Excerpt from his postwar Internet diary or "blog"
Collected in Salam Pax: The Clandestine Diary of an Ordinary Iraqi, 2003
The 2003 Iraq War received more news coverage than any conflict in history. More than twenty-seven hundred journalists from news organizations and television networks around the world reported on the war. In addition to these traditional media outlets, the Internet emerged as an alternative source of news and information about the war. The World Wide Web allowed ordinary people from around the world to express their viewpoints and share their experiences during the war.
One of the most interesting accounts of the events in Iraq came from a mysterious figure who called himself Salam Pax (both first and last names mean "peace," in Arabic and Latin, respectively). Although Salam Pax kept his identity secret, he was eventually discovered to be a twenty-nine-yearold Iraqi architect who lived with his parents in a suburb of Baghdad. Beginning in September 2002, Salam Pax posted his thoughts and feelings to a weblog, or "blog" (an online diary that anyone can read on the Internet), at dear_raed.blog sport.com. The entries took the form of notes to his friend Raed, who was away studying for a master's degree in Jordan.
The early blog entries merely kept Raed informed about his friend's life. "The first two months were just: that girl got married, I had the flu.... Stupid stuff," Salam Pax told Rory McCarthy in an interview for The Guardian. "I never thought there would be this much of a fuss about the whole thing." But as he surfed the Internet, Salam Pax gradually realized that few other bloggers were writing in English about life in the Arab world. "All you saw was people talking about God and Allah," he related to McCarthy. "There was nothing about what was happening here." He came to believe that sharing an Iraqi perspective on the approaching war could be valuable.
From this point on, Salam Pax's blog focused on the events he saw taking place around him. He described the hardships of life in Iraq under Saddam Hussein's government. He talked about friends and relatives who had been arrested or executed for no apparent reason, and discussed how the Iraqi people lived in a constant state of paranoia and fear. Since Iraqis were not allowed to criticize Hussein in any way, Salam Pax took a huge risk in writing so candidly about the regime. In fact, he feared that the Iraqi intelligence agency might be after him on several occasions. "There was the possibility that they knew," he acknowledged in the Guardian interview. "I spent a couple of days thinking this is the end. And then you wait for a couple of days and nothing happens and you say, 'OK, let's do it again.' Stupid risks, one after the other."
Salam Pax's blog covered events leading up to the Iraq War, including its effect on his family. One day he helped his mother pack all of their valuables so they could leave town on a moment's notice. Another day he put tape around the edges of all the windows in the house to seal them in case of a poison gas attack. Once the war began, Salam Pax provided harrowing descriptions of the early days of the conflict, including the constant bombing of Baghdad. Unlike many Iraqis, he was able to watch some international news coverage of the war on television using his family's illegal satellite dish.
Salam Pax suddenly stopped posting to his blog on March 25, 2003. By this time, his personal account of the war had attracted thousands of dedicated readers around the world. His fans worried that he may have been killed or forced to go into hiding. As it turned out, Salam Pax was safe but had lost his Internet connection due to power outages in Baghdad. He continued keeping a diary of his experiences in a loose-leaf notebook for the remainder of the war. "After eight months, it became a habit," he explained to McCarthy.
Salam Pax finally resumed posting to his blog on May 7, which is the point where the following excerpt begins. He filled in the gap from the previous six weeks with information from his spiral notebooks. These entries described the fall of Baghdad to U.S. troops on April 9, and the lawlessness and looting that followed. In this excerpt, which covers events after the war ended, Salam Pax describes his mixed feelings about the conflict and the postwar U.S. military occupation of Iraq. Although he feels grateful to be liberated from Hussein's rule, he also feels resentful about the U.S. invasion of his country. He expresses deep concerns about the process of rebuilding Iraq and creating a new government.
Things to remember while reading the excerpt from Salam Pax's blog:
- Salam Pax's mixed feelings about the war were shared by many Iraqis. The majority of Iraqi citizens were glad to be rid of Saddam Hussein, and they were grateful for U.S. intervention in that respect. But the war itself was terrible and created hardships for the Iraqi people. Some resented the U.S. invasion and felt humiliated by the poor performance of Iraq's armed forces. Once the war ended, the chaos and lack of security that plagued many areas raised doubts about Iraq's future. As Salam Pax points out in his blog, the different feelings that Iraqis held about the U.S. troops depended largely on their own personal experiences.
- In his blog, Salam Pax describes some of the hardships facing the Iraqi people during the postwar period. For example, Iraq suffered from gas shortages, power outages, a lack of clean drinking water, and a high rate of unemployment.
- Salam Pax criticizes the U.S. civil administration (the agency responsible for overseeing Iraq's postwar reconstruction). He accuses the agency of being disorganized and inconsistent in its approach to rebuilding Iraq and helping the Iraqi people form a democratic government. His feelings were echoed by many experts, who claimed that the Bush administration should have anticipated more of the problems it faced during the postwar period.
