Tag: Liberace


I have been here in the Al Dulamie hotel for 3 days, I’d avoided haggling over the price, then the boss, Abu Noor showed his face round the corner of my door. “Mr Sean about your stay..” It was time to haggle. I’m usually good at haggling but Abu Noor is better, a real expert, or at least someone I always fail to outbid. He is a rotund gentle man. He was happy to see Saddam in the dock, Saddam killed his younger brother. He doesn’t agree with the death penalty but in Saddam’s case he said the people need to see justice. In an angry moment he tells me that Saddam should be put in a cage in the zoo, paraded for the people, and left to die there. Abu Noor runs a cheaper end, family run hotel next to a 4 star flash place over the road. Around us are about 5 hotels, (well 4 since one was bombed a few weeks ago by a suicide bomber who also killed the 13 year old cigarette seller in the street.) All the hotels here supposedly profit from what looks like good security, guns, concrete walls, checkpoints, etc.. none of this means anything of course until it is put to the test. Can anyone stop a suicide bomber I ask one of the many private security companies working here? No, they answer. Are we safe against a rocket propelled missile attack I ask? No they answer, if they want to send an RPG over here they can. They got the Palestine Hotel a few months back by firing a mortar off the back of a donkey and cart. The first mortar hit the hotel, the second would have certainly killed people except that the donkey shat itself and ran away, dragging the mortar’s with it. The joke for months after was that ‘the donkey saved our lives’.

As I wake this morning I hear on the news that the Sheraton Hotel was rocket attacked killing 3 people. When I arrived here on my first visit since the fall of Saddam in January, the Sheraton had just been hit. I was told that it was probably the safest place to stay now as it had already been hit. That advice came from one of the many expensive security companies working here for contractors, t.v. news organisations, and who also protect the US army convoys. I went against their advice and found a little family run hotel, the ‘Dulamie’, a famous fallujah family. I figured that as Fallujah was the hotbed of resistance in Iraq this hotel wasn’t gonna get hit. Abu Noor would always point to his father in the lobby, “Look he is the tribal leader, no one will touch us here.” Shame the Americans never understood the power of tribal leaders when they occupied this land over a year ago. They’d have been having an easier time by now if they had. In places like Fallujah it is difficult to imagine that the people were welcoming the American’s when they arrived. But heavy handed American tactics soon led to resentment, a pattern seen throughout Iraq, stories of American soldiers putting their feet on tribal leader’s heads is unimaginable here. It is a crime that incites the whole tribe to take revenge, which they do. And so things escalate.

Anyway, Abu Noor wanted his money. He is a shrewd businessman and I was tired and couldn’t argue for long. Finally I agreed to pay $1000 for a month, I know others are staying here for $700 and $800. Poolside, I opened a bottle of wine and drank with Marla, an American woman, who is here to help Iraqi families that have been bereaved by the US. She helps kids that have been orphaned find compensation. The heavy handed American response to an attack is to let rip in the general direction regardless of who they kill. As a result Marla has her hands full with children without parents and parents without children. She helps them make applications to the US to claim the $1200 paid to any family who has someone killed by accident by the Americans, a very difficult one to prove though. Marla has been looking into a friend’s case. A journalist had uncovered a story from Abu Griab prison where a US soldier, currently on trial for torturing Iraqi prisoners, is accused of killing one of his victims. Marla has a high powered US lawyer helping her see that justice is done to the soldier and that compensation is paid.

Poolside, we were all tired, talking war, an American friend Quil joined us, listening to our conversation he looked up from his beer. “can’t we talk about sex.. or something else, it’s always war and death.. and killing.” He should have been with me and the French journalists last night I thought. I didn’t feel like talking sex after such sad tales from Marla. But then I’ve only been back here 4 days and Quil has been here 6 long weeks. It’s amazing what 6 weeks in a war zone can do to your mind.


Sweltering heat in Baghdad today. I went against all advice for my safety and headed out to the most famous pizza restaurant in Baghdad. It has been ‘warned’ on a number of occasions for entertaining westerners and even the US army. The threat of a bomb attack doesn’t add to the wonderful taste of the food and wine. but for the 90 minutes we are there it is wonderful; like stepping out of all this madness.

I’d gone with George, a French journalist, who is interested in the other film I have been setting up whilst out here, ‘a behind the scenes documentary of the trial of Saddam’. We met more French journalists there, the ones from the other evening, but this time there was no talk of sex. Just the story.

One of them was working for an American network and wants to meet with me tomorrow night to talk about buying into our behind the scenes film of the trial. Good news I guess, but I was just enjoying the wine and air conditioning. Simple fun for a simple man. It seems the American networks have annoyed the Iraqi authorities by recording the sound of Saddam’s voice yesterday at the trial. And boy what an effect it has had on the streets, not only are our guards putting the thumbs up to Saddam, but my driver now also. On the way he declared to me, “Sean.. I love Saddam.”

I came back to the hotel to add all this into the blog and met the receptionist at the desk. He looked up at me with loving eyes and said, ‘Sean I love Saddam” I was becoming confused. I thought that the two glasses of good Lebanese wine had twisted my mind. I went into the kitchen and asked the tea boys “Do you love Saddam?” No, they answered, pulling their fingers across their throats, “finished.”

What is difficult to grasp here as my French friend George pointed out, “Arab people think from their hearts. Saddam was Iraqi, an Arab..he was one of them.. now they see a new leader, Ayad Allawi, the best of a bad bunch, a former CIA guy working with the Americans who is still guarded by Americans. Saddam was one of them.. they respect that.. even though he did all those things.. now who have they to look to..?”

