letter from baghdad

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    Subject: Letter from Baghdad
    Importance: High

    Devastating. Let us hope this will shortly circulate on the blogs and media not beholden to the RNC.

    Friends and Fellows,

    I thought you may want to read this. It's the full text of Farnaz Fassihi's
    "private" e-mail dispatch from Baghdad. By now some of you have probably
    heard of her.

    Fassihi is the Wall Street Journal's correspondent in Baghdad. A few days
    ago she wrote a private e-mail to friends and family describing both her
    life as a reporter ("Being a foreign correspondent in Baghdad these days is
    like being under virtual house arrest") and the situation there (her
    conclusion: "If under Saddam it was a 'potential' threat, under the
    Americans it has been transformed to 'imminent and active threat'").

    The text is devastating, and given that it was NOT intended for
    publication, it is probably the most candid and credible piece of reporting
    we've got out of Baghdad recently.

    Let me add (according to Tim Rutten's column in the Los Angeles Times, who
    has obtained on-the-record quotes from the WSJ editor on this) that the
    Wall Street Journal is now recalling Fassihi for a "long-planned vacation"
    that will extend until past November 2nd. Which means that she's barred
    from writing about Iraq until after the US election.

    Here is the full text of her "private" e-mail (which was first published on
    the Poynter Institute website).
    ---

    From: [Wall Street Journal reporter] Farnaz Fassihi
    Subject: From Baghdad

    Being a foreign correspondent in Baghdad these days is like being under
    virtual house arrest. Forget about the reasons that lured me to this job: a
    chance to see the world, explore the exotic, meet new people in far away
    lands, discover their ways and tell stories that could make a difference.

    Little by little, day-by-day, being based in Iraq has defied all those
    reasons. I am house bound. I leave when I have a very good reason to and a
    scheduled interview. I avoid going to people's homes and never walk in the
    streets. I can't go grocery shopping any more, can't eat in restaurants,
    can't strike a conversation with strangers, can't look for stories, can't
    drive in any thing but a full armored car, can't go to scenes of breaking
    news stories, can't be stuck in traffic, can't speak English outside, can't
    take a road trip, can't say I'm an American, can't linger at checkpoints,
    can't be curious about what people are saying, doing, feeling. And can't
    and can't. There has been one too many close calls, including a car bomb so
    near our house that it blew out all the windows. So now my most pressing
    concern every day is not to write a kick-ass story but to stay alive and
    make sure our Iraqi employees stay alive. In Baghdad I am a security
    personnel first, a reporter second.

    It's hard to pinpoint when the 'turning point' exactly began. Was it April
    when the Fallujah fell out of the grasp of the Americans? Was it when
    Moqtada and Jish Mahdi declared war on the U.S. military? Was it when Sadr
    City, home to ten percent of Iraq's population, became a nightly
    battlefield for the Americans? Or was it when the insurgency began
    spreading from isolated pockets in the Sunni triangle to include most of
    Iraq? Despite President Bush's rosy assessments, Iraq remains a disaster.
    If under Saddam it was a 'potential' threat, under the Americans it has
    been transformed to 'imminent and active threat,' a foreign policy failure
    bound to haunt the United States for decades to come.

    Iraqis like to call this mess 'the situation.' When asked 'how are thing?'
    they reply: 'the situation is very bad."

    What they mean by situation is this: the Iraqi government doesn't control
    most Iraqi cities, there are several car bombs going off each day around
    the country killing and injuring scores of innocent people, the
    country's roads are becoming impassable and littered by hundreds of
    landmines and explosive devices aimed to kill American soldiers, there are
    assassinations, kidnappings and beheadings. The situation, basically,
    means a raging barbaric guerilla war. In four days, 110 people died and
    over 300 got injured in Baghdad alone. The numbers are so shocking that
    the ministry of health -- which was attempting an exercise of public
    transparency by releasing the numbers -- has now stopped disclosing them.
    Insurgents now attack Americans 87 times a day.

    A friend drove thru the Shiite slum of Sadr City yesterday. He said young
    men were openly placing improvised explosive devices into the ground. They
    melt a shallow hole into the asphalt, dig the explosive, cover it with
    dirt and put an old tire or plastic can over it to signal to the locals
    this is booby-trapped. He said on the main roads of Sadr City, there were a
    dozen landmines per every ten yards. His car snaked and swirled to avoid
    driving over them. Behind the walls sits an angry Iraqi ready to detonate
    them as soon as an American convoy gets near. This is in Shiite land, the
    population that was supposed to love America for liberating Iraq.

