Life During Wartime
About the time the 2006 New Year's confetti was being swept away from Times Square, a small group of Iraqi bloggers began posting for The Times. "It is a new year, but it is not a happy one," said a 57-year-old doctor who called himself Truth Teller.
Reading the bloggers has helped to fill one of the big gaps in Americans' view of the war in Iraq. Danger in the streets and security fears for anyone seen speaking with Western reporters has made it increasingly hard to get real glimpses of what it's like for the people who have to live there.
At the beginning of the year, the bloggers' complaints were less about car bombs than power failures, black-market fuel and a curfew that didn't allow for much, if any, celebrating. But not always. In January, Zeyad, a Baghdad dentist, wrote: "Over the past two years, I have crawled away from two armed clashes and one carjacking incident; I have witnessed two people being shot in the head and one young kid who had been sprayed by bullets begging my friends and me to take him to the hospital ... and just recently, an American sniper shot right at me and missed on a Baghdad highway for no apparent reason when we pulled over behind their convoy. My taxi driver tried to comfort me by saying it was probably just a rubber bullet."
In May, when three of the bloggers returned — joined by one Iraqi-American writer — their postings had changed. There was less talk of shoddy infrastructure and running for cover from American soldiers, and more fear of radical Islamists and the Sunni and Shiite death squads bringing terror to their neighborhoods. The watershed they referred to repeatedly was the destruction of the golden dome of the Askariya mosque in Samarra, a revered Shiite shrine, on Feb. 22. The bloggers also wrote more about the increasing presence of Taliban-like Islamists, violently imposing restrictions on the Baghdad residents. "These are people who are enforcing their rules by death threats," Hassan, a college student, wrote in May.
Hassan wrote of his 6-year-old sister, who was not allowed to go out to play because her family feared she would be kidnapped or killed. His sister "has never gone to a zoo" and "has only gone to a playground once." Zeyad told the harrowing tale of witnessing the execution of a local generator operator: "When I tried to turn him over so they could carry him into a car, my hands touched his blood-soaked shirt. I could now see that he was shot four times in the chest. There was also a bag nearby with a box of peaches, medication and a Pepsi bottle; he was obviously going to take that home to his kids. I stared in his anguished face again, then at my bloody hands. And that was when I momentarily lost it."
Bloggers, who cannot be fact-checked in normal ways, are no substitute for journalists. But the Iraqis' voices are hypnotic — troubling, fascinating and a critical reminder of the quirky individual humanity of those at the center of what the invasion has unleashed. "[A]midst the blackness of time and the wounds of fate, Iraqis still find a way to crack a smile, even if it hurts," wrote Konfused Kid, a Baghdad college student, at the beginning of the year. "Despite my cynicism, I believe in God (or Allah or whatever you care to name Him), and I pray for the well-being of this country every day. And every day I listen to Metallica and read Philip K. Dick."
"Day to Day in Iraq" can be read online at daytodayiniraq.blogs.nytimes.com.