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Mr Hugh sends this to us all:

Eddie Mair | 10:51 UK time, Thursday, 6 September 2007

"I don't get many chances to take photos in Baghdad any more, sadly.
And this one isn't exactly a work of art. But it's the best I could do on a brief trip 'out' to talk to café customers about the 'surge' and al Qaeda and all that. You'll hear their answers - on PM or somewhere else, it's not up to me - in a day or two.


But the picture does give a sense of the mood in this small district of Baghdad, known as Karada In (as opposed to Karada Out). If you have a map, Karada is on the long peninsula on the big bend in the Tigris river in the city centre.

In the photo, it's early evening. The sun has just gone down after a very hot day. (about 40 deg C, 100 F).
On the far right, there's an old-fashioned hot-dog stall.
In the centre, on the other side of the road, people walking. Or just standing.
And cars driving by. And two men on a motorbike
And on the pavements, clothes for sale, hanging on rails on the pavement.
The café chairs are all outside - too hot indoors.
The customers were all friendly and welcoming, and the café owner Laith was wonderful - when I arrived, he rushed about saying "There's a reporter here, please talk to him".
Unusually, the mains power was on, so the strip lights are lit without the throb of a generator wrecking the radio interviews.
So everything's fine?
No it's not. This scene is very unusual. It used to be common everywhere in Baghdad. Not any more. And whatever they say about the 'surge', nearly two thousand people were killed in Iraq last month - eight percent more than in February when the surge started. Shockingly, the killings have become so routine that we seldom report them any more unless there's a major explosion. "Dying in Baghdad is normal," one man said to me a while back, "normal....like the weather"."


  1. At 11:54 AM on 06 Sep 2007, Chris Ghoti wrote:

    "Dying in Baghdad is normal," one man said to me a while back, "normal....like the weather".

    I assume that would be Hugh's BBC bias showing, according to some people here. It makes me want to weep, but then I am obviously a bleeding-heart liberal or something.

    Regardless of deaths anywhere else on the globe, I find the guilt this simple sentence brings to me almost unbearable: we helped to do this, didn't we? How can we pretend to be free of responsibility for those "nearly two thousand" deaths in a single month? How would we feel if they were deaths among our own civilian population? These are *people*, like us, like our sons and mothers and friends.

    Do you suppose we might stop, just for a short time, slinging mud at each other about "bias" on this nice safe blog, and just think about this tragedy in silence for a minute or two?

  2. At 11:58 AM on 06 Sep 2007, Carl wrote:

    Stunning stuff as always... a real insight into real life in Baghdad.. I can hear your voice while I read (I think that's the sign of a great radio journalist)
    Your copy just furthers the question 'What the hell have we done?'

  3. At 12:18 PM on 06 Sep 2007, Big Sister wrote:

    Hello Hugh,

    Thank you, again, for giving us the inside picture behind the news reports. It does sound very depressing, yet again the fortitude of the Iraqi people is evident in the way they appear to strive to maintain some degree of normality.

    Which puts me in mind of a question which I've often thought: Are there any statistics available around the impact of all this upon the mental health of the Iraqis? And, assuming as one must that there has been an impact, what measures, if any, are available to 'the man in the street'? Has there been a big rise in the use of antidepressants (assuming these are a preferred course of action), or what else, apart from the strong family units which I understand are evident in Iraq, provides support to those whose mental health is severely compromised by the instability and fear which is now commonplace there?

    On a more personal note, I hope you are keeping very safe. You are much valued by your listeners, and I'm sure the same applies in bucketfuls to your colleagues and your family.

    All the best,

    Big Sis

  4. At 01:04 PM on 06 Sep 2007, witchiwoman wrote:

    Chris and Carl, I agree with both your posts. Although can we feel guilty for a decision taken by a Prime Minister/Government who dissembled and distorted the information?

    Regardless of all that we do have a responsibility for the people there and the fact that so many are dying is heartbreaking.

    Hugh - your piece is eloquent in its simplicity. Thank you.

  5. At 01:29 PM on 06 Sep 2007, Jo Christie-Smith wrote:

    What a fantastic blog entry and thank you so much for brining us news of Iraq on the street. It is lovely to see such a scene and when I fisrt saw it I was relieved but then on reading I here how rare it is. Although I've never been to Iraq, I know a little of the Middle East and I can just imagine the banter and atmosphere.

