- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 6, 2004

Our man Borzou

“I’m not afraid of car bombs, at least when I sleep,” writes free-lance correspondent Borzou Daragahi in an e-mailed letter to friends and colleagues from Baghdad, to which he recently returned after a visit to the United States.

His residence in the Iraqi capital, he explains, is in a very well-guarded hotel not far from the Australian Embassy residence and if the bombers could reach it, they would have done so long before this.

The best the insurgents have done to date, he writes, is to explode a bomb just outside the barricades surrounding his little enclave, “in front of a hotel not lucky enough to be surrounded by burly, armed guards with Kalashnikovs.”

“The explosion killed a kid who sold cigarettes on the streets and shattered windows of most nearby buildings, including my bedroom window,” Mr. Daragahi reported in a letter that must be giving his parents fits.

“It was about 8 in the morning. I threw on some clothes and ran out to the scene. A plume of black smoke rose from the car and flames licked the air,” his note continues.

“Other journalists were also at the scene rolling film, snapping pictures and demanding accounts from witnesses. I swear I could see some of the journalists smiling.

“‘Oh boy,’ the thinking goes. ‘This is great footage. I’ll upload this stuff right away. My editors back in New York will be psyched. And I didn’t even have to leave the hotel.’”

“Of course, my microphone was outstretched, too,” Mr. Daragahi acknowledges in his e-mail, which projects a sense of the mindless brutality that marks everyday life in a war zone.

That same sense of banal violence comes across in another passage from his e-mailed letter, composed in the back of his car while waiting to transit a checkpoint on the way back to Baghdad from the southern city of Najaf.

Teaching manners

“I wait in the car, getting increasingly bored as the minutes tick away. No radio stations come in out here and I forgot to bring a book,” Mr. Daragahi writes. “Shamil, my translator, and I decide to get out of the car and walk to the front of the checkpoint, to see what’s going on.”

Mr. Daragahi, an Iranian-American who is normally based in Tehran, says he keeps a “kaffiyeh,” the Arab headdress, and his Iranian passport in his bag at all times.

He says he has also grown a small beard and purchased some cheap sandals at a bazaar, “the better to blend in with the locals and avoid the possibility of getting kidnapped or shot up on this rather dangerous stretch of road where journalists and contractors keep getting picked off.”

Some kind of commotion had broken out at the front of the long line of cars at the checkpoint, Mr. Daragahi writes.

“Some of the Iraqi drivers, most of them taxis who make their living ferrying passengers between the [Shiite] shrine cities and the capital, are trying to cut to the front of the line, and the American soldiers are ordering them to get back in line.”

The soldiers are yelling and screaming, the letter says. The Iraqis are honking their horns.

“Suddenly, one of the soldiers holds up his M-16 and lunges toward the front windshield of a taxi full of passengers; from my vantage point it looks like he’s about to open fire, and I feel my heart drop through to my stomach. ‘No,’ I yell.

“The American soldier looks over at me, perhaps startled by my expression of unrestrained horror.

“‘It’s OK,’ he calls out to me. ‘It’s OK. We’re just trying to teach these people some manners.’”

Safely back in Baghdad, Mr. Daragahi recounts tuning in to Radio Sawa, the U.S.-financed pop music and newsbite station.

“‘It’s all good girl, turn me on ‘til the early morning,’ sings Sean Paul. ‘Let’s get it on, let’s get it on ‘til the early morning. Girl, it’s all good, just turn me on.’

“Regards, Borzou.”

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is djones@washingtontimes.com.

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