- After being in Iraq nearly two months now, it struck
me how much people can adapt to even the most trying situations. In Baghdad,
a place that is the front line of a low-grade guerrilla war between insurgents
and the occupation forces, daily life for 6 million Iraqis goes on.
- When I first arrived here, my head spun with the inherent
security dangers. Suicide car bombs, resistance attacks on occupation troops
in the streets, mines, bombs-a bit of a departure from my life in Anchorage,
Alaska. My biggest concerns there are icy roads, avoiding moose on the
roads and whether or not my car will start after a night of minus 30 degree
temperatures when Iím going to meet some friends for coffee.
- And it dawned on me, while walking from my hotel to meet
a friend to discuss writing a story about the work being done by her peace
organization, how odd it is that I've grown accustomed to this dangerous
situation. Going about business in this situation is a stressful proposition,
to say the least. For it is not just about business when every walk down
the street can be about life and death.
- Yet this has become normal to me now, and I worry about
that as this cannot possibly be good on my psyche. It is not without concern
about what this has done to my danger threshold that I feel relatively
comfortable walking around the streets of Baghdad.
- I've learned to avoid the loose dirt and garbage piles
that are so abundant along the noisy, congested streets of central Baghdad.
It is always better to walk along concrete, rather than tromping across
loose bricks or piles of rubbish, as these are often places where the powerful
Improvised Explosive Devices, are hidden.
- The sound of a rumbling bus behind me has come to mean
a US Humvee Patrol, with soldiers manning large machine guns perched on
top, scanning the buildings for potential attackers. I try to avoid these
when possible, as the civilian casualties from an IED explosion and then
the return fire of the American's often outnumber that of the intended
- I walk up to a bank to exchange some of my US dollars
for the new Saddam-free Iraqi Dinars, and without thinking automatically
raise my arms and turn around to be frisked for weapons. With the usual
utterance of Shukran (Thank you in Arabic), I stroll inside to do my business
amongst more armed guards.
- Carrying on down the street, I pass a petrol station
with the usual long line of mostly beat up orange and white Passats parked
along the road, awaiting their ration of fuel. Razor wire spirals across
the ground in front of the filling station, while armed Iraqi police monitor
the entry, allowing a car with an empty tank in every so often.
- On the corner I smile at the usual congregation of what
I think are Iraqi secret service personnel...plain clothed men, and one
woman with ear pieces for communication and satellite phones, closely watching
all the traffic which passes by.
- 200 meters past this is the Sheraton and Palestine hotel
complex. The two tan monoliths, each with chunks blasted out of their exterior
by rocket attacks, loom over a perimeter of concrete blocks stood on end
to deter suicide car bombers. Mangy dogs walk past them, pawing small garbage
piles where they can reach past the security razor wire.
- I am searched for bombs or weapons by the Iraqi security
guards at the first gate and again to enter the compound. US soldiers
stand by, their nervous eyes watching every person who approaches. The
approach takes me down another row of tall concrete blocks, shielding me
from potential suicide bombers, as well as a view of the muddy waters of
the Tigris River. The barrel of a large M1 American tank is the last deterrent,
as I turn left and enter the lobby of the Palestine Hotel.
- Once inside, it is a surreal experience. I take a seat
in a plush chair to wait for my friend as soft music fills the lobby, echoing
off the marble floor. Press personnel stroll by with their flack jackets
and helmets, walking from the elevators out the front door past the guards.
Meanwhile I see several journalists in one of the bars. This seems a common
coping mechanism, for many of the journalists in my own hotel tend to congregate
in one of the rooms to toss back the drinks while discussing the goings
on of another day in occupied Baghdad. Booze is obviously not too difficult
to come by in Baghdad these days, for westerners and soldiers alike are
spotted purchasing it secretly around the city. I know this by walking
by a small bar near my hotel when I go to pick up my bottled water every
- The visits I make to visit people about the stories I
write are limited to the daytime, for everyone knows the streets are dangerous
after 9pm, and not just from looters and criminals. Just last week a journalist
friend of mine was robbed by Iraqi Police just a few blocks from our hotel.
- But life goes on here, all of us adapting to this most
curious situation, whether we like it or not.