    For journalists the significant turning point came with the wave of
    abduction and kidnappings. Only two weeks ago we felt safe around Baghdad
    because foreigners were being abducted on the roads and highways between
    towns. Then came a frantic phone call from a journalist female friend at 11
    p.m. telling me two Italian women had been abducted from their homes in
    broad daylight. Then the two Americans, who got beheaded this week and the
    Brit, were abducted from their homes in a residential neighborhood. They
    were supplying the entire block with round the clock electricity from their
    generator to win friends. The abductors grabbed one of them at 6 a.m. when
    he came out to switch on the generator; his beheaded body was thrown back
    near the neighborhoods.

    The insurgency, we are told, is rampant with no signs of calming down. If
    any thing, it is growing stronger, organized and more sophisticated every
    day. The various elements within it-baathists, criminals, nationalists and
    Al Qaeda-are cooperating and coordinating.

    I went to an emergency meeting for foreign correspondents with
    the military and embassy to discuss the kidnappings. We were somberly
    told our fate would largely depend on where we were in the kidnapping
    chain once it was determined we were missing. Here is how it goes: criminal
    gangs grab you and sell you up to Baathists in Fallujah, who will in turn
    sell you to Al Qaeda. In turn, cash and weapons flow the other way from Al
    Qaeda to the Baathisst to the criminals. My friend Georges, the French
    journalist snatched on the road to Najaf, has been missing for a month with
    no word on release or whether he is still alive.

    America's last hope for a quick exit? The Iraqi police and National Guard
    units we are spending billions of dollars to train. The cops are being
    murdered by the dozens every day-over 700 to date -- and the insurgents
    are infiltrating their ranks. The problem is so serious that the U.S.
    military has allocated $6 million dollars to buy out 30,000 cops they just
    trained to get rid of them quietly.

    As for reconstruction: firstly it's so unsafe for foreigners to operate
    that almost all projects have come to a halt. After two years, of the $18
    billion Congress appropriated for Iraq reconstruction only about $1 billion
    or so has been spent and a chuck has now been reallocated for improving
    security, a sign of just how bad things are going here.

    Oil dreams? Insurgents disrupt oil flow routinely as a result of sabotage
    and oil prices have hit record high of $49 a barrel. Who did this war
    exactly benefit? Was it worth it? Are we safer because Saddam is holed up
    and Al Qaeda is running around in Iraq?

    Iraqis say that thanks to America they got freedom in exchange for
    insecurity. Guess what? They say they'd take security over freedom any day,
    even if it means having a dictator ruler.

    I heard an educated Iraqi say today that if Saddam Hussein were allowed to
    run for elections he would get the majority of the vote. This is truly sad.

    Then I went to see an Iraqi scholar this week to talk to him about
    elections here. He has been trying to educate the public on the importance
    of voting. He said, "President Bush wanted to turn Iraq into a democracy
    that would be an example for the Middle East. Forget about democracy,
    forget about being a model for the region, we have to salvage Iraq before
    all is lost."

    One could argue that Iraq is already lost beyond salvation. For those of us
    on the ground it's hard to imagine what if any thing could salvage it from
    its violent downward spiral. The genie of terrorism, chaos and mayhem has
    been unleashed onto this country as a result of American mistakes and it
    can't be put back into a bottle.

    The Iraqi government is talking about having elections in three months
    while half of the country remains a 'no go zone'-out of the hands of the
    government and the Americans and out of reach of journalists. In the other
    half, the disenchanted population is too terrified to show up at polling
    stations. The Sunnis have already said they'd boycott elections, leaving
    the stage open for polarized government of Kurds and Shiites that will not
    be deemed as legitimate and will most certainly lead to civil war.

    I asked a 28-year-old engineer if he and his family would participate in
    the Iraqi elections since it was the first time Iraqis could to some
    degree elect a leadership. His response summed it all: "Go and vote and
    risk being blown into pieces or followed by the insurgents and murdered for
    cooperating with the Americans? For what? To practice democracy? Are you
    joking?"

    -Farnaz









 
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