Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

Baghdad

Just because you're not paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you, and someone's definitely out to get us. Last week the Palestine hotel, home to many journalists here, was almost demolished by a particularly telegenic truck bomb. The neat mushroom cloud rose a thousand feet into the sky, shedding a geometrically near-perfect ring of falling debris about halfway up. It was terribly beautiful. Our security minders tell us that the attack was a sign that all journalists in the city are now fair game. Some of us have reacted by going into lockdown mode, retreating behind the walls of the world's greatest fortress, Baghdad's Green Zone, guarded by Georgian troops in American uniforms and Gurkha mercenaries hired by Global Security. The braver journalists, who still venture out into the wilds of Baghdad, slip under the radar screen by blending in with the locals. Most reporters wear Iraqi-bought clothes: marblewashed jeans, plastic flip-flops and horrible short-sleeved shirts, untucked, with a pack of Marlboro Lights in the breast pocket. We look as if we take fashion tips from Charles Saatchi.

All the roads in the Green Zone are lined with rows of identical concrete blast walls, 20 feet high and five thick, which makes every car journey like a drive through one of those video-game corridors. Most people you encounter wear bulky body armour and carry automatic weapons, just like in Doom. And the social hub of the place, known as Main Street USA, looks uncannily like a computergenerated image. Main Street nestles in a circle of blast walls and boasts a prefabricated Burger King, a Subway, a Pizza Inn and a coffee shop, where uniformed men and women sip lattes in the shade of beach umbrellas. The Pakistani cooks, imported and indentured by shady middlemen in Jordan, are lodged 16 to a room and very poorly treated, according to a recent story in the LA Times. They are invariably cheery, however, and wish you a great day as they hand over your order. There's a souvenir stall which sells, among other things, hefty silver spoons ordered by Saddam from Christofle in Paris for the Republican Palace and emblazoned with the Baath party eagle, a bargain at $15 a pop. I have laid in a supply for future christening presents.

Like the world of Flash Gordon, the sky over the Green Zone is always full of helicopters -- thundering Chinooks and Marine Sea Stallions, menacing Apache gunships and Black Hawks. My favourites are the nippy Little Bird choppers with snipers who dangle their legs out of the doors and sight their rifles on imaginary targets. But there is nothing as thrilling as flying in a Black Hawk. To avoid ground fire they fly low and fast, so low that you can see car numberplates and shirts on laundry lines billowing as you pass. I think this is what it must be like being an angel. An angel equipped with a pair of 50-calibre machineguns and a nose-cannon to visit catastrophic retribution on the unrighteous.

Before being allowed to attend the trial of Saddam Hussein, all journalists were closely questioned. In a bare steel-walled room an American woman named Randy wearing tight jeans and white trainers interrogated me at length on my past. She wanted to know my addresses for the last decade, whether I had ever declared bankruptcy or whether I had ever worked for any intelligence service. She also asked if I had ever used marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, opium, heroin, barbiturates or LSD. All of the above, I ventured. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.