Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Night Draws Near

I just finished a good book called Night Draws Near by Anthony Shadid. The book is an account of the Iraq War by a reporter working for the Washington Post but from the everyday Iraqi point of view.

Shadid travels throughout Iraq from before the "shock and awe" beginnings to mid-2004 and then returns for the first Iraqi election. He spends much time in Baghdad witnessing many pieces of the events as they occured. Shadid was the first to interview unknown (to Americans) cleric Muqtada Sadr, eventual leader of the Mahdi Army, post invasion.

The reporting has such a sense of how it would feel to be caught between Saddam Hussein and America's promises of freedom. To be in hiding for the first month of the war just trying to stay out of the way. To experience the electric power failures, the lack of water, food, medicine, and sewage.

Shadid takes you to various Iraqi's and asks how they feel at different points along the course of the war. Normal Iraqi's outraged at the total lack of control of their country by the American forces as the looting swept throughout the country following the fall of Baghdad. The fear of Iraqi's as the promises of a better life hardly materialized but instead a steady stream of bombings, kidnappings, murders, looting, theft, and unemployment accumulated.

Shadid was only embedded with American troops on a couple of occassions. He was almost entirely "embedded" in Iraqi society. He had the luxury of being fluent in Arabic and he's an American, so his insight was completely different from a troop embedded reporter who could only speak English. Shadid could read the writing on the wall, literally, as graffiti on buildings could give a sense of how some Iraqi people were thinking that a non-Arabic speaking person could never understand.

I was impressed with his accounts of several events. Visiting the wild scene of the crater after the U.S. tried to bomb Saddam out of existence but instead killed many civilians. Or the bombing of the front gate of the home of his ever ready Iraqi aide, friend and helper. The many visits to a family with a teen girl whose diary contained an emotional eyewitness account as she grew up through those couple of years in a war torn Baghdad.

And a simple visit of a graveyard in Baghdad that held the remains of British soldiers from their war against the Ottoman Empire in the 19-teens. Included was the grave of Major General Sir Stanley Maude. After entering Baghdad, Maude proclaimed, "Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerers or enemies, but as liberators." The British became occupiers and gave up in the 1930's.

President Bush nearly used those exact words on the eve of war and at times later. Is it a wonder that Iraqis with much better memories of the past than Americans have would wonder if Bush was telling the truth? And Shadid finds many Iraqis wondering what is to come of their lives and their country as the months go on. He finds Shiites and Sunnis weighing the future and some of them simple flee the country, including his associate with the bombed front gate.

I highly recommend this book. An account of the Iraq War that is rare in American media.


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