As Pentagon press conferences blend into each other and war coverage churns on, Salam Pax, whoever and wherever he is, has captivated the world's attention.
Blending sarcasm and apparent sincerity, Salam Pax, an Austrian-educated architectural engineer, and his Web site, "Where Is Raed?" - http://dear_raed.blogspot.com - has chronicled life outside his Baghdad window since September. His daily Web diary, or Weblog, had so many readers over the weekend, more than 1 million, it crashed the small, free Texas-based Web server he was using to post his photos. Google has since stepped in and offered to be host of the site and its photos through its company, Blogger.
But now, Salam Pax, a pseudonym for the author, is missing. He hasn't been heard from since Monday, and yesterday chat rooms across the country were abuzz over whether or not he is still alive. Many sent messages in case he was monitoring, telling him to lie low and stay safe.
Pax's appeal lies not in just his compelling portrayals of everyday life in Baghdad buying vegetables or waiting in line for gas, but in his disarming (apparent) honesty. He speaks the casual international language of a tech-savvy, disaffected youth.
Although there are questions about whether he is real, or part of one side's propaganda, Pax appears neither pro-Hussein nor pro-Bush. He seems like a 20-something from down the street, a guy dealing with work, family and life. Beyond country lines, ethnic stereotypes here and anti-Americanism there, he simply seems human.
"Please stop sending emails asking if I were for real," he wrote on Friday. "Don't believe it? Then don't read it. I am not anybody's propaganda ploy, well except for my own."
He shows little respect for Hussein and top party leaders, which is why he uses a fake name, and perhaps why he has not been heard from for several days.
Over the weekend he wrote that the TV channels were full of "useless news."
"We also saw ... the most distressing minister of Interior affairs with his guns. Freaks. Hurling abuse at the world is the only thing left for them to do."
But he has no love for Bush or the American war effort, either.
"How could 'support democracy in Iraq' become to mean 'bomb the hell out of Iraq'? ... Nobody minded an un-democratic Iraq for a very long time, now people have decided to bomb us to democracy? Well, thank you! How thoughtful."
He writes in vivid detail, chronicling the neighborhoods of his home city, the buildings he likes, where the "big wigs" live. In early March he wrote about the Sijood Palace, which he could see from across the river. He wrote, "I really hope it does not get [wrecked]. I see it as a museum or some sort of academy in the future, I really like it."
It was destroyed in the initial wave of bombing.
"As one of the buildings I really love went up in a huge explosion," he wrote on Saturday, "I was close to tears."
He watched as American soldiers were captured and shown on television and the images of some Iraqi soldiers surrendering. "On BBC we are watching scenes of Iraqis surrendering. ... Yes, it is better for them to do that," he wrote on Friday, "but still seeing them carrying that white flag makes something deep inside you cringe."