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Reporters on the Job

Photo Shop Friendship: The two Iraqi men Ali and Jamal (identified with fictitious surnames to protect them) in the lead of today's story, are two individuals whom staff writer Howard LaFranchi considers real friends.

Howard met them in Iraq in October 2004 when looking for someone to fix his camera. "Being technically challenged, I went to an area of Baghdad known for photo shops. In three shops people looked at the camera and said they could do nothing. But I finally found help at Ali's shop of enthusiastic young Iraqis. One shop worker repeatedly told me how 'grateful' he was to America for ridding the country of Saddam Hussein's rule. I left with a working camera, and returned several times for other photo services, each time conversing and deepening a bond," he says.

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During this latest trip to Baghdad, Howard was determined to see his friends at the photo shop again. (He had exchanged e-mail with them a few times during the past year.) The Monitor's Iraqi driver agreed to take Howard only if an Iraqi interpreter went in first to be sure he would be welcome. He was.

Baghdad's security climate dictates that foreigners spend only a few minutes in a public place. "But by the time I left the shop, I had a dinner invitation. And it was at dinner at Ali's house (with a carefully coordinated arrival and departure, again for everyone's security) that we had the political conversation that became part of today's story."

Howard adds that his dinner conversation wasn't just about politics. It also included Ali's prospects for marriage and the challenges of securing an Iraqi mother's (not the father's) consent, since she is the final arbiter for such a partnership.

David Clark Scott
World editor


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