Fri, Apr 21, 2006 - Page 9 News List

Bloggers provide gritty insight on Iraq



Zeyad is a 27-year-old dentist. He works for a government clinic with broken dental chairs and no anesthetics. At home, when gunfire rattles his neighborhood, Zeyad's family cowers in one room murmuring prayers while he types away on his computer.

Zeyad is a blogger.

Blogging was rare in former president Saddam Hussein's Iraq, the now-famous "Salman Pax" an important exception. Today, however, blogging is providing many ordinary Iraqis with a voice -- a chance to vent and reflect on the changes reshaping their country.

For the outside world, the generally anonymous Internet postings offer raw insider views and insights in which sorrow and joy, hope and despair, fear and defiance coexist as the violence of the insurgency and now sectarian divisions swirl around Iraqis.

"The West should listen to the opinions of the simple Iraqi people. They only hear from analysts and politicians," said Zeyad, who agreed to discuss his blogging only if his family name wasn't revealed for security reasons. "This is a good window into the world."

Zeyad penned his first entry in his Healing Iraq blog in October 2003 about Iraq's new currency, calling it "wonderful and so symbolic" that the distribution of the new dinar coincided with the anniversary of a referendum that re-elected Saddam. He has gone on to chronicle his thoughts on all aspects of life in the new Iraq.

A self-described agnostic born into a Sunni Muslim family, Zeyad reacted angrily in 2003 when the then interior minister announced that people found eating in public during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan would be detained for three days and fined.

"I wanted to kill someone after reading all that," Zeyad wrote. "Free country my ass."

In later postings, he seethed at the growing influence of Muslim clerics, saying it made him fear for the future of freedom in Iraq.

"I want to be able to buy my vodka without having to look left and right. I want to be able to walk with my girlfriend in the street while holding hands together without people glaring at me. Is this TOO MUCH to ask?" he wrote. "Do I have to immigrate and leave my country for wanting to do all that?"

But there were moments of pride and exhilaration, too.

One came when Iraqis voted for an interim legislature in January last year, their first democratic election in decades.

"Hold your head up high. Remember that you are Iraqi," Zeyad wrote that day.

"My mother was in tears watching the scenes from all over the country," he added. "Iraqis had voted for peace and for a better future, despite the surrounding madness. I sincerely hope this small step would be the start of much bolder ones."

More recently, his blog has tackled grimmer subjects: explosions, assassinations, street fighting -- common themes in many Iraqi blogs.

"Please don't ask me whether I believe Iraq is on the verge of civil war," Zeyad wrote. "All I see is that both sides are engaged in tit-for-tat lynchings and summary executions."

Zeyad said health ministry officials deem the trip to his clinic on the outskirts of Baghdad too risky. That is why the chairs have not been fixed and the anesthetics were not provided.

"We don't work," he said.

Still, Zeyad knows that under Saddam's regime, he could not have dreamed of having a blog, let alone publicly criticizing the government.

Like Zeyad, who moved with his family to Britain when he was one year old and returned to Iraq at seven, most Iraqi bloggers seem relatively young and well-educated -- and they write in English.

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