On patrol with the Baghdad bomb squad
It is never easy watching a man cry. Worse when his son is sitting by his side. Even worse when the grandmother is crying too. We were in a roughly-built house in a tough end of Baghdad, talking to Mohammed Jabbar. As one of his colleagues told us, Mohammed had always been poor.
But until last year he’d been one of the explosives experts in the Iraqi Police Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit – the bomb squad. It all came to an end when he was blown up last April by an improvised explosive device (IED) placed outside the Al-Shaab Stadium very close to the bomb squad base and the Ministry of Interior. It was almost certainly detonated by remote control by somebody watching – waiting for a target to come close enough.
Mohammed Jabbar did that trying to warn members of the public to get away from the danger. Amazingly he stayed concious throughout what happened as he was blown to the ground. He tried to get up but realised his leg had been blown off. He tried to move but realised his arm was gone. He looked at his colleague Saad and saw his hands clasped over his face in horror. He could see his own severed limbs on the ground around him.
Mohammed had come to meet us on our first morning in Baghdad at the EOD base. He had been smartly dressed, was standing on a prosthetic leg, and declared proudly he was ready to return to work any day. A little sceptical of doing a ready-made story of heroism being apparently served up on a plate by a senior officer we didn’t interview him straight away, but arranged to go to his home another day. Away from his former colleagues Mohammed cut a very different figure.
We had driven into a part of Baghdad foreign journalists don’t often visit, on unmade roads, in a high crime area where many of the houses were just built without permission on publicly owned land. The local police were so suspicious of us arriving in the armoured vehicles we use out there that they followed us all the way, questioned us about what we were doing and checked out the identities of everyone there. It was raining, and muddy, and I felt bad as we drove up to find Mohammed waiting outside getting wet and dirty. The house was basic – not quite a shack, but not much better. I hadn’t seen him trying to walk when we first met – watching him now it was clear Mohammed could barely lift the prosthetic limb that was clearly hurting him. He seemed embarrassed.
More from Channel 4: Unreported World – Baghdad Bomb Squad
Although just 30 years-old Mohammed has three children and a mother to support. He is her only son. He says they are all trying to live on a police pension that pays him a little over $200 a month. So they rely on the generosity of relatives to survive – $200 doesn’t go much further in Iraq than it would over here.
Mohammed’s mother was desperate and angry – saying that even under Saddam he would have been better looked after. Who knows whether she is right, but it is what she believes. And when a poor Shia family look you in the eyes and say the people were better off under Saddam Hussein you know an awful lot has gone dreadfully wrong with this country in the last ten years.
The pride with which Mohammed had told me at the base that he wanted to come back to work at the bomb squad was gone. In fact he spoke instead of his regrets at ever signing up. He had put his life on the line so many times, he said, only to be left like this on his own. There had been no compensation for his injuries, and his medical care had effectively dried up. When he told his doctor that the artificial leg they had given him was uncomfortable and too heavy they said take it or leave it. As for his arm there is no question of even trying to replace it.
It is very common to go to places around the world as a journalist and film with people who ask you to help them. Sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t. Sometimes there is a general understanding that highlighting their plight might bring some good further down the line. Mohammed begged me to help him get some decent care. All he wanted, he said, was a proper prosthetic limb to be able to walk with his children and earn enough money to look after them.
Update: Since the programme went out, lots of you have asked if there is a way of helping. To help Mohammed Jabbar (who lost his arm and leg) and others from the Baghdad Bomb Squad who were featured on Unreported World in Iraq http://www.felixfund.org.uk/baghdad-bomb-squad-appeal/
you can write to me at: Quicksilver Media, 60, St Aldate’s Oxford, OX1 1ST or firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow @krishgm on Twitter.
Unreported World: Baghdad Bomb Squad airs on Channel 4 at 7.30pm on Friday 20 April.