Shortly after the invasion of Iraq, dozens of Iraqi bloggers took to the internet, bringing us the inside scoop from what had previously been a closed society. It was the first time in decades that the world had heard so many voices from inside the war-torn nation. Many Kossacks came to know Riverbend and her blog Baghdad Burning; many were familiar with Raed Jarrar and his Raed in the Middle; still others followed Salam Pax’s Where is Raed?—and bought the book based on it. And there were many, many others.
By late Spring 2003, it seemed as though things might work out in Iraq. Most citizens were hard at work trying to regain some sense of a normal life. Saddam and his sons were gone. Sunnis, Shi’as, Kurds, and Christians peacefully co-existed in Baghdad’s mixed neighborhoods. The bloggers had begun blogging. And no one had heard of a roadside bomb.
But as the situation has deteriorated over the past four years, the blogs have started to fall silent.
Of the English-language Iraqi blogs I followed, Ferid’s Iraqi4ever was the first to go. A dentistry student in Baghdad, Ferid had begun publishing his blog on July 22, 2004. In his first post he included a tribute to the Iraqi soccer team’s victory over Turkmenistan. And these were his first words:
Hi every one :)
I hope you like what garbage I write here :P and remember to come back always for more of my garbage :P am in Iraq now exactly in Baghdad :)
Like so many other Iraqi bloggers, Ferid covered politics, war, school, and soccer. He usually posted a few times a month. On August 27, 2005, only 13 months after he first posted, Ferid made mention of the resurgent Ba’ath Party by saying:
Now who would thought after two years and a half, Ba'athies will go out again carrying Saddam's Photos, bunch of idiots as they've been always been, demanding not be excluded in constitution and their excuse was always "we don't warship Saddam."
And that was his last post.
I have no idea why. Maybe he got tired of blogging. Maybe he was too busy after his graduation. Maybe he fled the country and lives in the U.S. now. Or maybe by the end of August 2005, he was buried in a Baghdad cemetary. Unless he resurfaces, we’ll never know.
There are others. One I always liked was A Free Writer. Starting in December 2004, he covered the usual stuff (half of it in Arabic and half in English), but he always wrote with a philosophical bent. He liked to periodically include an equivalent to Daily Kos’ Science Friday, where he’d either explain or ponder some scientific theory or invention. Two of his last topics were on a purported 2,000-year old battery found in Baghdad and another on some far-out theory concerning water and its relationship to humans. I liked it because the writer seemed to care about the subjects he was covering. There was almost something indulgent about it. I felt like he added the news on bombings in his area just so people would keep reading—even though he really wanted to talk about science and philosophy.
On October 21, 2005, A Free Writer posted only a short note:
A bomb went off at a famous monument Abu Jaafar al-Mansour in Baghdad which was honouring the eighth-century founder of Baghdad . This explosion, destroyed and blown to bits the monument as you can see in the below photo .
This is a good proof that violence in Iraq is getting random , and out of any control and in nearly future we will have nothing left undestroyed , even our art and history.
He posted once more, four days later, and that was it. After nearly a year of blogging, he just disappeared.
Husayn Uthman, a 27-year old Iraqi, had a blog called Democracy in Iraq. On his profile he listed reading, computers, swimming, and football (soccer) as his interests. Husayn’s main focus on his blog was the war. What he doesn’t say (but is apparent from his writing), is that he was an anti-Saddam Iraqi nationalist. He posted every few days starting in December 2004. In his FAQ section, he said of himself:
Im just a blogger, I sit on a computer and write. I don't know what benefit this has, but if it does have any, I want to dedicate it to all the people who died for a free Iraq, whether they were Iraqi, American, British, Polish, whatever their nationality.
Unfortunately, the dramas of which Husayn wrote eveloped him also, as he reported in the spring of 2005 that he had been arrested "for a few weeks." He posted once more that summer and once in the winter. His last post had the ring of one who was being backed into a corner, but who, at the same time, remained defiant in the face of the onslaught:
Despite the questioning put forth by so many people about my nation, about what we could do, we continue to move forward. Those of you who e-mailed me, those of you who have questioned this entire episode in history - the sands of time are proving you to be WRONG.
I am happy to say that the current elections are going on without any problems, it is strange that we have no violence during elections though, if anything - it shows me that our security forces are growing in strength and that is another signal that we are moving forward.
What else can I say - except to say to the naysayers that you must stop your nonsense, and realize that Iraq will be built in a democratic fashion - and that it will happen. Despite all the violence, carnage, and negativity, the Iraqi people continue on the path to freedom.
I cannot emphasize this enough, I don't think that non-Iraqis understand the bloodshed here, everyday for the last three years, there has been some type of violence, someones family being robbed of love, someone being crippled, and yet, and yet, Iraqis have seen through this cancer and remain comitted to the goal.
This election is encouraging for this reason, and because we are finally seeing progress in unification, the Sunni leaders are finally seeing that we must stand united with our Shia and Kurdish brothers, or else our country will never be strong. How fitting is it that in this month, the animal Saddam goes on trial, and that we build a new parliament.
