The elections in Baghdad passed without the high level of violence everyone was expecting although it did start with a bang for us in our hotel.
A thousand pound bomb went off across the street and destroyed most of the hotel’s windows, blew in doors and collapsed nearly all of the false ceilings. The place was a mess but amazingly there were no serious injuries. One of the ex SAS lads working for NBC on the top floor was standing on the ops room balcony having a smoke and was thrown back into the room.
The bureau chief was in bed when a large chunk of shrapnel slammed in through the window and bounced around the room taking chunks out of the walls before coming to rest under his bed where it burnt a hole in the carpet. My room was totally trashed. I should’ve covered the windows in blast film. I’ll probably replace them with plastic which simply pops out in one piece when hit. It’s not the first time the hotel has suffered from a nearby explosion and you can guarantee it won’t be long before it happens again.
The streets during the election period were practically empty and the city had an eerie feel to it. I had only seen it that empty during the war. Empty streets are dangerous to drive about, not because of insurgents but the Iraqi military and police. They will fire on any vehicle they consider suspicious and they’re trigger happy. Outside our hotel a car pulled a U-turn in front of a coalition convoy. One of the humvees opened up with a machinegun and killed everyone inside it. A few hours later an Iraqi with his daughter in the passenger seat beside him did the same thing and was shot by police standing outside their car. The father fortunately survived. The night before our Iraqi hotel guards opened fire on a convoy of cars passing the entrance believing them to be insurgents and killed a police officer. The problem is most police officers hide their identities by wearing civilian jackets over their blue shirts and balaclavas or smaghs (Arab scarves) over their heads to hide their faces. Civilian guards protecting banks and hotels, etc., standing around clutching their AK47 assault rifles don’t look any different to insurgents.
There have been countless blue-on-blues between soldiers, police and security guards. A week ago our hotel guards opened up on two police patrols who were shooting at each other which turned into a three-way contact, each believing the other to be insurgents. It’s utter madness out here. The police have also recently taken to firing in the air to get the attention of drivers for simple traffic issues. A journalist told me there has been an increase in the number of people in Baghdad being killed or injured from bullets falling out of the sky. Wars are crazy at the best of times but this place right now is really quite insane.