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"Go and vote and risk being blown into pieces..."

By Greg Mitchell

(September 29, 2004) — Readers of any nailbiting story
from Iraq in a major mainstream newspaper must often
wonder what the dispassionate reporter really thinks
about the chaotic situation there, and what he or she
might be saying in private letters or in conversations
with friends back home.

Now, at least in the case of Wall Street Journal
correspondent Farnaz Fassihi, we know.

A lengthy letter from Baghdad she recently sent to
friends “has rapidly become a global chain mail,”
Fassihi told Jim Romenesko on Wednesday after it was
finally posted at the Poynter Institute’s Web site. She
confirmed writing the letter. [See the full text of the
letter below — moderator.]

Wall Street Journal correspondent Farnaz Fassihi
confirms that she penned a scathing letter that
calls the war in Iraq an outright “disaster.” She
also reveals that reporters in Baghdad are working
under “virtual house arrest.”

9/29/2004 2:58:10 PM

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

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


by [a former member] at 2004-10-07 08:27:51 UTC (ed. Mar 12 2008 ) | Bookmark | | Report spam→

Speaking of:

Anyone got any plans for the debates tonight? I told my friend Jay I’d go see his band 8:30 at luna lounge (east village) , but I may duck out for an hour to watch…

by [unverified member] | 08 Oct 2004 06:10 | | Report spam→
matt, if you want i can tape them for you. i don’t have tivo so i’d be using the ancient vcr tape technology.

by Eugene Kuo | 08 Oct 2004 14:10 | | Report spam→
I watched.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but: it’s the second time I was so glad our president acted as the whimpering idiod that he is.

by [unverified member] | 08 Oct 2004 22:10 | | Report spam→
Power to the people, brother man!

by [former member] | 09 Oct 2004 00:10 | | Report spam→
I was at a dinner party last night where, a friend was mixing the debate to some 70’s tune, very entertaining. I’m watching it on C-SPAN today, wondering if Nader would have added a bit of spice to the mix.

by [former member] | 09 Oct 2004 08:10 | | Report spam→
speaking of 70’s tunes & remixes, harry shearer put this together.. classic…


by [unverified member] | 09 Oct 2004 11:10 | | Report spam→

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Matt Ipcar, Matt Ipcar
Washington, Dc , United States ( DCA )
Eugene Kuo, Eugene Kuo
New York , United States ( JFK )


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