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Blogging Baghdad aims to provide a dynamic look at the story behind the story of covering the news in Iraq. Online entries – from text to video blogs – will detail the realities of daily life for ordinary Iraqis, American troops and the media living and working in a 24 hour war zone.

Regular contributors include NBC News correspondents, producers and staff on assignment in Iraq.

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No jokes allowed

"So Muqtada al-Sadr goes to Japan…" the barber tells his customer who was already smiling, bracing himself in the chair for a laugh. The barber tells the best jokes in Baghdad.

"So Muqtada is in Tokyo and meeting with officials and all of the top Japanese people and it’s a very big deal," the barber continues, as the customer’s hair falls on the floor in tufts.

"So Muqtada asks for a meeting, you know with who? No, you don’t know," he says. "It wasn’t with Japanese arms merchants or the army, but with the Toyota company. Do you know why?

"No," says the customer, ready for the big punch line.

"Because he wanted them to make the trunks of their cars bigger."

Like a good comedian, the barber laughs, enticing the customer to laugh even harder.

Toyotas are very common in Baghdad, and especially popular with Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. They often stuff bodies in the trunks.

No laughing matter
But another customer in the barbershop didn’t laugh. He was quietly having a haircut in another chair. He was one of those Mahdi Army men who kills people and stuffs them in the trunks of Toyotas.

The next day he went to visit the barbers and his customers to discuss their "inappropriate humor."

The conversations went like this:

The Mahdi army fighter tied the barber up, took a knife and plucked out both of his eyes. He was only left alive because he was Shiite, like the Mahdi Army.

The customer who laughed at the joke, a Sunni, was killed and stuffed in the trunk of a car, although the friend of the barber who told me the story this morning didn’t know if the car was a Toyota.

[In response to the first comment below, Richard added this:
"Yes…you are right, it does very much sound like an 'urban legend.' The source, however, is a long trusted friend of mine who is a personal friend of the barber. My friend didn’t just hear about the incident, but has visited the barber in his home after he was attacked and seen his condition. The barber, who lives with his parents, hardly ever goes outside anymore.

"And 'were things better under Saddam?' When asked this question this week, two Iraqis told me, 'Before there were massacres but they were secret, now they take place openly.'"]

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