Article One - Why go to Iraq as a Journalist?
Kurdistan / Turkey / Iraq Page
A look at some day-to-day life in the region
The Janesville Gazette has been nice enough to post my February and March 2008 dispatches from Northern Iraq on their blog page. Go to, From Janesville to Iraq . They have done a nice job and their help makes it is easier for me. The computers here in Iraq are not always up to building blogs and Web pages.
Bob Keith near the Dokan Dam in Northern Iraq in October of 2006. This photo was snapped by the driver Bob hired to drive him from Erbil to Sulaymaniyah, Iraq.
Also, see journal entries and more pictures of Iraq on the Blog:
First impressions of Iraq. A half hour after arriving in Iraq I stopped at this ice cream shop. This is in Zakho, Iraq not far from the Turkish border. Photo by Bob Keith, October 2006.
This is a picture of the muddy streets of Halabja, Iraq. This is the site of the 1988 gassing of the Kurds by the Saddam Hussein Iraqi Government. It is estimated 5000 people died. The mud was hard to wash out of my pant legs - it seemed eerily symbolic of all the lost souls who died near this very location. Halabja is only about five miles from Iran. Photo by Bob Keith, October 2006.
Why? The one question I usually get asked is why did I go to Iraq?
Reasons / motivations for going to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq
(See also the two articles at the end of this Kurdistan / Iraq Page)
I am putting together a lifetime of training and experience that has been going to waste languishing at under-employment at part-time jobs. If I must be paid poorly, let it be at something I want to do.
I am trained in agriculture; mechanics; communication; journalism; criminal justice; writing; media; Internet; emergency medicine; firefighting; water rescue; administrative logistics; and, military combat engineer tactics. These are all experiences and skills that when put together, help one travel in a place like Kurdistan of Iraq.
The perennially-wondering culture of “they say;” “gosh, I guess,” “well, you know;” and, “I suppose,” is just not a good enough explanation for the way the world and especially, how a war works.
Someone needs to speak for the average-guy’s view versus being spoon-fed by the millionaire news anchors and the omniscient news wire services.
Over 85 Wisconsin soldiers have been killed in Iraq; only 10 or so Wisconsin journalists have gone to Iraq since 2003. To my knowledge, no Wisconsin journalist has been to Halabja, Iraq – site of the 1988 poison gassing of thousands of Kurds by Saddam Hussein’s regime. But, considering this is an interactive Blog-journalist project, anyone may feel free to bring me up to date with more accurate info. Until then, Wisconsin media receives a grade of "D-" for their poor effort, especially considering the sacrifice so many of citizens from the state have made in the Iraq War.
I choose my study battles carefully – studying where we have had long contentious wars is one of my interests and specialties – Vietnam; Laos; and Iraq.
My overseas military service experience has never left me – I have a general interest in all things military and current wars. I was stationed in Germany from 1974 to 1977. I received a good view of the Cold War as well as the end of the Vietnam War Era.
This segues off of my study of Vietnam – the country, culture, people, and war. Now I am studying Kurdistan of Turkey and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq; the region, culture, people, and war.
I always admired the many people from the many countries that went to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos as media and news correspondents during the Vietnam War. Many of them sacrificed dearly. See Horst Faas and Tim Page’s book, Requiem (1997).
Journalist casulties from the current Iraq War can be found by clicking here. Iraq War media casulties
I have no siblings or children of my own. My parents are long passed away. My wife Heide is well-prepared in difficult and challenging endeavors either accompanying me as photographer or as in this case, working tirelessly behind the scenes.
The next two pictures accidentally caught poetic ironies in Iraq
The Northern Iraqis of Dahuk are trying to build an ecconomic life from decades of war. Yet, the headless mannequins in the foreground beg one to pause. The words "headless" and "Iraq" together in one thought and scene are way too much for this American writer to casually ignor. It begs the creeps. Photo by Bob Keith, October 2006
This photo is also taken in Dahuk, Iraq. It is of an advertisement billboard sitting on top of one of the buildings down town. In the big picture, Dahuk is a realatively safe city compared to the rest of Iraq. However, it is still Iraq and there are holes in the safety net in my opinion. An American or anyone for that matter, must never let one's guard down while in this country. There is something Orwellian about the notion of a "tourist compound" in today's Iraq. Photo by Bob Keith, October 2006.