After months of incomprehension, studying the confusion Iraqi people have felt since the fall of Saddam, things are becoming clearer to me. Like Samir said yesterday ‘imagine your country invaded and your queen paraded and humiliated like saddam. how would you feel? Saddam was a bastard, a bad man, but he was also our President, we feared him a lot’. And I started to see that silently many Iraqi people also respected him for his singled handed stand against America.

Phone calls and arguments

Set out today with hope for filming the court room appearance of Saddam Hussein which takes place in Iraq tomorrow. Finally the project I originally came here to set up in January 2004 looks set to happen; A behind the scenes documentary of the trial of Saddam Hussein. At the same time I am filming the final installment of my film about ‘the pianist’ Samir Peter who hopes to follow his dream and live in The States.

Today was fraught with phone calls trying to get through to my contact, the President of the Iraqi Tribunal who has approved the documentary. Finally I get through to him, he tells me he is unsure whether he can get me into the court room tomorrow where Saddam will appear in front of a judge, shackled in chains. We hear that only 4 journalists will be allowed in. I’m told to call back at 4 this afternoon but as normal the Presidents phone is constantly engaged. I keep trying as I write this now anxious as what happens tomorrow would make a great opening for the film.

Amidst agonised attempts at calling the President I have been filming ‘the pianist’ at his home. His daughter has been visiting from The States but is now preparing to return home. Samir is waiting for his papers to come through after being given a Green Card.

It is an agonising wait for him. He is torn about leaving his daughter and son here in Iraq but hopes to get them to The States one day soon. His anti-American daughter Saha, has always resisted, a proud Iraqi she wanted to stay here, but seeing her sister and hearing news of her mother also living in America has made her reconsider things. She seems willing to give The States a go. It is Samir’s dream to gather his family there after years of struggling in Iraq. “Things have to get worse here before they get better” he insists, and he is getting on in life now, he wants to spend his last few years in peace. He is also concerned for his 25 year old son Fadi, also a talented pianist, but who now refuses to play, not wanting to end up like his father playing in an empty hotel bar to earn money to get by. Fadi wants money, but in a country where the only work available is putting your life on the line as a policeman he prefers to stay at home, although he’d heard of a Safeway’s supermarket opening and hopes to work there.

The house was tense today. Fadi wasn’t talking with his father or his American sister. his sister had insulted him by insisting that he should not marry his Muslim girlfriend. He should find a Christian girl instead. It is a sore point, Samir doesn’t mention it much, but is does disturb him. As a Christian family they are a minority in Iraq and Fadi would have to convert to Islam to marry his girlfriend. In the end a good argument cleared the air and Samir slipped Fadi $20. Then I spoke with his daughter about her mother, and whether Samir would get back together with her when he goes to the states. I put my foot in it though, Samir hadn’t told the kids that they had separated…. and I did. The daughter left the scene in tears. I didn’t know what to say. I hope Samir can patch things up. Half of him hopes to get back with his wife but the other half knows that their love is dead.

Now I must get back on the phone to try see Saddam tomorrow.

Welcome to the new Iraq

Came back to Iraq to film my story with the ‘pianist’ at a historic moment – the hand over of power to the new Iraqi government. Journalists still take the expensive plane route into Iraq from Jordan as the road remains dangerous and kidnapping is still rife. After the familiar corkscrew landing into Baghdad International Airport, avoiding any surface to air missile attack, I headed into Baghdad. There was a much greater presence of Iraqi police, one standing proud with a shining new machine gun next to a police car riddled with bullet holes. An ominous sign. “It is quiet at the moment” my driver said, then looking at me out of the corner of his eye, “it is the calm before the storm”. The next round of attacks are never far away. Having lived in my secured hotel compound for 5 months on and off since January 2004 we had been on high alert for an attack. It never happened but as I arrived back after 6 weeks in England I realised it had and I had narrowly escaped it. 

I was just settling in my hotel when the Iraqis around me noticed the handover of power taking place in front of our eyes on the television. We broke from conversation momentarily acknowledging it and then continued talking about a suicide bomber who had tried to enter the heavily secured hotel compound where I stay a week after I’d returned to England. The bomber was prevented from entering and blew himself up on the street wrecking the front of another hotel building and killing many bystanders, including a 13 year old boy, who Samir (the subject of my film) used to buy his cigarettes from everyday. 

We went to buy bread, the bakery windows were smashed and the bakery boys were in bandages. The bomb blast had thrown them from one side of the bakery to the other. Then on our way back to the hotel we met the father of the 13 year old cigarette seller. His father, a man of my age, held the arm of his younger son tightly. I shook his hand, I didn’t know what to say. Some things are so desperate, so sad, that you cannot say anything. But then a few hours pass and I find myself not even thinking of the boy or the plight of his father, I am sat poolside at the hotel drinking a long cool beer with other journalists enjoying the luxuries that the air conditioned hotel provides in a country that still struggles to get electricity for half the day, where the temperatures rage to 55c. 

I notice the absence of the heavily armed mercenaries (ex army/sas soldiers employed on mass here to protect everyone from contractors to journalists, to the US army convoys) the pool looks more beautiful without them I note. The most notorious company were at our hotel, the ‘blackwater’ guys, famous after some of them were lynched and set on fire when caught in Fallujah. They all left, I am told, after another 4 were killed in an ambush in Baghdad. Around the same time another mercenary had killed himself in his room over-dosing while injecting drugs into his arm. We finish the beer and order more. 

“Welcome back to newly liberated Iraq” my friends tell me.