“Put that camera down will you!!” Samir screamed at me today. He normally does this when we are driving through his resistance stronghold neighbourhood, but this time it was in downtown Baghdad. A convoy of American tanks and humvees had passed us and I wanted to get shots of them. I’d always been over-cautious but after 7 months in Iraq I was feeling brave. With the handover of power I stupidly thought that the Americans may be less gung-ho. The situation has cooled since the boiling point in April when kidnapping was rife and beheadings made headline news. So much so that I shaved my beard completely today. Samir was shocked, “Sean you look so beautiful… do not grow another!” he insisted, “You look so much younger.”
But he was less at ease on the road with American tanks. So were the other drivers. The tanks passed and a humvee was swaying from side to side across 4 lanes refusing to let any traffic overtake. This is normal practice since a few passing cars had taken shots at the soldiers in the past. But still, in the sweltering heat people get frustrated. So I pulled the camera out against Samir’s better wishes and got this in the frame. Suddenly 3 soldiers jump to their guns and aim, right at us. “Sean get that fucking camera down .. they’re gonna kill us.” I pulled the camera down and the humvee took off.
Samir grabs hold of my camera, “Can’t you see this prick-looking thing (the microphone) looks like an RPG – (rocket propelled grenade) to them. I lowered my camera .. We continued driving in shock. Samir was shaking. I was stupid. “Don’t you realise, since the handover of power they can do whatever they want, there is no come-back on them, it is their agreement for staying to patrol new Iraq”.
I shuddered to think of the consequences. I began to think about the atrocities I have heard about during the past year, when frightened American soldiers first response is to fire, and ask question’s later. Marla’s workload flickered past my mind. If all that happened when there was come-back on their actions what could happen now? Later in the hotel a journalist confirmed my fears, just 2 days ago an American patrol had let rip into a car killing all. No-one knows the reasons, no-one cares now. Without any investigation what is there to go on? The Americans in such circumstances never stop. It is against rules. Just like when a friend saw a tank cross lanes on a motorway and a passing car had no time to move, the tank went straight over it killing the family inside. Still they never stop, it is against the rules. It is up to relatives to make the claim for compensation. Yet still knowing all this I felt things had changed, after all I’d shaven my beard, a symbolic move after months of itching.
It reminded me of when I first arrived here in January this year.. “Just how dangerous is it out there?” I asked someone in my hotel. “Just keep well away from the Americans” I was told. “You’ve got more chance of being killed by them in this place then by any resistance fighter.”
Later we watch American convoys pass from my hotel balcony, they are pointing their guns at everyone and everything they pass. Samir shakes his heads looking concerned, “Look at them poor American soldiers thousands of miles away from home. They must be so scared.” Fear is the most dangerous thing here.