Excerpt from Salam Pax: The Clandestine Diary of an Ordinary Iraqi
Wednesday, 7 May 2003
War sucks big time. Don't let yourself ever be talked into having one waged in the name of your freedom. Somehow, when thebombs start dropping or you hear the sound of machine-guns at the end of your street, you don't think about your "imminent liberation " any more.
But I am sounding now like the taxi-drivers I have fights with whenever I get into one. Besides asking for outrageous fares (you can't blame them: gas prices have gone up ten times, if you can get it), they start grumbling and mumbling and at a point they would say something like "Well, it wasn't like the mess it is now when we had Saddam." This is usually my cue for going into rage-mode. We Iraqis seem to have very short memories or we simply block the bad times out. I ask them how long it took for us to get the electricity back again after thelast war ? Two years until things got to what they are now, after two months of war. I ask them how was the water? Bad. Gas for car? Non-existent. Work? Lots of sitting in street tea-shops. And how did everything get back?Hussein Kamel used to literally beat and whip people to do the impossible task of rebuilding.
Then the question that would shut them up: "So, dear Mr Taxi-Driver, would you like to have your Saddam back? Aren't we just really glad that we can now at least have hope for a new Iraq? Or are we Iraqis just a bunch of impatient fools who do nothing better than grumble and whine? Patience, you have waited thirty-five years for days like these, so get to working instead of whining." End of conversation.
The truth is, if it weren't forintervention this would never have happened. When we were watching theSaddam statue being pulled down, one of my aunts was saying that she never thought she would see this day in her lifetime.
War. No matter what the outcome is, these things leave a trail of destruction behind them. There were days when theRed Crescent was begging for volunteers to help take the bodies of dead people off the city street and bury them properly. The hospital grounds have been turned to burial grounds. When the electricity went out and there was no way the bodies can be kept until someone comes and identifies....
Imminent: Ready to take place.
Liberation: The act of releasing or setting free.
Last war: The 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Hussein Kamel: Former member of Saddam Hussein's government who was in charge of Iraq's weapons programs for many years.
Intervention: The U.S. decision to go to war to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.
Saddam statue being pulled down
Saddam statue being pulled down: A reference to the statue of Saddam Hussein that was toppled in central Baghdad's Firdos Square on April 9, 2003, symbolizing the end of the Iraqi regime.
Red Crescent: A Muslim organization that provides medical care and other assistance, similar to the Red Cross.
Civil administration: The U.S.-run agency in charge of Iraq's postwar reconstruction.
Friday, 9 May 2003
Americancivil administration in Iraq is having a shortage of Bright Ideas. I keep wondering what happened to the months of"preparation" for a "post-Saddam" Iraq. What happened to all these 100-page reports? Where is thatDick Cheney report? Why is every single issue treated like they have never thought it would come up? What's with the juggling of people and ideas about how to form that "interim government"? Why does it feel like they are using the let's-try-this, let's-try-that strategy? Trial and error on a whole country?...
Friday, 23 May 2003
[He helps an American journalist deliver two dozen pizzas to a unit of U.S. soldiers. He enjoys the experience, which makes him think about the mixed feelings many Iraqis have toward the troops.] It is difficult—a two-sided coin. On one side they are the U.S. army, invader/liberator (choose what you like), big guns, strange sounds coming out of their mouths. The other side has a person on it that in many cases is younger than I am, in a country he wouldn't put on his choice of destinations. But he has this uniform on, the big gun and those dark, dark sunglasses, which make it impossible to see his eyes. Difficult....
Friday, 30 May 2003
[He responds to an e-mail accusing him of minimizing the U.S. contribution to removing Saddam from power.] There is no way to "minimize" the contribution of the USA in removing Saddam. The USA waged a friggin' war! How could you "minimize" a war? I have said this before: if it weren't for the intervention of the US, Iraq would have seen Saddam followed by his sons until the end of time. But excuse me if I didn't go out and throw flowers at the incoming missiles....
Anyway. I don't really understand why among the 26 million Iraqis I have to explain everything clearly. Are you watching the news? Can't you see the spectrum of reactions people have to the American presence in Iraq?
Dick Cheney: Vice president of the United States who led some studies about postwar reconstruction and administration of Iraq.
ORHA: Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, a team of two hundred U.S. government personnel, humanitarian workers, and Iraqi experts charged with overseeing postwar rebuilding efforts in Iraq.
I was at anORHA press conference the other day (got in with someone who had a press pass) and the guy up there on the podium said in answer to a question, that probably the people who have had good encounters with the coalition forces were saying things are getting better and those who have had bad things happening to them were saying things are getting worse.
