From guest blogger Corinne Reilly, Merced Sun-Star:
Thursday marked the sixth anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein's government. To observe the occasion, Muqtada al Sadr called for a demonstration at Baghdad's Firdous Square, the place where a crowd of Iraqis cheered the destruction of a statue of Saddam on April 9, 2003.
Sadr, an influential Shiite cleric who has long decried the American occupation, has a lot of pull here. When he tells his followers to demonstrate, lots of them do. Even in the rain, tens of thousands turned out Thursday.
I wanted to go. Our local staff, whose advice I always trust to decide whether something is too risky, said I could. So I set out with Sahar, one of McClatchy's Iraqi reporters, around 9 a.m.
Our driver could only take us so far, as the streets were blocked by the Iraqi Army and national police in preparation. So we got out a few blocks from the edge of the crowd and walked.
When we reached a check point, where Iraqi soldiers and police were patting down demonstrators for bombs as they entered, a man stopped us and pointed us to two women responsible for patting down the few female protesters who attended.
As one of them searched my bag, she asked me in Arabic if I was Kurdish. (When I dress like a local and cover my hair, I can pass for a Kurd). I understood her but I couldn't answer. Sahar responded that I wasn't. They figured out pretty quickly that I was American.
The screener called over her superior, a tall Iraqi soldier. She told him something I didn't understand. He looked at me, then looked at Sahar.
I didn't learn what was said until later, when Sahar recounted it all for me in English, but it went something like this: The soldier told Sahar she was crazy for bringing an American to an anti-occupation Sadrist rally and that I wasn't allowed in. Indignant, Sahar objected, telling him we were journalists and he couldn't deny us access. We showed him our press badges.
Then the soldier asked how we planned to document the events. "With paper and pen," Sahar said. He responded that he thought that was an outdated method, which Sahar and I laughed about later. A principled and brave woman, Sahar told the soldier he was welcome to make an appointment to come to our office later to discuss how we do our work and offer his journalistic advice. "But for today, you are wasting our time and causing us to miss the events we came to cover," she told him. "We'd like to pass."
Finally, the soldier agreed to let us go, but not before warning Sahar that I was her responsibility. I'm not sure exactly what he meant by that, but we got what we went for and we made it home safely.