    It makes me think.

    The most importatn thing is to be alive. Then be alive and have freedom and democracy.

    When talking about WWII, we often hear references to people sacrificing themselves for the freedom of others. But the 2,000 people who died in Iraq last month and all those who have gone before them are being sacrificed for what exactly?

    It breaks my heart that the UK is so complicit in this.

  6. At 02:01 PM on 06 Sep 2007, mac wrote:

    Well, yes we can. As some were saying till they were blue in the face at the time, we needed the sort of forensic approach we use all the time to work out what politicians really mean.

    And in the Blair case the 'clever' bit was to give the impression that WMD were there and that the evidence was overwhelming.

    We surely all knew, from Charles Kennedy to David Davies to Claire Short that the truth was there wasn't a shred of evidence.

    And a proper forensic read of the govts documents proved it.

    So why didn't we storm the bases, block the ports, storm Whitehall?

    Lets hope it was because we didn't have blog like this then.

  7. At 02:02 PM on 06 Sep 2007, Ed Iglehart wrote:

    Hi Hugh, and well met again!

    I second all the above, and in answer to WW about the guilt for others' decisions, yes we must acknowledge our complicity, even though we were lied to and decisions were taken against our explicit protests. Sadly, our lifestyles, for the most part, draw sustenance from the supplies of oil from the region, and insofar as we consume any of this material so illegitimately obtained, we are complicit in the means by which Our Great Leaders ensure 'stability' in the region.

    Sis, I love your irony - thick enough for even a mercan to register ;-)

    Hugh, I hold your reports in very high regard. You're good at what you do, and seem able to touch the human dimension of these heartwrenching situations.

    God Bless

  8. At 02:41 PM on 06 Sep 2007, witchiwoman wrote:

    Mac & Ed

    Thanks for your responses; it was a semi rhetorcial/philosophical question but I accept both your points. Let it be understood that I do feel guilty and implicit/complicit which ever is correct.

  9. At 02:55 PM on 06 Sep 2007, Vyle Hernia wrote:

    Jo (5)

    But the 2,000 people who died in Iraq last month and all those who have gone before them are being sacrificed for what exactly?

    The sad truth is that they are being sacrifieced for al Quaeda (or however you spell it).

    Don't get me wrong - I was never in favour of the invasion, but the abovementioned organisation considers that Americans are all from Satan. Therefore, if those US have been daft enough to come to the Middle East and elsewhere, here is a golden opportunity to kill as many as possible. The Iraqis who die in the process are collateral damage.

  10. At 03:03 PM on 06 Sep 2007, Big Sister wrote:

    EdI: I wasn't being ironic in any respect, and I'm not sure to what you refer. My question about Iraqi mental health is entirely genuine, possibly because I'm a psychologist and therefore am always interested in how such matters impact upon people's mental wellbeing. I'd be genuinely interested in this being pursued on PM (or elsewhere) since, as far as I've been aware, it hasn't come up in the media so far.

    This is particularly interesting to me since it is an angle which is regularly pursued over here following major disasters, and also, of course, with reference to the effect upon our troops in combat zones. Yet we don't talk (much) about the effect of stress at this sustained level upon the Iraqi people.

    Anyway, perhaps it's a line that PM will consider taking up. I'm sure Hugh's the man to do it.

  11. At 03:49 PM on 06 Sep 2007, Rob Grover wrote:

    What a great contributor Hugh has been and still is to the BBC and the PM programme in particular.

    I sincerely trust this high level of reporting & broadcasting is not lost in Sir Thompson's next round of salami style cuts. Hugh reminds me of Charles Wheeler in the way he "paints" the picture in words and his thoughtfulness about the subjects, people and countries about which he reports.

    As Carl (2) states you can hear Hugh's voice when reading his piece. There is obviously tremendous admiration for Hugh from The Lord Mair and amongst the PM team and long may Hugh and PM continue to be such a great example of what is best about the BBC.

  12. At 04:23 PM on 06 Sep 2007, Ed Iglehart wrote:

    Sorry Sis and Sorry Chris (blushes)

    Phishy wrote:"I assume that would be Hugh's BBC bias showing, according to some people here. It makes me want to weep, but then I am obviously a bleeding-heart liberal or something.", and I was too lazy to scroll back up and confirm


  13. At 05:44 PM on 06 Sep 2007, Chris Ghoti wrote:

    Ed I @12, not to worry: the thing is too big for it to matter even if I had taken offence, which I hadn't.