I am obviously excited, and optimistic, I look forward to the continuing progress, and the day when Iraq is a completely sovereign nation and that foreign troops leave our nation, and we stand on our feet. Then, all this bloodshed that we have been put through will truly be worth it, then it will be clear to us, that it was all worth it.
God Bless Iraq
That was on December 18, 2005. And that was it. Husayn mentioned on his site that he had relatives living in the West, so maybe his last post reflects the fact that he knew he was about to flee. Or maybe that’s just my wishful thinking.
Saleem’s Free Iraq covered current events in Iraq with a heavy slant toward politics beginning in November 2004. He covered the elections in-depth and even posted a copy of the new Iraqi Constitution. Living in Baghdad, Saleem saw violence daily, as evidenced in only his second post:
hi again,today i discuss an improtant issue being as usuall thign in the Iraqian life , is the bombered cars that kills the innocent civilians becasue they were in the wrong place and time or they go to do thier job in building Iraq and we see every day many people killed and amny building destroyed.
Yesterday the hit two churches in the south of capitol (Baghdad) !!
why are they aimed the churches ?did they contain ameriacns or cops or ING or members of new army ???
they do this trying to let us leave the iraq and leave the country and make they people of the country evryone in different place, then after they bombed the churches ,bombed car exploded near the Yarmook hospital becajse there were cops near the hospital treating the injured and try to save the hospital peoples from other attacks.
so we must stop these cars because in this month only(Ramadan )more than 40 bombered car explode and more than (300) peoples died or injured ion these attacks in time we need every person in the building and constructing of the iraq.
we stop this river od Iraqian blood and kill all the terrorists in al the city of iraq and the american army with new iraqian army begin this work in faloja and ramadi and then the turn will come on Latifia and Mahmodia and Mosul and Baghdad to start building
I can almost hear the frustration and resolve in his voice. Sadly, in April 2005, he had to relate to us more violence, when his cousin "was killed by the terrorists" in Baghdad’s southern al-Dora district (an area, incidentally, that I know quite well through having lived there for a while). His writing portrayed a very violent, very stressful lifestyle in Baghdad. On December 26, 2005, Saleem wrote a post about his mother’s breast cancer and the most recent election that had just taken place.
We never heard from him again after that.
Salam Pax became one of the most prolific Iraqi bloggers with his Where is Raed? blog. He began writing shortly before the start of the war and eventually had his blog turned into a book. Viewed by many as the "Anne Frank of Iraq," he became so famous that he eventually took a job in Baghdad with the UK’s Guardian newspaper. On August 18, 2004 he posted his final comment on his old blog and began writing a new one called Shut Up You Fat Whiner! shortly thereafter. Posting less and less frequently, Salam Pax’s new blog fell silent this past summer. We can only hope he had a good reason. Maybe someone reading this knows.
But not all of the well-known Iraqi blogs have met with mysterious endings. Riverbend is another popular writer who’s kept everyone’s stomachs in knots from time to time with her infrequent posting from Baghdad. However, she last posted on her Baghdad Burning blog over a month ago. We can only hope she is still safe.
Raed Jarrar, author of Raed in the Middle, fled Iraq and now lives in the United States where he is very active in the peace movement. (That is, when he’s not getting into trouble with overzealous airport security.)
The Mesopotamian also continues to write from Iraq—and he still writes with a zest reminiscent of an Iraqi neo-con. So much so, that some still wonder if he’s not an American government official posing as an Iraqi. But we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and hope he continues to write safely.
And finally, Najma, the 17-year old girl, also continues to provide us with weekly updates on A Star From Mosul, where she has begun work at the university there. And she still seems to be taking this whole situation in stride.
The one element that ran through each of the blogs—especially in their early posts in 2004—was the hope each blogger shared for the future. They were all so optimistic about the new Iraq. And that’s what makes this so sad. One by one, all the positive, hopeful voices are disappearing. They weren’t here for long—less than four years actually—and now they are again being silenced. Only this time it is the American occupation and civil war causing it—not the brutal dictator. They never vanish in numbers that make anyone notice. Just one blog this month, another next. But one by one, they’re being snuffed out like candles. Of the nine blogs I’ve mentioned in this diary, only three still actively blog from inside Iraq--though they all began there.
I read these blogs all the time and I feel like I’m watching the slow death of a nation through the words of its brightest writers. It’s horrible.
However, I agree with most Kossacks on what should be done now. That is, we should leave Iraq—as soon as possible. But never forget. Never forget the people we’re going to leave behind if we do this. Some of them are the friends I made when I lived there. Others I only know through their blogging. But don’t for one second think that they’re going to be okay when we leave. Because they’re not. Those unable to flee are going to be swallowed by a wave of slaughter and revenge. Those Iraqis who cast their lot with the Americans in helping to rebuild are going to be the first taken under. Once we leave, they will have absolutely no recourse, save for Moqtada as-Sadr’s backward Mahdi Army.
Perhaps there is no other way at this point. It seems as if the best of the bad options is to abandon the effort. To cut our losses. I’ve made my peace with that now. But please—don’t forget that when we do cut our losses, we’re throwing Riverbend, Najma, and the Mesopotamian over the side.
They will probably never forgive us for starting this mess in the first place.