Friday, August 03, 2007

Back in Baghdad

A quick shout-out to one of ISB's favorite war correspondents, and all-around good guys: Pete Graff. He's left the war zone that is Islington and is back in Baghdad, this time for an extended tour...I've nicked this from the Reuters site (here's the original) because it's a sweet story about his first day back:

WITNESS-Soccer makes it the right day to return to Baghdad
Sun Jul 29, 2007 12:58PM EDT
By Peter Graff

BAGHDAD, July 29 (Reuters) - Looks like I chose the right day to return to Baghdad.

Five hours after I touched down in the Iraqi capital I found myself decked out in an Iraqi soccer team T-shirt, screaming my head off and dancing around the room like a madman with two dozen Iraqi colleagues in the Reuters Baghdad bureau.

We won the soccer.

Now, strictly speaking, as a non-biased journalist, I was probably not supposed to pick sides in the Asian Cup final between Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

But at the precise moment Younis Mahmoud, a Turkmen, climbed to head Kurdish team mate Hawar Mulla Mohammed's flawless corner into the back of the net, I was a partisan Iraqi fan.

Thanks to a stunning save moments earlier by Shi'ite Arab goalkeeper Noor Sabri, that single goal in the 71st minute was enough to clinch the Asian Cup over the much-favoured but clearly outplayed Saudi team.

Several of my colleagues wept with joy. Everyone chanted, clapped, screamed and hugged, releasing the sort of emotion that cannot possibly be explained by football alone.

Twenty two minutes later, when the referee called time, gunfire erupted across the city as jubilant Iraqis -- including some of the guards on our road -- began firing into the air.


That morning before the match, when I had stepped back into the bureau after nine months away from Iraq, I was handed my green and white team jersey, with an Iraqi flag over the left breast. Today was match day and we were going to enjoy it.

Everyone had T-shirts. We lined up for a group photo. There would be a barbecue later, whether Iraq won or lost.

I went from room to room saying hello to the staff -- the photographers, cameramen, writers for our Arabic and English services, drivers, cooks, cleaners.

The bureau had changed: there was a new layout, fresh paint, new TVs and a handful of new faces.

But mostly there was a sense of mourning. Two weeks ago, Namir Noor-Eldeen, a gifted photographer at the age of 22, was killed in a U.S. air strike in Baghdad. So was Saeed Chmagh, one of the bureau's drivers.

That same week, a translator who worked for Reuters was killed by gunmen. His family have asked that we do not name him.

Their photos were up all over the bureau.

The game began with all of us crowded around a television set.

At halftime the game was tied at 0-0. I was sitting next to our office manager, sharing a tube of Pringles.

"So, how's it been?" I asked him.

Difficult, he said. "Since the guys were killed, they have been in shock. It is only starting to lift now, just barely," he said. "Three guys killed in two days. It's hard."

But our dead colleagues would have wanted us to celebrate. And that we did.

The final whistle sparked euphoric celebrations. In a small room at the back of the office, staff danced to Arabic pop tunes. Some of the drivers stripped off their soccer team shirts it was so hot.

On the wall were portraits of Namir and Saeed. Both of them were smiling.

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