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April 18, 2006

Dragan the producer considers himself Yugoslavian. He was born in Sarajevo, but now lives in Belgrade. He's about 6'3" and a good ballplayer, but he smokes and tells me he's a bit out of practice.

We played two competitive games of one-on-one this morning, before our live shift began. I made him work hard on every possession and forced him to take a lot of outside shots. USA won again, 11-5, 11-6. He says he wants a rematch tomorrow. I could be in trouble...

April 15, 2006

Simon the British engineer is a good poker player, so I guess he was bluffing when he said he could play ball.

I beat him 10-1, 10-1. The world domination basketball tour continues.

If you're keeping track at home, the score: USA 2, OTHER NATIONS 0.

April 14, 2006

Video: Iraq's Top Cop


Bayan Jabor says he hates his job and hates the police, even though he's in charge of the country's 135,000 officers.

He told me during Saddam’s regime, police killed 13 members of his family, including his brother.

"This is a tough job for you," I said to him during our interview in his office in a palace located inside the Green Zone.

"Tough for everyone," he said.

"Do you like it?" I asked.

"No. I don't want to keep it! They force me to take it. I’m a civil engineer, a merchant. I can't continue. I don't want to continue. My specialty is construction, industry… I want to rebuild Iraq."

"Why did you take the job?" I asked.

"They force me," he said with a laugh.

He told me he's stepping down in a couple weeks, after spending one year in the high-ranking position.

"Who’s going to take your place?"

"Anyone! Welcome!" he said with a smile, then laughed again. "I’m working 17 hours daily. At the beginning, you see pictures... my hair...," he gestured towards his silver mane.

"No gray?" I asked. "50 percent black!" he told me with another laugh.

Bayan is very engaging, charming and candid about the deep problems within the Iraqi security forces. He says when Iraq began putting it's army and police departments back together after the invasion, they focused on quantity, not quality, since they were starting from scratch and needed help fast. He admits some undesirables are now in uniform, including militia members and guys still loyal to their old boss Saddam. Some of the policemen are suspected of spreading the sectarian violence by serving on death squads, executing people.

"I try to control, I try to control,” he told me.

"Is it impossible?" I asked.

"It's not easy. It’s not impossible, but it's not easy."

All of Bayan's high-ranking officials, except one, served under Saddam. And, the old guard is having a hard time unlearning old tricks, he said.

"Protect human rights? Rule of law? They were torturing people during Saddam Hussein’s regime. They were corrupt; against rule of law... it's not easy to learn (teach) them. They are 50 years old! 40 years old! You can't imagine,” he said, shaking his head.

"You have to retrain them?" I asked.

"It’s not easy."

"Change their way of thinking?" I asked.

"Yes! This is the problem."

It’s not all bad. Bayan credits growing numbers of people with reporting the insurgents and terrorists living next door or down the street, some calling a tip line. These busts, and others, often lead to more arrests and weapons caches. His men are getting better over time, he says, learning as they go.

He's trying to address other issues, like phony cops counterfeiting uniforms and killing or robbing civilians. He says he's getting harder-to-copy clothes and better ID's and signage for the vehicles.

There are ongoing attacks against his men, who are badly outgunned by the terrorists and insurgents who are now killing them almost on daily a basis. He says he's trying to get better weapons and training for the men, who are still signing up in big numbers for the weekly pay and a chance to defend their turf and their families.

The political unrest doesn't help. The violence is believed to be worse now because enemies of Iraq’s efforts at democracy are trying to disrupt the process. He’s hoping the new government is formed soon, but doesn't expect the killing to end. He doesn't expect stability for another 18 months.

"I think it will reduce only," he said of the violence. "Not stop. Stop, it takes time."

April 12, 2006

When I got back from the Green Zone this afternoon, as I was walking down the hall, I noticed the basketball that had been sitting on the floor unused for the past several days.

It was dirty.

When I got to my room, I looked out the window, and sure enough, the deed was done.

The backboard was up, securely attached by steel, welding, and steady hands, ready for action.

When there was a break in my work routine, I changed, grabbed the ball, and hit the court. As I was warming up, one of our local cameramen came out and joined me. We shot around for a while, and then played a quick game of one-on-one.

In the interests of international relations, I don't want to say who won by a score of 5-2, but his initials are RL.

Rematch? Anytime.

April 12, 2006

Any journey outside the FOX Baghdad Bureau involves extensive precautions, planning, security, and extra travel time. In other words, it ain't easy.

Today we had an interview with Interior Minister Bayan Jabor at his office in the Green Zone, less than 5 miles from our office. The interview was set for noon. I was told to be ready to leave at 9:30 a.m.

There is much I'd like to write about our security routine, because I find it fascinating and I think many of you would too, but the details have to be kept confidential or we'd be more at risk. The less the bad guys know, the better, so I'm skipping ahead, past the pre-departure process, and the journey between our bureau and the Green Zone.

What struck me once we reached the Zone itself is how many layers of security there are. It's not just the checkpoint at the gate (which can involve extensive searches and delays unless you hold the right credentials), but once you're inside the heavily fortified and guarded perimeter, past the razor wire-topped concrete blast walls (known as T-walls because they're formed in the shape of upside down T's), you still have to pass through multiple checkpoints to get inside almost any building.

The Green Zone is like a city within a city. It's home to the Convention Center, the Al-Rasheed Hotel, the U.S. and British Embassies, Iraqi government buildings, dignitaries' residences, and offices and housing for troops, contractors, and some media as well. Many of these homes and offices are protected by blast walls of their own. Some also have their own guard towers and security gates and heavily armed troops working the perimeter.

The Palace we went to is no exception. It’s a large, impressively-gaudy building formerly used for visiting dignitaries and heads-of-state, and by Saddam himself, who never liked to stay in one place for more than a few days at a time. It's right across the street from the parade grounds and the infamous sculpture of the crossed swords, held by two right fists and forearms modeled after Saddam's own.

In order to get in, you first have to zigzag through a series of concrete highway dividers and stop at a checkpoint and show ID's. Then you drive to another spot and exit the vehicle, so guards can search the interior, trunk, and engine compartment. After you drive past another gate, park and walk in the front door, there is an airport style X-ray machine for all the bags. The security guards actually went through each case and removed every piece of equipment for further screening.

Finally, we walked into the grand foyer of the palace, up a long flight of marble steps, and sat down in a waiting room. We were about 45 minutes early.

By the way, the interview was fascinating. More on that later...

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Rick,

Glad you are able to serve up some serious hoop-tea over there. Go Jayhawks!!

Dan
Kansas


Hey Rick,

I love the hoop updates. A little break in the reality of War!

Thank you! FOX ROCKS!!!!

Peggy


Rick-

Thanks for the rare honesty about how difficult manuevering in Baghdad is. Many reporters list the good things that our troops have done and American citizens take that to mean all is well and safe.

Charles
Brandon MS


Rick, I had the fry thing for the first time at the old Green Zone Café (before it was blown up) in Dec. 03, can’t say I liked it much. I must say that traveling anywhere in Iraq is so much fun. The first thing I had to learn was to plan on waiting on security way longer than you plan on traveling.

Stay safe,

Dan Smith

Hey Rick, we love the blog, and hope you stay safe. Seems like yesterday, you were pioneering the new news industry with your embedded reporting, and now you are back. Do the common folk, the run of the mill Iraqi people, feel any gratitude toward the USA or do they all just hate us and want us out?? Does anyone over there seem to be outside the intellectual vaccuum.

Mitchell and Leigh,
Jericho, NY

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