I’ve been reminded of that man because I’ve just been awarded an mbe for my work in Baghdad. It’s a national award and I’d like to think it recognises the importance of journalists being on both sides of a conflict like the Iraq war. I’d like to think that, because I want to believe it was worth risking my life and putting my wife Bhavna through a month of trauma to tell the world what was happening to the residents of Baghdad as the Coalition let loose its fury. But eight months on, I can’t help wondering who was actually listening. For weeks we described how the Iraqi people hated the idea of being invaded by a foreign army, let alone a western one. Of course they despised Saddam but they also blamed the West for their economic hardships and for thrusting another war upon them. And yet the Coalition forces in Baghdad, even now, seem surprised, and a little betrayed, by the idea that their troops are being attacked by people they thought they’d come to liberate.
I don’t know what happened to that man. He disappeared around the bend in the river ahead of a pack of his equally scared compatriots. Perhaps he was taken prisoner. He certainly wasn’t a threat to anyone, he’d even left behind his gun. Like most Iraqis he obviously wasn’t that keen on spilling his blood to save Saddam and so was running for his life. But what kind of a life was he running to? It’s simplistic to say that the Iraqi people were better off under the old regime. They weren’t. But they deserve much better than what has replaced it. What is the value of promises of democracy if you’re an ordinary Iraqi and random violence, kidnapping and rape stalk the people you love?