Voice from the Commonwealth
Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts

"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest for freedom, go home and leave us in peace. We seek not your council nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." - Samuel Adams

Thursday, June 19, 2003

An Irish reporter for ITN returns to Baghdad to meet up with his Iraqi minder again.

The fact that he never said goodbye left a bad taste. After all, before the war and for much of it, Sadoun Wahab, our Iraqi government minder, was a constant companion.

But like all the others employed by Saddam's propaganda factory - the information ministry - Sadoun vanished two days before Baghdad fell to the Americans.

For me any return to the city would have to involve tracking the man down. And so it was that a few days ago, back in Baghdad, I found him. We were reunited in a corridor in the Palestine Hotel and we greeted one another like the friends we now are.

I first met Sadoun several months before the war. Foreign journalists could not operate in Iraq without an official minder allocated by the information ministry. These civil servants were the eyes and the ears of the regime and were required to vet and censor coverage. In the early days, a different minder was provided every day.

Of course it was an odd relationship. It seemed he liked working with us - but this was a man whose job it was to prevent me doing mine the way I wanted.

Conversely, I was always pushing him not to do his job to the best of his ability.

To begin with he was strict about where we could point the camera, and there were many rules that were sacrosanct. Any hint of criticism of Saddam was out completely. I was aware of what could not be said ("dictator", "tyrant", "totalitarian").

Sadoun was sometimes at my shoulder but, as time went on, less so. He knew that I knew how to play the game. If I looked like over-stepping the mark, he was subtle about pointing it out.

I recall interviewing people in the street before the war. I'd had an interesting conversation with a former Iraqi pilot.

In the car on the way back to the ministry, Sadoun suggested that if I used the soundbite the man would be in trouble. He didn't need to point out that we would be too.

It didn't take long to discover he was willing to bend the rules. Last November, filming in the city centre, we suddenly heard the sound of jets. Two flights of Iraqi air force Sukhois were low over the Tigris.

I glanced at Sadoun and he turned his back to me and my cameraman. We filmed the planes. Sadoun should have stopped us.

Interesting bit of information comes up in the story.

He carried more clout than at first appeared. His father-in-law was high up in the Mukhabarat, Saddam's secret police. This meant that he could punch beyond his weight.

These family connections were, it transpired, to become a critical factor in securing our wartime coverage from Baghdad. On the morning of March 19, with war only hours away, we were informed that ITN had to leave the Palestine and move to the Al-Rashid Hotel.

This was very worrying news: we'd been warned by US sources not to stay there, as the Pentagon considered the government hotel a target.

We also get a little illumination on the report Robert Fisk gave that the US hadn't taken the airport.

Sadoun says that during the war he was meant to view our reports before allowing them to be sent by satellite to London for transmission. He claims he never did. He just provided the necessary stamp on the paperwork.

That had been pretty obvious as the Americans closed in on Baghdad. The information ministry wanted to repudiate claims that the airport was on the point of being taken. Sadoun got permission for us to go and film the "quiet" airport.

The moment we arrived American artillery opened up on the place, and we took shelter in a dugout with several Iraqi soldiers. Sadoun made two half-hearted attempts to stop us filming.

And what did he think about the invasion?

He tells me he is glad Saddam has gone. "He cheated the people. We consider him a savage. He is not human."

On the subject of the Americans: "Now we need them, because they can provide security. They say they will install a new government soon. People are waiting to see if they live up to their promises. If they stay more than a year it will be a problem."

Sadoun was always an immensely proud man and, like most Iraqis, had been appalled at the notion of his country being invaded. He predicted that in Baghdad tens of thousands of people would come out and fight.

He reminds me what he had said. He says he is glad he was wrong. I ask him why resistance melted away; he says the word on the street is that the Americans bribed the commanders in the Republican Guard.

< email | 6/19/2003 03:13:00 PM | link

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