The Ballad of Guns
This guest blog is real time reporting from the war zone of Iraq where stationed in Baghdad, Aditya Raj Kaul writes about the way life is panning out and his impressions of violence.
While I write this piece, it’s 1:17 am in war-torn Iraq’s capital Baghdad. The leader of the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq & Syria) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has merely few hours ago released a video of a sermon in Mosul asking muslims to obey their khalifa. Social media is abuzz with the Islamic state spreading its wings soon towards Baghdad. Several Shia places of worship are being desecrated across the country. While the elected parliamentarians struggle to choose a Prime minister, the ugly side of the Shia-Sunni conflict is on display in the northern as well as western Iraq.
Although 46 Indian nurses who were stranded for over a month have safely reached home, 39 Indian construction workers still remain stranded and in abduction in ISIS stronghold of Mosul. The great miraculous escape of the nurses is being seen as a diplomatic coup by the Narendra Modi government back in India. Many are asking if there was a deal with the ISIS and ransom paid for such an outcome. The key negotiators Ambassador Suresh K. Reddy and Ambassador Ajay Kumar in their old mansion like Indian Embassy in Baghdad’s Red Zone along with the First Secretary remain tight lipped.
It’s my 12th day out of India, tracking the Iraq crisis in the Middle-East. My entire equipment has been confiscated by the Iraqi customs department while I entered the airport over five days ago. Only condition to get it is to have a permission from the Prime Minister’s office. The Prime minister Al-Maliki is busy making arrangements to run for the third term. Even as there is deep resentment against Al-Maliki on the streets of Iraq, the addiction of power it seems has taken over credible governance or democracy. Luckily, I had an iPad and a small camera in hand luggage which have now become my primary tools for work.
Outside my hotel a SWAT (Special Weapons And Tactics) vehicle of the Iraqi forces keeps vigil round the clock with a sniper sitting on top of it. It’s a common sight across Baghdad. Check-posts, Iraqi hummers, emergency sirens. And the fear of unknown…
The streets are empty at night. It’s unlike any other global city. There are no youth loitering around in bikes or girls returning home late. Baghdad is the capital of a war-zone. Before entering a friend recommended me to memorise a sentence from Arabic which may come handy in a troublesome situation. La tutlek. Ana sahafi. (Don’t shoot. I’m a journalist). While I indeed have used the latter part of that sentence on several checking points in the city, life goes on here as normal otherwise till now.
Reporting from a conflict area is always depressing. Be it back home in Kashmir, or from the Maoist heartland of Bastar in Chattisgarh or even now from Iraq. It’s not about the fear of a suicide bomber who may appear without notice and blow up any moment. Not even about the desperation of getting out of sheer frustration. It’s depressing because of how it transforms our gardens of hope and streets of love into killing fields! Never, never has it been easy for a reporter to walk silent registering gory stories of neglect, barbaric acts or death. And I thought being born in a conflict zone helps. Not always.
After covering a few conflicts, perhaps you become immune to see blood, bombs and beasts. It’s a ritual of every conflict. There are no surprises in death and destruction. While I prepare to face yet another dawn amidst blazing guns and bombs, the most striking feature of all conflicts for me till now has been it’s silence through the night. It’s always good to be awake and study the progressing night in a conflict zone. Putting events of the day in perspective, weaving a plan for another day in a far away land. Since it’s a long war.
About the author:
Aditya Raj Kaul is a political and conflict journalist with the English TV news channel Times Now in India. He hails from Kashmir and has an active interest in tracking the India-Pakistan conflict, Maoist insurgency in central India and developments in Afghanistan and Iraq. Amongst others interviewed by Kaul include India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief of the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) based terror outfit Hizbul Mujahideen Syed Salauddin. When free, he blogs at http://www.activistsdiary.blogspot.com and can be followed on twitter @AdityaRajKaul