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 Writer's Desk 

July 18, 2005
Vol. 3, No. 13



Jeff Severns Guntzel Baghdad has many shades of bad

Jeff Severns Guntzel, NCR staff writer

Updated Monday July 25, 2005

'I am home:*)'

Over the weekend, Faiza Jarrar posted word of her son's release: "Good Evening," She wrote in a Saturday night post, "Khalid now is free." And the next morning: "Khalid is sleeping now, it's 11AM in the morning, he is very tired."

Khalid's brother, Raed, had this to say: "After many long days of uncertainty and worry, Khalid is now free. We want to thank everyone who tried to comfort us in these hard times with kind emails and messages.

"For the last couple of weeks, my family and I have put all of our effort into trying to get Khalid released from detention in Iraq. Now that he is free, we will direct our efforts towards tens of thousands of other innocent people locked up either in U.S. detention centers or in the jails of the U.S. supported regime."

And from Khalid himself, whose blog is active once again:

I am home:*)
I am in Amman, just arrived few hours ago.
Will tell you more later inshalla [God willing]....

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In Baghdad last week, 22 year-old engineering student Khalid Jarrar vanished and left no trace. His family assumed the worst. But there are many shades of bad in Baghdad today, where criminal gangs seeking impossible ransoms kidnap countless Iraqis every week, where Iraqis disappear into the American-run detention centers in steady streams, and where anybody can die for any whiff of association with a growing list of enemies -- from occupation authorities to political parties to something as fundamental as religion or as irreversible as ethnicity.

Khalid's disappearance was no doubt one of many in Iraq's capital last week. But Khalid's situation is unique: he's the author of the popular Baghdad blog, Tell Me a Secret. In fact, he belongs to a family of bloggers. His brothers Raed and Majid and his mother Faiza each have their own blogs. And so Khalid's drama is unfolding online.

News of Khalid's disappearance first surfaced on Raed's blog, Raed in the Middle, after two days of desperate wondering and after a somewhat hopeful development: "My mom called me today at 7 in the morning shouting with happiness: 'Your brother is okay!' "

Khalid had called his father from an Iraqi jail. He was alive and well, but he was still in the custody of the Iraqi police. That was Thursday. Today he remains in custody and his family, friends and many supporters are pressing for Khalid's release, or at least for more information.

Still, celebration followed Khalid's call. "The feelings of joyfulness in our family," Raed wrote, "would give anyone the impression that my brother has won the lottery! My mom spent the morning planning my brother's future, including the arrangements of his wedding party!

"If your child or sibling vanishes for two days then calls from the secret service jail in any other place on earth, that would be considered a disaster and a violation of human rights…

"In Iraq, however, it's Happy News." Meaning: at least he is alive.

Events surrounding Khalid's detention and the reaction of the blogger community in Iraq provide an intimate look at Iraqi life more than two years after Saddam Hussein's ouster.

Khalid and his family had been in Amman when they received word of a break-in at their Baghdad home. Khalid hitched a ride home on a truck carrying a shipment of water filters his father had arranged as part of the family business (the family also has an eight-month-old campaign to provide emergency aid to civilian victims in Iraq).

"When I arrived," Khalid wrote on July 10, "I found that the thieves broke the metal window that protects the main window in the front of the house, and then broke the glass and got into the house."

The family's AK-47 (common protection in post-invasion Iraq), a satellite television receiver, and Khalid's hard drives were stolen and the house had been ransacked in what Khalid believes was a search for cash or gold. "Two things people usually keep in their houses," Khalid wrote, "because people don't trust banks that much.

"Because the window was broken and there was a sand storm after that," Khalid continued, "you can imagine how the house looked … actually you can't … it took the efforts of two persons for many hours, to clean it up, and fix the mess."

After a thorough cleaning, he changed all the locks: "That would be a total of 12 locks," Khalid wrote. "It's how it works in Iraq."

Soon, Khalid was back at his university. Readers of Tell Me a Secret last heard about Khalid's university in a post that followed the explosion of a "small missile" on campus.

"I was supposed to go to the university today because I have very important things to do," Khalid wrote that day, "but … I was very lazy and tired and decided to shower and leave a bit late. After I dressed up and left the house a friend called me from the university:

F: Khalid where are you
Me: I am coming!
F: DON'T!!!
Me: Whyyy???
F: Something exploded in the university now, some people were killed and some were injured, they evacuated the university, DON'T COME.
Me: Where when how why???
F: I was ..... the ...... Outside the ......
Me: What?
F: I ...

"We lost connection … At least four students were killed, including one girl that I know … This girl was D., a very nice girl, short with big beautiful eyes, everyone used to call her "Tweety" … May her soul rest in piece."

A little later, Khalid posted a correction delivering a swap of happy and tragic news coupled -- oddly -- with familiar Internet symbols:

D is alive! D is alive! :))
We just found out, that it wasn't her that was killed, another girl that looks like her :*(((
It's not easy to identify bodies in such accidents :*(((

Khalid's arrest -- his family is calling it an abduction -- happened on that same university campus. He told his father he had been taken by the mukhabarat, or secret police. "My dad said that Khalid mentioned something about his writings or his blog," Raed wrote in his post announcing the detention. "We're not sure whether our blogs are the reason behind the abduction of my brother, but it's one of the possible scenarios."

In a panic, Khalid's mother Faiza, just returned from a visit to the United States for a training course on peace building, erased all of her blog posts in Arabic over the weekend. Her blog, A Family in Baghdad, often critical of the current government, the American occupation, and the killing of Iraqi civilians by all sides, now consists only of the English translations of her Arabic posts.

"My mom freaked out," Raed wrote, "She thinks the Iraqi government would keep Khalid imprisoned if they knew his family is anti-occupation and critical to the current regime."

Following Raed's announcement of his brother's detention, Iraqi bloggers were slow -- meaning, in the blogosphere, not immediate -- to post reactions, which led one blogger to post a challenge:

"I only can guess the silence surrounding Khalid's arrest may stem from fear of association. It is not much different from days of old really is it? Somebody disappears and nobody else wants to know.

"What kind of democracy is it when people behave exactly as they might under a dictatorship?"

It is certainly no measure of success that this kind of fear exists in post-Hussein Iraq. A recent State Department report, which cited "reports of arbitrary deprivation of life, torture, impunity, poor prison conditions -- particularly in pretrial detention facilities -- and arbitrary arrest and detention" at the hands of the American backed Iraqi government, does little to mitigate the concern sparked by Khalid Jaraar's detention.

It is difficult to know what is next for Khalid. His brother Raed only had this to say: "Our goal now is to ask the mukhabarat to take my brother to court and reveal what exactly he is being charged with (if anything)."

Khalid's friends, family and an international network of supporters are asking Americans to call, e-mail or fax the Iraqi consulate in Washington D.C. and ask that the government reveal the charges against Khalid or release him immediately.

Contact information can be found at: http://giveusourkhalidback.blogspot.com/

Jeff Severns Guntzel's e-mail address is jguntzel@ncronline.org

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