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.
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.