of the incompetent hastily trained Iraqi Police abound. Almost as popular, but not quite, is the story of resistance fighters joining the Iraqi Police force to help in the attacks against the Americans. Could this be the latter?
While walking the rest of the way to the hotel we hear four huge thumps in the distance.some sort of bombs. Ahmed thinks they are mortar attacks.
It's been that kind of day.
It all started last night just after midnight. I'm almost asleep and I hear (and feel) huge thumping explosions on the outskirts of Baghdad, towards Al-Dora, also known as 'machine city' for all the mechanic shops there. The firing was from howitzers, as well as Apaches who arrived on the scene to take part, and a gunship with its sickening sounding roar of bullets so close together they almost sound like a fog horn. The whumping explosions occur very often, then a break, then again.
I run to the roof to see, but only stand in the cold night with two hotel workers listening to the huge thumps beyond the flaming oil flare from the refinery that isn't functioning correctly.
This morning a few of us head over to see what happened. The US Military reported a convoy was attacked, and they returned fire heavily against insurgents.
Over in Alwat Al Rashid, the specific area near the US base, we learn that the base was attacked (as convoys don't travel at night), and the base basically opened up with everything it had in every direction, which has become the typical response, unfortunately.
As with each of the aforementioned stories, the truth is always pieced together from collecting all the stories, and finding those that match, which have thus far always come from the locals in the area, who are not affiliated with either side of the fighting.
As I type now, it is 9:45pm, and several large explosions have gone off down the street, probably 3 kilometers. I've heard several now, all over Baghdad tonight, and it's not even Christmas yet, which everyone expects to be a very bad day here. Sporadic machine gun fire pierces the night from all parts of Baghdad right now. An ambulance races by under my window in the direction of a few of the deep explosions.
Earlier today there is news of three US soldiers being killed by another roadside bomb. Several more wounded. The number of wounded and dead US soldiers from the invasion and occupation is now nearly 11,000.
I really feel for the US soldiers being put in this position.really they can't trust anyone, because even those who are supposedly helping them, namely the IP's (Iraqi Police), are likely to be working against them. They are here fighting what is now an ill-defined war, fighting for their own survival, never knowing where or when the next IED, suicide car bomb, or human suicide attacker will befall them. While this certainly doesn't justify the commonly adopted policy of indiscriminant firing in every direction which always kills innocent Iraqis, I can see why they do it.
When does this end? No WMD's have been found.nothing even close. Saddam is captured. The regime has been replaced by the Americans, either Bremer and his cronies, or Iraqi exiles they have appointed.
If this invasion wasn't about the oil, then why are the Americans still here? Why haven't the UN been brought in to assist in the transition so the American soldiers can be sent back home where they belong? The two pretexts for the invasion, removing the threat of WMD's and getting Saddam out of the picture, have been accomplished.
While driving in a taxi to visit a hospital earlier, we are stuck in a long traffic jam. The police man makes our direction wait as a couple of Humvees pass, then he lets us move. Our taxi driver says, "I never liked Saddam, but he gave us protection and what we needed to live. Saddam was honey compared to the American's. The Americans are like hell. I'm happy for this gas crisis. Fuck my job, I just want to see the Americans fail here."
He is angry with the traffic jams, the fighting, the terrible daily living conditions people have to struggle against in Baghdad.
"I want to see it get worse," he continues, "I want this to get so bad it proves to the world that all those who celebrated Saddam's capture are thieves and cowards!"
Ahmed shakes his head. He looks at me and somberly says, "I want to go out from my country Dahr. I want to go someplace where I can feel safe. This is all that I want."


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