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All the other stuff, the love, the democracy, is sort of by-play. The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. —D. H. Lawrence January 2004 Baghdad 1.8.04 It’s three A.M., and Paola and I have been working late, ‹nishing a translation of her report on the claims system. But to prove how safe this place has become, I decide to make the tenminute walk home on my own. Rory and I have been staying out late just because we hate having to be in by eleven. The of‹cial curfew has been lifted. There’s even a twenty-four-hour store just a twenty-minute walk from the hotel in Karrada. But the curfew has become a habit. All the cabs are gone. Most nights you can get a friendly police of‹cer to give you a ride, though. In fact, the streets are full of cops after eleven. “Are you sure it’s okay?” Paola asks. “Yeah, the only people on the street are the police.” This is, admittedly, the ‹rst time I’ve tried it alone. There was a long period of bombing and heavy ‹re earlier. I’m hoping that means that things will be even quieter tonight than usual. I’m right about the cops, in any case: they stop me within ‹ve minutes of leaving Paola’s. They usually just run high-speed laps around the streets, but they’ll stop anyone on the street. I know quite a few of them in the neighborhood. Initially, the biggest problem is the packs of wild dogs. They 116 trail me, inching closer and closer (no one believes me when I tell them this is just like Detroit), but fall back when a patrol car pulls up alongside. I’m asked to explain where I’m coming from, where I’m going, and where I’m from, to produce ID, to sit through a lecture on being out so late. Finally, I’m quizzed on my ethnic origins . “Oslak wein?” [Where are you from?] “Amereeka.” [America.] “Oslak wein?” “Amereeka?” “Oslak wein?” “Jidee wow jidatee lubnanee.” [My grandparents are Lebanese.] “Zein.” [Good.] Further scolding for being out so late. Then the question of why I’m out so late again. “Moo moushkeela,” I tell them. It’s no problem. “There are police everywhere.” The of‹cer laughs. I’m sent on my way, the dogs instantly picking up the trail. “Imshee!” [Move it!] Amazingly, the dogs actually back off when I say that. Another police car stops, and we pretty much go through the same dialogue. There’s a little less friendly chat and a little more scolding. Once again I’m sent on my way. The third group of police of‹cers I meet fully searches me and takes everything out of my wallet. “Inta sahafee?” [Are you a journalist?] “Eh.” [Yes.] “Inta sahafee? “Eh.” “Inta sahafee?” “Eh.” They’re just like cops in the States. Same question, over and over. JANUARY 2004 117 Now I’m up against the car, and they’re asking me to unpack the contents of my bag. I watch over my shoulder as the of‹cer puts my money back in my wallet, short one hundred dollars. His partner is looking at the picture on the desktop of my computer. They’re obviously taking a piss here. They compel me to ride with them to the hotel. After all, I’ve paid one hundred dollars for the ride. To make all of this even more insulting, we’re less than ‹ve hundred yards from the hotel. They tell me their names and what station they’re from and drive off laughing—not their real names, apparently. It’s dark, and there are no streetlights, and they speed off before I think to get their car number. I thought about asking them for my money back, but since they took it after I showed them my American passport and press pass, I ‹gure they know just what they’re doing. They have the guns. I’ve been working on a story about the police and was getting tired of unproven tales of corruption. Apparently there are some things you just have to verify for yourself. Besides, these guys are only getting paid a little more than one hundred dollars a month. I wonder if I’d rob me in those circumstances. Knowing the situation they’re in—police dying faster than American soldiers, no...


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MARC Record
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