An Independent Look at Iraq (Bill Putnam's Iraq blog)

Bill Putnam, a former Army photog now with Zuma Press, has an often-updated line-of-sight blog out of Iraq Here's a taste of it:

The crowd was walking up around a Humvee 100 meters down the road. It milled around a little and walked down the road toward us. I raised up my tele-photo and snapped a few frames.I saw a group of boys, all looked to be under 17, were protesting their allegience to Saddam Hussein as we watched. This can't happening, I thought. Here we are watching an Iraqi contractor put up security barriers for the country's elections a week away and they're pleding their blood to Saddam.

Wasn't Saddam sitting in a courthouse somewhere in Baghdad? Wasn't he fighting those charges and for his life in that courthouse? More importantly, wasn't his government deposed almost three years ago?The group stopped a shot distance away and one of them, I guess their designated leader or organizer, walked up to Pitkin and asked if his group could walk through. The group walked up to us as Pitkin and the boy negotiated. Pitkin looked a little heistant to let them through. The group didn't say where they were ultimately walking to; they just wanted to walk through in front of us.I had visions of everything I'd been taught in the Army about urban operations as the discusion happened. Letting the civilian populace continue their lives while the Army continued operations is a tricky business. What line seperates good order from chaos in normal life? Where's the line in war?Finally, Pitkin let them go through but they had to be gone in 10 minutes. The boy thanked Pitkin and rallied his friends.The chant is one I've heard a million times on television news. Watching it just three years ago on CNN I thought these people were brainwashed. Nothing led me to believe I'd be here -- in post-Saddam Iraq no less -- hearing people, in the "Tantooine of Iraq," chant it: "Saddam! Saddam! We give our hearts and blood to you!"

It was a small and enthusiastic group of boys.

One of them was holding a large painting of Saddam. It looked to be a bad oil copy of a photo. I saw numbers on the top left corner. It must've been a large wall clock, I thought.I snapped a few photos of them as they walked past us. They were all young, just starting out in the world. I wondered there if they were doing it of habit or maybe out of conviction.They are the last group of kids to have really remembered life under Saddam. They might have been Sunnis too.But it was Blunt he put it so eloquently. He's been in the Rakassans since he was a private. Now a staff sergeant, he's been deployed multiple times to foriegn hotspots. It didn't matter to hom what they were protesting or marching. What he said was something so profound and simple and it explained my own thoughts on why those boys were marching."These people don't even know what they're protesting for," Blunt said.Some people can see those boys as proof of the march of democracy across the middle east. They're right to some degree. What we saw just wouldn't be possible three years ago. Now we're seeing fairly transparent elections in Egypt. Syria's been kicked out of Lebanon. Palestine is slowly forming in to country. Even Saudi Arabia has held half-hearted attempts at elections. Last but not least, Iraq is having its third election in a year.Those events are taking place up in the atmosphere as far as Blunt and the other guys in his platoon are concerned.Despite all those events across the region, the protest is also a small sign of the intense loyalty Saddam still holds. Yes, he's in jail. Yes, he's probably going to be found guilty. Yes, he'll face the gallows soon after. Those boys don't care though. To them he's The Man. The protest out there on the dirty, dreary street in front of a girls school is also a sign that it will take a long time to change attitude in this area against Saddam.


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