It is still too early to make any judgments. I don't feel that I have an obligation to say all is rosy and well. Iraq is not the black hole it used to be and there are abazillion journalists here doing better than I can ever do—they have a press ID and they know how to deal with stuff.
Bazillion: A slang term meaning a huge number.
As to the question "why are you not documenting Saddam's crimes?" Don't you see that this is not the sort of thing that should be discussed lightly in a blog like this one. And what's with "documenting"?Me, tiny, helpless Salam, documenting things that were going on for thirty years? Sorry to blow your bubble, but all I can do is tell you what is going on in the streets and if you think journalists are doing a better job of that then maybe you should go read them. One day, like inAfghanistan, those journalists will get bored and go write aboutSyria or Iran. Iraq will be off your media radar. Out of sight, out of mind. Lucky you, you will have that option. I have to live it.
Afghanistan: A country located on the outskirts of the Middle East that sheltered the radical Islamic leader Osama bin Laden and the terrorist group Al Qaeda, organizers of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States. The U.S. attacked Afghanistan in October 2001 as the first phase of the global war against terrorism.
Syria or Iran
Syria or Iran: Two Middle Eastern countries considered unfriendly to the United States which, like Iraq, the Bush administration accused of supporting terrorists and trying to develop weapons of mass destruction.
What happened next...
By the time the Iraq War ended, Salam Pax's blog had created a worldwide sensation. His Internet diary was hugely popular and received more links from other sites than any other blog on the Web. Fans appreciated his fresh, lively, funny, and fearless commentary on life in Iraq before, during, and after the war. Since foreign journalists had trouble convincing ordinary Iraqis to express their feelings, Salam Pax provided a unique perspective on the conflict. "It was the great irony of the war," Rory McCarthy wrote in The Guardian. "While the world's leading newspapers and television networks poured millions of pounds [British currency] into their coverage of the war in Iraq, it was the Internet musings of a witty young Iraqi living in a two-story house in a Baghdad suburb that scooped them all to deliver the most compelling description of life during the war."
The "Baghdad Blogger," as Salam Pax became known, received a great deal of coverage in the mainstream media. He was featured in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, New Yorker, and Guardian, as well as on CNN, National Public Radio (NPR), and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Between his engaging writing style and the mystery surrounding his identity, Salam Pax was an object of both fascination and controversy. Some people doubted that he was real, and rumors abounded that he was actually an American CIA agent posing as an Iraqi. But other people felt that his diaries were too detailed and accurate to be fictional.
Once the war ended, several foreign journalists managed to track down Salam Pax using clues from his blog. He granted a few interviews under the condition that the reporters not reveal his true identity. Following his interview with Rory McCarthy, Salam Pax got a job writing a biweekly column for The Guardian. He also signed a lucrative agreement with a New York publisher to collect his blog entries in a book. Salam Pax: The Clandestine Diary of an Ordinary Iraqi was published in late 2003.
Did you know...
- Salam Pax learned to speak English while living in Vienna, Austria. He spent several years in the city during his childhood, when his businessman father worked there. He also lived there by himself for eight years while he studied architecture. He reluctantly returned to Baghdad in 1996 at the request of his parents.
- Salam Pax kept his identity secret because he feared that Saddam Hussein's security forces would arrest him. Even his family did not know what he was up to until they heard a news story about the "Baghdad Blogger" on the BBC. Salam Pax also fooled members of the media. He served as an interpreter for several British and American journalists during the war, but they did not uncover the full story behind his wartime activities until later.
- As the popularity of his blog increased, many people speculated about Salam Pax's identity and questioned his family connections. He resented suggestions that his comfortable middle-class parents must have been members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. In fact he credited his parents with teaching him to question authority. In response to one critic, he wrote:
Do not assume, not even for a second, that because you read the blog you know who I am or who my parents are. You are being disrespectful to the people who have put the first copy of George Orwell's 1984 [a chilling novel about a world where the government controls all aspects of people's lives] in my hands—a heavy read for a 14-year-old with bad English. But that banned book started a process and gave me the impulse to look at the world I live in a different way.
For More Information
Eng, Paul. "War of Words on the Web." ABCNews.com, March 27, 2003. Available online at http://www.abcnews.go.com/sections/world/SciTech/iraq_warweb030326.html (accessed on March 2, 2004).
Maas, Peter. "Salam Pax Is Real." The Slate, June 2, 2003. Available online at http://slate.msn.com/id/2083847/ (accessed on March 2, 2004).
McCarthy, Rory. "Salam's Story." The Guardian, May 30, 2003. Available online at http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,3604,966768,00.html (accessed on March 2, 2004).
Pax, Salam. Salam Pax: The Clandestine Diary of an Ordinary Iraqi. New York: Grove Press, 2003.