McClatchy Blog Offers Rough View of Baghdad

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By: Joe Strupp

Since the war in Iraq began, nearly every angle on blogging from the war-torn country has been pursued, from G.I.’s to longtime war correspondents posting their dispatches online. But at McClatchy’s Baghdad bureau, a different approach launched recently, with the bureau’s local Iraqi staffers filing their views.

Seven of the local bureau employees, who do everything from reporting to serving as translators and drivers, have been posting items about the devastation the war has caused to their lives and country. Speaking as residents of the embattled nation, their take is clearly more attuned to the impact of the war than those of any visiting soldier or journalist.

John Walcott, McClatchy’s Washington bureau chief, said the blog is aimed at giving readers a different account of the war from locals whose views offer the best overall assessment. “I think hearing from Iraqis directly about their lives is something you don’t get from a lot of places,” he said about the blog, which launched Jan. 4. “I had wanted to do it for about a year. We wanted to do it in a way that didn’t endanger them, not fully identify them.”

One worker, identified as Zaineb, wrote in a posting last Friday,”It’s shocking when some new and bad incidents would creep its way to your life and you don’t feel it, though you are living it minute by minute, a shocking fact that the more days you live the more Baghdad gets smaller for you, the more you get chained. I wonder if I can visit my friend who lives next door in the few coming months!!”

Several days earlier, a posting by someone identified only as Mohammad, declared, “I have been waiting since 2003 when my country was occupied until this year for things to get better in my country but its taking forever and no one can predict when will it end that’s why I made my decision to leave but I am facing hard time convincing my wife to leave because she doesn’t like the idea for many reasons but I see the reasons everyday.”

Writing the day after the bloody attack on a Baghdad university, he added, “I don’t think students will go back to that university or other universities, education in iraq is dieing so slowly and not only in Baghdad for example in diyala province the university of diyala is been shut down since last October because of the chaos and crazy violence.”

Walcott stressed that the postings are not edited, even for grammar and spelling, so that the bloggers’ full experience is complete. “It is part of the approach we wanted to take,” Walcott said. “We did not want to intervene. It is in their voice and I think even the act of cleaning it up takes away some of the immediacy.”

Concerns about revealing blogger identities appear real, according to other blog postings. Zaineb, in a posting from Jan. 14, offers an example of the dangers local Iraqis who work for American journalists face. “I came to the office, and found this message in my phone saying “we are Kata’eb al Jehad, we know you, and we are watching you” isn’t that exciting!!! To get threat from unknown side whether al Jehad battalion or others!” the dispatch stated. It went on to add, “Living in Iraq, working as journalist, not in Iraqi media, but American one, going back and forth to work puts me in great danger because I live in an area fully controlled by the Mahdi army that you have to take different roads each time trying not to draw attention, pretend you don’t speak English, with spreading several rumors that you are working two jobs to justify you coming late to your neighborhood.”

Another posting by someone named Omar, offered an even more startling example. Discussing his efforts to leave the hotel where the bureau is located one night to buy cigarettes, he writes that a hotel security guard urged him not to leave. “He then informed me that there was some thing fishy going on out side, and that there were three cars driving back and forth in front of the hotel, the guard told me that they had stopped the car and asked them what they were doing in the neighborhood?” Omar wrote. “They told him that they are looking for some one called Omar!! Guess what my name is? I think I might stop smoking!!”

The blog began at about the same time that a new bureau chief took over the Baghdad bureau. Leila Fadel, a former Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter, replaced Nancy Youssef, who had headed the bureau for more than a year. Youssef has returned to Washington to cover the Pentagon, Walcott said. Along with Fadel, McClatchy also has longtime Iraq correspondent Tom Lasseter covering the country and reporter Rich Mauer, who has been posting items on his own blog.

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