Baghdad Blogger Leaves Web for Film

The "Baghdad Blogger" has traded in his keyboard for a camera.

Salam Pax (search) — his pen name — is well-known for his detailed accounts of life in Baghdad under U.S. bombings. His musings, posted on a Web log or blog, were read by millions and later published in the British newspaper The Guardian (search).

But after the fall of Saddam, he was no longer satisfied with words. So he picked up a camcorder and began chronicling Iraq. The result is his first film, a documentary called "Baghdad Blogger: Video Reports from Iraq" that is being screened at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam.

"It's amazing to be in Iraq at this time," he said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It's an excuse for me to go out and explore, with all the changes that are happening."

Pax takes viewers into the homes of Muslim women and a packed liquor store where customers — himself included — stock up before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The film is one of several from post-Saddam Iraq being screened for the first time at the Rotterdam festival, one of the premier showcases for independent movie-making.

The Iraqi man won't reveal his real name, saying he has received death threats. As a result there has been much speculation about his identity and upbringing.

Pax says he is a 32-year-old architect by training. When he was 16 his family moved to Vienna, where he finished high school and developed an interest in Western pop culture, music and film. Returning to Iraq seven years later in 1996 was a shock and he had trouble readjusting to a life with less liberty.

"I cannot agree with all the (strict Muslim) traditions and the culture. There are so many things I disapprove of or cannot understand. It's a very strict society," he said. "But I love the people of Baghdad, they make it what it is."

His father is a member of the party led by interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi (search), a U.S.-backed secular Shiite, and a potential target of insurgents. Ahead of last week's elections they were flown out of the country to spend two weeks at an undisclosed location.

Despite his initial optimism — "Salam Pax" means "Peace, Peace" in Arabic and Latin, respectively — he now has little hope calm will return to his country in the near future.

"Until January, things felt very good, like it was going to improve. But things have been going bad since then. It's just one long, downhill ride," said Pax, who speaks fluent English. His greatest fear is that the United States will pull out too soon, leaving Iraq in the hands of hardline Muslim leaders.

"Things are really nasty, but (America) cannot just say, 'This is democracy guys, bye,"' he said.

Still Pax says he wouldn't miss the metamorphosis of his homeland.

"I spent the last 10 to 12 years living in Iraq, and it was like a big prison. And suddenly you have Internet access and there are these little windows, the Web logs," he said.

Pax is now planning to focus on making a longer film. But he isn't sure if he'll ever return to blogging.

"I realize the danger I put myself and my family in," he said, adding he later learned that Iraqi secret service had been tracking his activities on the Internet.

"It was a little foolish, but my God was it fun!"