Live from Baghdad

Note especially this part:


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

To these customers Naj said, "I want you to know I appreciate what they are doing. They are doing a very tough job. They are risking their lives. I hope they go home safely."

But Naj said they don't want the Americans to leave quickly. Naj said he thinks the insurgents currently fighting against the American troops are a minority in the country and that "the silent majority" wants the Americans to stay.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------




Live from Baghdad

by Meghan Mullan
Staff Writer
Apr. 15, 2004


About 20 people gathered at the College Perk Coffee Shop in College Park Saturday morning in the hope of connecting directly to Baghdad Internet Café (IC) patrons in downtown Baghdad.

The group waited and stared at a live Fox News web camera shot of downtown Baghdad projected onto the wall behind the sofas. What they saw was one of Baghdad's busiest traffic circles completely empty at 6 p.m. Baghdad time.

An imposed curfew closed the city four hours earlier. Thomas Edwards of Greenbelt, who organized the event through his online connections with the owner and manager of the Baghdad IC, tapped at his laptop and adjusted the projector.

"A few weeks ago, it was much better," he said.

On March 30, Edwards was able to chat with café manager Ehsan (Edwards never knew his last name), who was optimistic about the American occupation of the country and excited about organizing the joint coffee shop discussion.

Today, Ehsan was most likely at home without electricity, Edwards said.

Edwards feared he would not hear from anyone in Baghdad. But just then someone from the Middle East logged on and typing appeared on Edwards' computer screen.

Ali Naj, an owner of the Sparkeast, an Internet provider based in Amman, Jordan and owner of the Baghdad IC, answered.

"I think everybody is at home today, it won't be easy to get them," he responded.

Naj, an Iraqi citizen and businessman, who is living in Jordan, offered to speak with the crowd at the College Perk.

Naj contacted his colleague, Mohammed Gailani, brother to the Iraqi finance minister, who also spoke to the group.

Gailani was in Jordan but he had been in Baghdad three days earlier.

Edwards asked Gailani what conditions were like in Baghdad.

"I can not tell you it is totally safe," Gailani said. "There are policemen on the roads. The Falluja conflict is not easy to overcome."

Referring to the fighting that has ensued in Falluja after an attack on four American security guards who were ambushed and mutilated, Gailani said that the American troops had to consider the "culture" of Iraqi people when dealing with difficult situations.

Naj agreed with Gailani. He said that Americans in Iraqi have handled things poorly. In particular, Naj pointed out that the American government in Iraq failed to secure the country's borders, and now anyone could slip through. Also, Americans failed to take control of the car registration process and now 500,000 cars in Iraq are unregistered, without licenses and impossible to track, Naj said.

Naj said he had celebrated the arrival of the American marines in Baghdad, but there was little security in the city now.

"Security is as important as food and water and air," he said.

Edwards opened the discussion up to College Perk customers who wanted to know what life was like for women and children in Baghdad. Gailani said that conditions for women and children were worse now than before the war. Both were restricted in movement, and children were mostly forced to stay inside. This was because of the unsafe conditions and not for any religious reasons, Naj said.

Edwards asked the group if anyone had a family member in the military in Iraq. Two customers said yes.

To these customers Naj said, "I want you to know I appreciate what they are doing. They are doing a very tough job. They are risking their lives. I hope they go home safely."

But Naj said they don't want the Americans to leave quickly. Naj said he thinks the insurgents currently fighting against the American troops are a minority in the country and that "the silent majority" wants the Americans to stay.

David Eisner, a computer programmer for the University of Maryland, College Park, who asked the men several questions, said he is a "news junkie."

Eisner was originally opposed to the war in Iraq, but now that our troops are there he "honestly hopes we are successful."

Edwards who signed off with the men after almost two hours of discussion, said he volunteers to moderate such discussions because he thinks it gives people a better understanding of what is happening in Iraq.

Through the process of setting up the discussions, Edwards has come to know some Iraqis and he said he feels connected to them.

"I am afraid for them," he said.

The Internet is dangerous for Iraqis, Edwards explained, because of feuding factions and instability. "It is very brave of them to do this. They are taking a risk for us," he said

E-mail Meghan Mullan at
mmullan@gazette.net.


http://www.gazette.net/200416/colleg.../212189-1.html