Iraq: An uneasy feeling in Baghdad

So I’m here in Baghdad for the next couple of weeks, covering for the Washington Post’s bureau. With that in mind, here’s my story that came out today. Election workers are being targeted for kidnappings and assassinations.

michael hastings iraq

The photo above  was taken by my colleague Qais Mizher when we attended the funeral of Ali Mahmoud, a 30 year old employee of Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission. Ali was killed in front of his home last week.

The man in the picture is Ali Mahmoud’s older brother, Ammar. He is pressing a 8×11 photo of Ali up against his face to hide his tears. “My brother, my supporter, my brother, I have lost you, I have lost you,” he cried.

Ali Mahmoud was a described to me by friends, family, and co-workers as a very quiet and very peaceful man. He wasn’t a big official or political. No known enemies. He had a six month old kid, and his wife is pregnant with their second child.

Ali was shot twice in the head outside of his home in one of the safest neighborhoods in Baghdad.

I spent a good chunk of yesterday hanging out at the headquarters for IHEC. There is a peculiar terror involved in Ali’s death, a dread that many of his colleagues are feeling. The insurgents targeted Ali specifically because he wasn’t important, because he wasn’t a big deal. Because he was the type of guy who kept his head down, stayed quiet, went to work and went home. The message: if you work on the elections you are not safe. As top official there put it, “it is easier to hunt the simple workers.”

Statistic wise, things are supposed to be better in Baghdad. Attacks are down, killings down, etc. Certainly, I felt the huge difference when I arrived here in October after an absence of two and half years. Even with the massive bombing at the end of that month, the general atmosphere still wasn’t close to the worst days I knew in 2005,2006, and 2007.

But I just got back here after a month in Vermont. And something’s different. It doesn’t feel as safe as it did. I don’t want to be over dramatic about it, and as I said, numbers wise, it actually is safer. But “security” is more than statistics. It’s about perception. It’s about a collective belief in the fragile illusion of civilization.

The ambiance in this city has changed. Iraqis and Westerners I’ve spoken to say it was the third huge bombing on Dec. 8 that’s partly responsible. There’s also a general expectation that violence is going to get worse as the election approaches, which adds to the unease. Then there is the uncertainty goes along with yet another change in government—it will be the sixth, yes, sixth change in government in the past 6 years. (Saddam, Bremmer, Allawi, Jaafari, Maliki…) That is not a recipe for stability.

So are things getting better, staying the same, getting worse? Are all those things happening at once? Am I just projecting? Like most things concerning this war, it’s hard to really know for sure.


About michaelhastings

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5 Responses to Iraq: An uneasy feeling in Baghdad

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Iraq: An uneasy feeling in Baghdad - Michael Hastings - The Hastings Report - True/Slant --

  2. vickielyna says:


    Having experensed senseless death. This hits me in the gut.

    Ali Mahmoud killing is a double slap to justice in Iraq. His death leaves another young family behind unprotected, unsuported (financially) and devestated. His death sends a message to the community they are not safe and can be executed at will while working honorably.

    I don’t know how his brother and colleques continue on. The message is you are expendable for the cause. Doesn’t matter that you are a peaceful loving father of two. Or contrary, because you are a peaceful loving father of two your execution sends a bigger message of chill through the community.

    I want to cry for them and with them. I want to hug the children and give them the protection they deserve.

    Yet another generation to group with the ravages of war tearing them apart. Senseless and yet effective squashing of reform will only cause more families to know the same.

    To much sadness. To much waste. To much unknown. The later makes it hard to keep going on and yet what is the alternative?

    • Michael Hastings says:

      Vickie, thanks very much for your response. It’s all very difficult to understand on an emotional level, defies language really. Just read a line from a writer in Harper’s the other day that speaks to this point. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. No. What doesn’t kill you breaks your fucking heart.”

  3. andylevinson says:

    Well, according to Obama, the war in iraq is over, the economy has rebounded….and we over here in the states are celebrating the passage of free universal health care for everyone….

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