Another consummate question:
I did not realize a person could even go to Iraq - how is it you were even allowed to go?
The big millionaire news anchors seem to have us so socially conditioned to believe "they" and only "they" are the only ones who are allowed to gather news from a war zone, we often are stunned to realize it is not true. There must be some mistake right? A grass roots journalist just can't be allowed to violate the sacred hierarchy of the multi-millionaire media, right? Wrong!!
Well if the media can't stop an independent journalist from going to a war zone surely the government can, right? Wrong again!! Americans seem so anxious to have their movement and information resources so rationed by some imaginary elites, I am becoming fatigued by the redundant question. I have also noticed people often give me the thousand yard stare when they realize they may have had more freedom at their fingertips all their lives than they actually ever imagined. It is not written into law that a cruise ship company must choreograph one's every travels when one is out of the country.
To my knowledge our government does not restrict us from going anywhere in the world. I believe this reluctance to restrict us average guys still resonates from our love affair with our long history with freedom of movement. And in case we all need to be reminded, freedom of the press is still one of the five tenets of the First Amendment to our Constitution. However, the government will give us lots of travel warnings and caveats; and, if we get in trouble in a dangerous place they will probably take the position of, "don't cry too big of crocodile tears because after all, you put your self in a war zone."
The ever ubiquitous juice cafe. This one is in Dahuk, Iraq. Photo by Bob Keith, October 2006.
A bakery in Zakho, Iraq. Photo by Bob Keith, October 2006.
The walls of the massive old Fortress in Erbil, Iraq loom over much of the inner city and its day to day street life. In the foreground passes one of thousands of odious orange and white taxis. They are ubiquitous in Iraq. I frequently had run-ins with the drivers as they liked to take short cuts through Mosul and or Kirkuk to avoid the mountains. The mountains are safer for Americans to travel through. As soon as the taxi boss was out of sight the drivers are subject take short cuts not agreed to by the taxi boss. The only problem with that is, Americans do not fare to well when caught in Mosul and Kirkuk these days. I found myself on a couple of occasions in the outskirts of both cities after having paid the drivers to take me through the mountains to go from one northern city to another. But, a short cut through Mosul or Kirkuk could save two to three hours from the journey. The people in Northern Iraq often seem to take many risks we Americans might find unnecessary. Photo by Bob Keith, October 2006.
The bed sheets over the windows of this sandwich shop in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq loosely hide the fact that people are eating in there during day light hours. This picture was taken during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. People are not suppose to eat during day light hours during Ramadan. All I know is that the food in this war zone cafe did not make me sick so it was my sandwich shop of choice for five days. Photo by Bob Keith, October 2006.
A man and his bird shop in Halabja, Iraq. I found this photo eerily profound. Halabja was the site of the 1988 poison gassing of thousands of people. We think up to 5000 died a hideous death - thousands more were injured for life. Urban legend in American tells us that coal miners used to use birds in the mines to tell if the air was no longer breathable. It just seemed odd to me to see birds for sale in a place with the ghosts that Halabja must carry with it now. Ghosts from thousands of people who died because the air was suddenly sucked out of their lungs. Photo by Bob Keith, October 2006.
The Iraqi flag is conspicously absent in the whole of the Kudistan Region of Iraq. Flying everywhere and also displayed on the uniforms of the Kurdish Army (Pesmerga) uniforms, is the flag with the distinct yellow star. This photo is in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq. Photo by Bob Keith, October 2006.
The following three pictures highlight a culture of toy guns - An odd custom for a war zone?
This toy shop is in Dahuk, Iraq. Like most of the toy shops in Eastern Turkey and Northern Iraq, many of the toys have a military theme. It just struck me as an odd custom to find in a war zone. Photo by Bob Keith, Octorber 2006.
These little guys and their realistic looking toy pistols are at my bus station on the Turkey side of the Iraq/Turkey border. Photo by Bob Keith, October 2006.
This photo of little Turks with realistic looking toy guns comes from the October 25th, 2006 issue of the Turkish paper, Posta.
