As Baghdad fell, looting spread from the capital to other provinces. Basra University, above, is looted on April 9, 2003 [GALLO/GETTY]

Iraq's first blogger, Salam Pax, was in Baghdad on April 9, 2003. He watched cautiously as the US military entered the capital and took down Saddam Hussein's government.

 

But hopes for a better future were soon replaced with fears of looters taking the city apart brick by brick. 

 

Five years later, he recounts the trials and tribulations experienced by Iraqis who woke up for the first time in 24 years without a government led by Saddam Hussein.

 

The collected weblog has been published by Guardian Books under the title The Baghdad Blog. He also made 19 short documentaries about life in Iraq after the war and was awarded Royal Television Society's award for innovation in 2003.

 

The events in Baghdad in early April five years ago were so overwhelming that it took three days and a succession of four-hour TV news snippets for the predicament to sink in.

 

Electricity had been cut off for a couple of days and we had been using a small power generator for four hours during the day and night mainly to check the news.

 

My uncles and aunts were all staying at our house … we thought that if we were going to be shocked and awed into democracy, we really ought to go through the experience together.

 

On April 7, my father woke up everyone because he had heard on the radio that the US army had entered Baghdad.

 

The 15 members of my extended family sat silently in front of the television set and watched a live feed from a US network showing American tanks rolling towards a presidential palace in central Baghdad.

 

It almost felt like watching an implausible scene in a science fiction film. This was followed two days later by footage of the Saddam statue in Firdous square being pulled down.

 

No more Saddam

 

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We watched with disbelief.

 

Could Saddam really be gone now? We stayed home with our doors locked and waited for the retaliation of the Iraqi army, but there was nothing.

 

Days later we would see Iraqi military uniforms tossed in ditches as if the army just disappeared into thin air.

 

Then the images of the looting started appearing on all the news channels. This time we watched with anger and my uncles returned to their own homes to make sure their belongings did not get 'liberated' as well.

 

In rapid succession, we moved within three days from fear of being bombed to hope for a better future and back to fear of the chaos on the street.

 

We could tell from the events unfolding in the street three days after the coalition forces moved into Baghdad how this invasion would likely conclude.

 

Iraqis have never really recovered from the chaos of those early days.

 

But the truth is I chose not to dwell on what was happening in the streets and held on instead to a hope for a better future.

 

And with every little step forward we would look at each other and say 'it's happening'. But these forward steps were usually just blips of good news in what felt like an endless stream of bad news.

 

Corpses

 

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But it has become increasingly difficult today to remember what good I had once been hoping would come out of the war and regime change.

 

I am left with a lot of bad memories.

 

There were days when the Red Crescent was begging for volunteers to assist in retrieving the corpses from the streets and giving them proper burial.

 

The local hospital's garden had to be converted into a makeshift cemetery after the electricity went out; there was no way the bodies could be stored in refrigerated morgues until they were identified by next of kin.

 

My mother, after going out only once after Baghdad was taken by coalition forces, decided she we would never venture outside her front yard again.

 

Not until I promised her that stability had returned to the streets.

 

That never really happened.

 

Painful memories

 

Going out in the city became an exercise in blocking out painful images and scenes; in some cases there were areas of the city you plainly avoided.

 

Have you seen what has happened to Baghdad's book market? I would rather have the image of that street as I remember it in my mind than the reality of what is left of it today.

 

Eventually, we had to leave our home when my neighbourhood was taken over by Sunni militias - all my Shia uncles and aunts also left their homes with all their belongings. Then came the walls which transformed an ethnically mixed and vibrant city into a series of sectarian ghettos.

 

And can one ever forget the neverending Iraqi civilian casualties.  

To be honest, I still have no idea how to refer to April 9, 2003. For a while, one of our shortlived early governments called it "Baghdad Liberation Day" but that feels like a contradiction in terms as foreign forces stormed the city and that usually is described as an invasion.

 

On the other hand, I never really could bring myself to describing it as the "Fall of Baghdad".

 

I thought we were never going to let that happen although after five years of mostly death and bloodshed my beloved city is certainly not what it used to be.

 

I don't want to say fallen. But Baghdad is unquestionably and deeply hurt. 

 

Salam Pax is and Iraqi documentary film-maker and the author of The Baghdad Blog. He graduated as an architect from Baghdad university but turned to blogging in 2002.

Source: Al Jazeera