Chicago native Kathy Kelly filed her last dispatch from Baghdad on Wednesday for ElectronicIraq.net: “Here, amid a dearth of justice, human kindness is overflowing,” she wrote. Then she told the site’s Webmaster not to expect any more diary entries for several days. News of everyday life in Baghdad could be found on the Internet right up until the war began Wednesday.
KELLY IS ONE of a small contingent of observers and independent journalists who have chosen to take the risk and remain in Iraq when hostilities with the United States began.
It is difficult to independently confirm that Kelly, or others claiming to file reports from within Baghdad are actually there. But Jeff Guntzel, who helped start the Iraq Peace Team project that Kelly writes for, says 26 members are currently inside the country providing token humanitarian support. It’s umbrella organization, Voices in the Wilderness, has been working to end U.S. sanctions against Iraq since 1996.
Guntzel publishes regular diary entries by Kelly and Omak, Wash. native Bettejo Passalaqua on ElectronicIraq.net. While their entries are clearly meant to gain support for anti-war efforts, they offer a glimpse of everyday life inside the Iraqi capital as war approached. In Wednesday’s entry, Kelly described an Iraqi friend’s plan for dealing with the conflict.
“Her best option, once bombing begins, is to grab blankets, water and some food and move the family to the first floor of a building under construction, near the river,” she said.
Earlier this week, Passalaqua wrote about the terrible gamble some expectant mothers are taking in anticipation of war.
“Pregnant women who can afford it are having Cesarean sections so their babies will not be born during the bombing,” her entry said. “Women are afraid they will not be able to make it to a hospital, or if they are the hospital staff will be overwhelmed with war casualties and will not have medical personnel to assist with deliveries.”
Kelly also wrote that as her group was readying emergency supplies for the war, several Iraqis offered free help.
“Within minutes, several merchants dispatched runners to fetch items they thought (we) would need. After loading (us) up with crow bars, pliers, a shovel, plastic safety construction helmets, and buckets, they insisted ‘No ... no need to pay money.’”
Guntzel says Voices in the Wilderness members have regularly traveled to Iraq with symbolic amounts of medicine — an intentional violation of U.S. sanctions designed as an act of civil disobedience. Then they live in Iraqi communities, offering what help they can. Some group members began filing diaries in September via the Web, turning them into independent journalists.
But other independent organizations are there expressly to provide Internet-based, independent journalism. Jeremy Scahill, who made a name for himself covering the Kosovo conflict for independent news organizations in 1999, is publishing stories on IraqJournal.org — though that site hasn’t added a new dispatch since the end of February.
Photojournalist Kevin Sites, in Northern Iraq on assignment with CNN, is maintaining an independent “photoblog” at KevinSites.net.
And there is at least one independent Web writer who claims to be publishing a Blog from inside Baghdad. Independent efforts to confirm the identity of “Salam Pax” haven’t been successful, but his claims of Baghdad residency are supported by the images and news accounts he offers.
Salem Pax’s writing provides a “from the ground” account of life in the Iraqi capital.
“A couple of weeks ago journalists were exasperated by that fact that Iraqis just went on with their lives and did not panic,” he writes. “Well, today there is a very different picture. It is actually a bit scary and very disturbing. To start, the Dinar hit another low 3,100 dinars per dollar. There was no exchange place open. If you went and asked they just look at you as if you were crazy.”
It’s not clear what might happen to such accounts as the war starts. There’s only one land-based Internet access company in Iraq, the state-owned Uruklink.net. It is subject to government cut-off at any time.
Salem Pax managed to scribble out a note on his blog as the first sounds of anti-aircraft fire was hear over Baghdad on Thursday morning local time:
“Air raid sirens in Baghdad but the only sounds you can here are the anti-aircraft machine guns. will go now,” it said.
Guntzel said Kelly and Passalaqua have been filing their diaries from local Internet cafes, but they do have a satellite phone and a fax-modem for their laptop computer.
“We hope to have e-mails coming through the satellite phone,” Guntzel said. “But at least for the first three days of bombing, they feel like it’s too much of a risk. Using the satellite phone requires they go outside, and that’ll be too dangerous.”