Talk about Newsnight

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Wednesday, 14 March, 2007

  • Newsnight
  • 14 Mar 07, 07:14 PM

blair_hoc203.jpgIn the Commons, MP's vote on Trident; in the Lords, peers decide on whether to vote themselves out of existence (in their current form); Mark Pieth (Chair of the anti-bribery committee of the OECD) talks to Peter Marshall; Blue Peter is the latest show in the TV quiz spotlight - we look back at some of the programme's other great TV moments; and will the loos be flushed away in one Norfolk town?

Leave your comments on Wednesday's programme below.

Normal for Iraq?

  • Salam Pax
  • 14 Mar 07, 12:00 PM

Newsnight is following a number of people in Iraq over the coming weeks in order to gain some perspective on the situation across the country. Window on Iraq will feature a series of text, audio and video blogs hosted by Baghdad blogger Salam Pax - who will be posting regular entries himself. In this, his first, he examines claims that the situation in Baghdad is improving.

pax203watch.jpgJust a day before the recent international meeting in Baghdad many news sources published a piece about the Iraqi PM making a surprise appearance on the streets of Baghdad where he told reporters that "the conference is proof that the situation in Baghdad is getting back to normal and that the political process is strong and stable" (emphasis mine). If you ask me the headline to that piece should have read: Iraqi PM moves into his own Reality Distortion Field, finds it a very lonely place.

It seems Mr. Maliki's idea of what "normal" looks like is suffering from a severe case of Green Zone delusional disorder from spending all that time in the little oasis of false calm in that heavily fortified American enclave. Walking in the centre of a tightly closed circle of machine gun wielding bodyguards does seem to stretch any definition of normal you want to choose.

And as another indication of normalcy "his Iraqi bodyguards, armed with submachine guns, parted to allow al-Maliki to stoop down and kiss the foreheads of children huddled up against cement barriers." Now how is that for a "all is normal, folks" campaign poster? We obviously don't see him hurrying back to his armoured car right after the photo op.

The situation, dear Mr. Maliki, is far from normal.

And I will refuse to describe it as normal until I can move back into the home my family and I had to abandon two years ago when the neighbourhood was taken over by insurgents.

I had not been to my old house since we moved out and as the months went by I had less and less reason to do so. One after the other, my uncles and aunts who also lived in the same area, rented homes elsewhere or left the country. But yesterday I did go and now I wish I hadn't, I would rather remember my neighbourhood the way it was than see what it turned to now.

Not a single shop was open in the 1.5km stretch of the main shopping street, and from the amount of rubbish and rubble in front of these shops no one has bothered with opening these shops for a very long time. Cars which have caught fire during an explosion a couple of weeks ago are still there on the side of the road and more inexplicably the twisted and burned remains a huge 40 passenger bus can be seen at the entrance to one of the side streets.
The top of the street is flanked by the rubble of what used to be two flashy five story buildings. One was destroyed by a car bomb about a month ago and the second by two mortar rounds hitting it just last week. The only signs of life were the armed guards of a Sunni political group standing on the roof of a building they have commandeered, it used to be the Baath Party headquarters in the area.

The feeling you get driving down that street is of despair. People who have hope don't leave burned cars at the entrance of the street they live in. Although they would leave it there hoping that whoever has done this will have some mercy the next time and spare them another attack. People who still have hope in Mr. Maliki's political process go to pick the pieces of their shattered stores and repair the broken window panes. I know what having hope feels like because for two years after the war we did that, Baghdadis tried to act as if nothing was going wrong and tried to keep their lives on track. Today despair and hopelessness can be seen around every corner you turn in the west of Baghdad where I used to live. A place Mr. Maliki has obviously never been to.

I didn't make it our house. The empty streets and all the bombed buildings scared me and saddened me more than I expected them to and I decided to turn around and go back. My mother did not want to hear about what I saw, keeping things how you remember them is a much wiser decision.

Crossing Baghdad - Ahmed

  • Newsnight
  • 14 Mar 07, 11:26 AM

As part of Salam Pax's Window on Iraq series of text, audio and video blogs, Baghdad student Ahmed's first audio entry describes the difficulties of student life in Iraq's capital.

traffic203audio.jpgThese days the most difficult thing in my life is going through the streets of Baghdad. Besides the bombs and explosions we have to deal with many other troubles which guarantee a late arrival at university.

I travel to university in a taxi I hire with a couple of friends and while this makes travelling to university cheap as a group of young men in a car it also means that we get stopped at every check point.

There are also many new laws which make it even more difficult. For example there is the odd and even law; on one day only cars with odd numbers are allowed on the roads and only even numbers on the next. The aim was to reduce the number of cars on the streets and to keep the car bombs in check. But for us it means that we must have two cars to really be able to move around daily or use unreliable, crowded buses.

Another law strange law prohibits you from using a mobile phone when in a car. Not while driving but just while sitting in a car within sight of a check point. They are afraid you might trigger a bomb. But how do you call your family to tell them you are late because of road blocks not because you have been kidnapped? Or that the car bomb they just heard about is not near you and you’re still alive? For us mobile phones are our lifelines.

On a good day getting to my university is only a 15 minute drive. On foot it is half hours away. I know because I recently had to walk all the way.

I had an exam on the day the new security plan started and found that no cars were allowed to cross the bridge.

bridge203a.jpgIt was strange but nice to be walking on the streets with no cars. But I am my friends saw a couple of American Humvees on the side of the road we thought that could be trouble. You have to be careful when walking near American Army vehicles. They could be attacked and you end up as a casualty of that or the Americans might panic and shoot you. We found a small side street and quickly got into it.

In the end I had to run as the exam was going to start without me. I was allowed in even though I was five minutes late and I sat for 15 minutes catching my breath before even looking at the questions.

I have not yet received my grades but I have a feeling that my best score is going to be for the test on that day.

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