Young boys with real looking toy guns are ubiquitous in both Eastern Turkey and Iraq. What is ironic is that in both regions, there is a heavy soldier presence. Machine gun toting soldiers are on every corner. Having been a soldier at one time, the presence of so many kids with guns would have driven me nuts. I picked a copy of the Posta up just after I got back into Turkey from Iraq.
The absolute last thing I expected to find in Iraq was street light poles with neon ornamental lights. Also there are trees planted in tree wells in the concrete median. This is a street in Dahuk, Iraq. Photo by Bob Keith, October 2006.
- A typical street in Dahuk, Iraq. Some people in Northern Iraq look European. Northern Iraq has always been a cross roads between Europe and Asia. The eclectic collection of residents, and travelers passing through, keep the "hotel police" busy trying to keep tabs on everyone in their region as the war grinds on.
Photo by Bob Keith, October 2006 -
- Zakho is a typical dusty, busy border town. It is easy to start forgetting you are in Iraq once you get to Zakho because the people seem preoccupied with people things rather than war worries. Yet, one must not forget the serious war looms just over the horizon only a few miles away. Photo by Bob Keith, October 2006 -
(Scroll down for categories)
U.S. and Coalition Casualties in the Iraq War
Recent Conflict in Eastern Turkey with the Kurds
Article One: Why go to Iraq as a Journalist?
Article Two: Why should I travel to Iraq? (the earliest essay on the subject prior to the plan)
U.S. and Coalition Casualties in the Iraq War
Click on the below CNN site for ongoing Iraq War casualties:
Click on the site below to get information on journalist casualties in the Iraq War
Iraq War media casulties
Click on the below sites to find Wisconsin soldiers killed in he Iraq War
Stories about Wisconsin Soldiers killed in Iraq
Recent Conflict in Eastern Turkey with the Kurds
Attack on Turkish Resort
Turkish police search for suspects in attack
Attack on Turkish tea garden
Blast kills 7 in Turkey's Kurdish region
(This entry was written in late June, 2006 just two days before the Airline tickets for the Iraq trip were purchased.)
blue-collar media guy
As a blue-collar guy, I feel it is important to pay attention to the war events we are involved in. I have a bit more flexibility than those in the blue-collar world and those with kids and mortgages and illnesses. It is important to me to see what is going on in Iraq. Most working people and small media outlets can't muster up a media team to send to a war zone.
Does the blue-collar guy have an advocate in the distribution of war news? Not really. We have to take what is fed to us by the millionaire talking news head like a baby bird swallowing its mother's spit. But average-guy can't muster up time and money to go to war zones and dig up the real deal.
the ubiquitous wire services
Ever get tired of the anonymously or un-authored, non-source articles dished out to papers and Web sites by the big wire services? I have. The articles often have poor grammar, mis-spellings, no sources noted, and are usually unauthored. They seem Orwellian and remind me of media that used to come out of the old Soviet Union. I just never feel good about their analysis of the war in Iraq.
war between the states
Wisconsin has lost over 60 soldiers over there to date and I suspect many are from humble back grounds. Those who gave their lives and those who give their time deserve someone's attention -someone other than a ubiquitous wire service or a behemoth media outlet. I heard somewhere only ten or so Wisconsin journalists have gone to Iraq since the war started.
so again, why go to Iraq as a journalist?
My parents were decent farm people. We were actually kind of poor. They did the best they could with what they had to work with. But when it came to national politics they had to guess. Every sentence started with, "Well, they say," and, "Well, I suppose." Local media tried to speak for them with farm news and weather. The local paper ran agricultural news stories. Yet, on the national level no one spoke for then in the media. Forty years later, no one still speaks for the blue-collar guy in regards to the war.
I am older now and companies seem hesitant to hire an old guy with decades of blue collar experience that went back to college and presents himself now with a couple degrees. I have been trained in the art of emergency field medicine, criminal investigation, journalism, and writing. It is all going to waste in yet another blue-collar job that I am now biding my time at. It is in that spirit that I am making plans to travel to Iraq as an independent journalist.
so let's do it
Since no one will hire me now anyway after a long marathon of trying to get educated as an old guy, I am using the time void and I am trying to get to Iraq as an independent journalist. I would like to take note of our sacrifice as a nation and as a community. Regardless of the nation's fickleness and society's seemingly day-to-day ignoring of the war, and the difficulty getting there as an independent journalist, I still hope to make the journey anyway.
