press record. ….close your eyes………start running.

We are standing at what he decided was the safer end of the Ahrar bridge. Less than 20 minutes ago there was a little exchange of high velocity lethal lead along this bridge. He thinks that this time the safer side to go take pictures from is the American side; the insurgents attacking the Americans this time are not Mahdi’s Army – the Militia lead by Moqtada al-Sadir (hard line religious leader – who are quite friendly with journalists as long as you are not American. The ones shooting at the Americans here are the nasty Sunnis who would kidnap their own father if it looked like it would get them five minutes on al-Jazeera.

I am standing beside him with my camera wondering what got me involved in this shit in the first place and why did I even for one second think that it is a nifty idea to go out filming with him. The guy is quite obviously suicidal, he has [death wish] stamped on his forehead and I am going to be collateral damage for fuck’s sake. This is really all I could think of standing camera in hand squinting as I am looking at the American on top of his Bradley, or whatever those things are called, and joining that suicidal maniac in his argument on why we should be allowed to go on that bridge.

I stop when I realize what I am suggesting. I am joining the maniac in asking the quite bewildered American officer to be allowed to stand fully exposed between them and the Iraqi insurgents just as they are planning to go on the attack. Why? Oh, because it would make great TV. I have sunk that low.

The American officer, getting quite sick of us and deciding that we would deserve what we get anyway, said that it is OK to film and take pictures as long as we stay on this side of the bridge: “you see that light pole over there, that’s you’re limit”.

Like idiots we run happily with our cameras towards the Iraqi Army soldiers who are going to cross the bridge and whack the insurgents upside their heads but the Iraqis are not amused and they don’t want us near them. We promise we won’t show their faces and all we want to document is their bravery in trying to restore peace and law in this city which I promise is honestly what we wanted to do, I am not being cynical there. But they don’t want to be photographed. We get chased away by an officer who screams at us that he and his family have been getting death threats already and he doesn’t want more trouble.

Next stop: Sadir City.

Have you seen a map of Baghdad? The area that is now known as Sadir City is actually a relatively recent addition to Baghdad. The sixties saw a huge migration of people from rural areas and other cities to Baghdad. Most of them were farmers who sold their land to come and try their luck in the city. There was lots of money coming in from oil revenues and Baghdad was a little sparkling jewel in the middle of Iraq.

What the government created to absorb all the masses of people coming in was really just a huge slum. Hasty bad planning, basically just laying out a grid. Big parts of it never had even proper streets laid out and not even plumbing or electricity. There is a very big area in the city which is called “Chawader” which means tents, this is what it was. These were people who came with very little money to the city, mainly from the southern Shia areas and the government didn’t give a fuck to what was going on down there. It quickly became a slum. And don’t even think about upward mobility if you are from there. The moment people hear you are from there they wrinkle their noses and look somewhere else.

Why the history lesson? Just to show that it is not surprising that the people there feel this is payback time. The Sadir movement is based on those people who have been disadvantaged for such a long time, Moqtada al-Sadir is someone who lived amongst them and is now championing their cause. This is what the people of Sadir City see. What they don’t see is the dangerous political game Sadir is playing, the country is a big barrel of explosives and he is throwing matches around.

We decide to take our chances and head to the Heart of Darkness, the Hikma mosque, the movement’s principal mosque. We didn’t even get close to it when we see a couple of middle aged men fiddling with something in the middle of the road. My suicidal friend goes close to talk to the guy and he comes back with a funny expression on his face. The guy down on his knees in the middle of the road was rigging up a road bomb. I try not to run away screaming. Just a kilometer away we met an American military unit diffusing SEVEN bombs laid in the middle of one of the main streets at the edge of Sadir City.

We get into the car and continue towards the Hikma mosque. The guy we saw playing with explosives told us that just an hour ago a delegation from Falluja has arrived with 30 cars full of supplies “in support of the struggle of their Shia brothers in Najaf and Sadir City”. I wonder if the Americans realize how good they have been in bringing two opposing teams to play on the same side.

We are late; most of the delegation has already left and what we are able to see is the group of Mahdi Army men who are out on the street chanting and waving their guns, giving the few Fallujans who have not yet left a very hearty farewell and thank you parade. There were around 60 men standing half of them were carrying RPG launchers, too many Kalashnikovs were being waved around, a couple of BKCs (which are like super-sized machine guns) and for the benefit of my camera they pulled out a mortar launcher including one mortar which they proceeded to set up with lots of joyous chanting.

Worryingly they liked us, G and I with our cameras. We were nonplussed all the way thru their little show of force, a mask of non commenting faces. It freaks you out later, when you look at what you have on tape. This is something G pointed out to me; while you’re at it you don’t panic. Looking at it thru your lens you only think if the shot is right and how it looks like; not what is being filmed.

Anyway…since they thought we had such balls of steel they didn’t mind us hopping onto their truck and taking a ride with them thru Sadir City while they patrolled the area. Eleven Mahdi’s Army soldiers, two stupid guys with cameras, 3 RPG launchers, 5 Kalashnikovs, 1 BKC and a guy holding a Rocket Propelled Grenade without a launcher. The guy with the RPG noticed my puzzled look; I mean what do you do with an RPG if you don’t have one of those shoulder mounted launchers? He pointed out the rolled up piece of cardboard at the end of it and proceeded to discuss the best way to fire those things without a launcher. It was like being in a parallel universe, just keep your eye glued to that camera viewfinder.

They take us to the mosque to show us what they received as donations from Falluja; I was made to film a guy on crutches holding an RPG launcher. He says he was injured in the hip during the “first Sadir Intifada” and G is taken to photograph a kid sitting in a wheel chair holding, yup you guessed it, an RPG launcher.

I don’t get the thing these people have for RPG launchers. The kids there, they don’t have little plastic guns to play with like you would expect from all good kids of guerrilla fighters but they carry home made RPG toys. Bless them.

They show me the sacks of rice, flour and sugar, loads of blankets and Pepsi! I was offered a couple of video CDs which have beheadings on them that they promise have not been shown on any TV channels, probably of local “infidels” who don’t get the attention non-locals get. I start feeling a bit worried, we have been here now for almost two hours and the people are getting a bit too friendly and are asking the questions I don’t want to answer, who are you filming this for? Do you want to stay overnight and film us attacking Americans? It is prayer time soon and we decide to hightail it.

Too much weirdness for one day. G is leaving to Najaf and I will spend tomorrow doing family things. My cousin is getting engaged so we are allowed to make fun of him for the next 48 hours.

Oh, and just in case you were wondering about the RPG sans launcher: you stick a piece of cardboard in its back end. Prop it up with bricks. Light up the cardboard and pray that it goes straight ahead and doesn’t do a backwards loop and hits your sorry ass. When I asked about how they could control the direction in which they fire this thing, the answer was: “ach, it doesn’t matter”.

Yes, unquestionably too much weirdness for one day.

Peace. Out.

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