  14. At 06:55 PM on 06 Sep 2007, Humph wrote:

    Okay, so it did not make it onto tonight's PM prog. If it gets on to another programme could someone point us where it will be/was? If it turns up on the Today prog, could someone also give details of approximate time so that we, who often use "Listen Again", are able to find it easily? Mr. H the H is always worth listening to.


  15. At 10:19 PM on 06 Sep 2007, Paul wrote:

    Al Qaeda are behind the killings in Iraq not the Americans or British. What disgusts me most of all is the fact that it is Muslims killing Muslims. All part of Al Qaeda's propaganda machine.

  16. At 03:34 PM on 07 Sep 2007, Chris Ghoti wrote:

    Paul @ 15, I think your comment iterates a simplistic way of looking at things.

    A small and essentially very unimportant group of unpleasant nutcases, brought into undeserved prominence during the late twentieth century by the CIA among others, may or may not be behind *some* of the 2000 or so killings in Iraq last month; it is certain that people who purport to be members of that organisation were responsible for some, perhaps even many, of the deaths. It is equally clear that at least some of those deaths were directly dealt out by people who were *not* members of Al Qaeda, nor Muslims, and never at any time claimed to be one or either of these things.

    Some at least of the deaths were directly caused by American, British or other weapons wielded by American, British and other non-Iraqi, non-Muslim people, not just members of the armed forces but 'advisors' and 'security forces', and some by members of Iraqi forces and police armed with weapons provided by the US and UK and so on -- who may have had any number of motives for their behaviour apart from 'oooh he's an evil Al Qaeda person, kill kill kill!'. Blandly to ignore those deaths and refer only to 'Muslims killing Muslims' is to display a fairly hefty bias and a degree of generalisation that is staggering.

    It may be easy to attribute all the ills of the world to a single cause, in this case 'Al Qaeda', but it's a cop-out. One might say that if Al Qaeda had not existed then the American and British troops might not be in Iraq, and thus would not have killed so many Iraqi civilians, but that really doesn't validate such a sweeping denial that *any* non-Muslim has killed *anyone*, in Iraq or anywhere else.

  17. At 04:49 PM on 09 Sep 2007, PAul wrote:

    Chris Ghoti (16)

    The heading of this blog refers to the "surge, nearly 2 thousand people were killed in Iraq last month eight percent more than in February when the surge started.

    It is this that I refer to and I maintain that most of the killings in Iraq are Muslims killing Muslims, men, women and children, Indiscriminately with suicide bombs.

    I would suggest that it is who displays the hefty bias and generalisations in the way you blame all the ills of the world on the Americans.

    People are invited to comment on this blog. Not to submit evidence equivalent to PHD. If some posts are not pedantic enough for you, seek out those which are.

  18. At 03:37 PM on 12 Sep 2007, Hugh the Hack wrote:

    Thank you for all the kind, supportive comments.

    Re 3: Big Sister asked about the impact of the Iraq disaster on mental health here. I don’t know if there are any stats, but I did interview a psychiatrist last year (Dr. Twana) who told me, “All the psychotherapists in all the world wouldn’t be enough for Iraq now”.

    Re : 14: (Humph) The item did end up on PM – last Friday Sept 7th, just after half past five.

    Re: 15, 16, 17: about ‘Muslims killing Muslims” etc…of course that is technically correct, but I think it’s important not to over-emphasise the religious aspect.

    In Northern Ireland, Christians were bombing Christians, but we tended not to characterise it like that – ‘Republicanism vs Unionism’ was what it was really about.

    Religious fundamentalism is a major ingredient in al Qaeda activity, but a huge amount of the ‘Sunnis killing Shia’ and ‘Shias killing Sunnis’ is more to do with turf wars and the post-invasion power struggle, especially by middle-class Sunni Arabs who suddenly lost all their privileges and income.

    As a former senior civil servant here said to me here once: “The Americans dismissed the entire army and the police and the Ba'ath Party – what were they to do, sit in their kitchens with their wives – and smile and dance?”

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