- by Bob Keith, June 26, 2006 -
Article Two- Why should I travel to Iraq?
(This entry was written in May of 2006 as the idea for the Iraq trip was coming to early fruition. It was a model for the later entry above.)
Why should I travel to Iraq? - someone else's problem over there right? The longer the Iraq War goes on however, it sparks an emotion that the Vietnam War also holds to me. But not the way you would think. You immediately might say, "oh, here we go. He is going to try to compare the two wars' militarily and politically." Perhaps a comprehensive comparison should be done at some point as it relates to how we Americans fight wars over the last 60 years since World War II. But, for me the reason to study and travel to Iraq is much more latent. I am simply tired, as I became during Vietnam also, of listening to other people, agencies, and groups fight the war through words. Many of the people, like during Vietnam, doing the arguing have never even been there. Some of the wealthy power brokers that have been there - went surrounded by body guards. The returning GIs it seems are either quietly reflecting to their own military brothers and sisters, or they are telling a story of their experience in the capsule of their own exclusive experience. And like in Vietnam, those exclusive experiences in Iraq can be so different from unit, to region, to year that one listening wonders if they are even talking about the same war. After hearing vignettes about Vietnam that covered some 15 years of experiences, my head was swimming. And like Vietnam, the War in Iraq, now in its fourth year, is likewise becoming diverse. It seems to speak to long wars. And now also Iraq, like Vietnam dragged on, does not seem to be about to end any time soon.
Rich talking heads
Ever stop to notice most of the talking heads on the major news stations, NBC, CNN, FoxNews, CBS, ABC, MSNBC, as well as many radio personalities, are millionaires. To add insult to injury most of the media in America is owned by about five behemoth companies. The media corporations' millionaire enabler mouth pieces hold about as much credibility to me as wealthy actors and athletes. If they go to Iraq they stay a week and bring a platoon of private body guards with them. Actors that pontificate about the pros and cons of the war have enough money to be over there in 24 hours. Yet, they just speculate on from a distance. These news people and actors are not who I want to base my opinions of the war from. After 30 years of hearing contradicting stories from power brokers and blue collar people alike I went to Vietnam myself. Albeit, the war is long over in "Nam," I still went because there are so many myths and urban legends about the place that linger on. The point is, I see the same thing developing with Iraq. This time if I go the war will probably still be going on. But the point is the same. Just what is truth and want is embellishment about Iraq? To go there myself seems to be one way to circumvent all the misconceptions and sidestep all the millionaire media enablers.
"They say" "Well, I suppose"
My Mom and Dad were decent people. They brought me up as best they could with what they had to work with. They were dairy farmers and always maintained we were lucky and better off than most. When I left home to get out on my own it finally dawned on me we were actually rather poor. Mom and Dad were around during "Nam" and I was of military age. I ended up in Germany as the war effort dwindled from the American side. But when it came to family and farm matters they had the politics down and the farm remained rock steady. But when it came to world politics they reverted to their Great Depression era analysis techniques. Every sentence began with, "Well, I suppose," and "They say." And it is in that spirit - the spirit of average folks trying to guess about the greater world and roll with the punches it doles out that I seek to go to Iraq. I can hear the spirit of my parents mantra in the back of my mind. "They say things aren't going too well over there in Iraq," my Mom would probably say. "Well, I suppose there is nothing guys like us can do about it," my Dad would no doubt counter.
The anonymous un-authored news sources
Every wounder why so many people rely on news clearing houses for their news sound bites on the Internet and in the news papers? I have. These sources rarely give an author to a story and offer few sources to their pontifications. A story will appear in the local paper written by a particular news agency and we are all supposed to accept an un-authored, no-sources version of something as unwavering fact. Joe Average American is too busy surviving the tasks of daily life to hunt down his own news stories. Smaller media companies cannot afford to fly someone off to an exotic, dangerous country at war. So, we are all pretty much at the mercy of large media and its anecdotes about the World. Therefore, this type of journalism and media by its very anonymous nature, as well has driven me to seek to go to Iraq to see for myself.
- This entry appeared on www.journal.cooldadiomedia.com Blog on May 15, 2006 in the (Fall 2006 Kurdistan Turkey Iraq Project) Category -