Archive for the ‘Iraq’ tag
Adam Davidson went to Iraq to report on the war. He decided that rather than living in some journalist compound in the Green Zone or in a big hotel—places insurgents were more likely to attack—he’d fly under the radar, and keep safe…by renting a house in a residential Baghdad neighborhood. This plan turned out to have some serious flaws—flaws the American military forces were probably all too familiar with. This American Life producer Nancy Updike talked to Adam about his occupation strategy. (27 minutes)
Read my Harper’s article this story was based on.
Also: read an article by Jen Banbury, my wife, about the same stuff.
We were living in the Flowers Land Hotel when I decided I wanted a house. This was partly pragmatic. The hotel, like most of the good ones in Baghdad, cost around $100 a night, and that was more than I could afford if I was going to stay for many months. But there was something else—something emotional or psychological. I can’t describe it precisely. I wanted permanence there. I wanted to feel that I was closer to Iraq than all those other, itinerant journalists. When I went home to New York on vacation, I wanted to say: well, yes, my home in Baghdad is quite lovely.
I first heard a description of how corruption works in Iraq through an unexpected friendship with one of the country’s richest men, a tribal sheik from the troubled Anbar region. We met shortly after Saddam Hussein’s regime was toppled and got together a few times a month for the next year in his office — a converted mansion, gone a bit to seed — in Baghdad’s wealthy Mansour neighborhood. The sheik is a large man, overflowing with humor and self-confidence. We’d sit in his office, chain-smoking and drinking sweet Iraqi tea. He seemed to delight in shocking me with tales of backroom deals.
At first it was all history: He explained how Hussein’s regime worked, but he wouldn’t talk about the present, afraid of angering the new American overseers of Iraq. He told me that Hussein’s cronies would invite him to their offices, offer him multimillion- dollar contracts for constructing a new bridge, say, or importing a few million dollars’ worth of medical supplies. The contract was his as long as he kicked back half the money to Hussein’s people.
The first time I came to Baghdad was last April, a few days after most of the city fell to U.S. troops. I drove in at night, down a road still heavy with gunfights. It was scary but bearable—until I had to stop my car (there was barbed wire across the road) and in dim light saw those giant crossed swords held up by massive reproductions of Saddam’s hands. Then I was really scared. There was something about that massive self-obsessed testament of personal power that made the whole city feel alive with terror. For the next few days I saw such signs everywhere. Saddam’s portraits were still hanging, a few on every block. His other great monuments—the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the many palaces, the huge ministry buildings—grabbed all visual attention. The new U.S. military encampments—small, ad hoc, functional, uninspiring—couldn’t compete at all. Baghdad felt exactly like what it was: a city that had belonged to one man and had been violently wrenched away. It was a place whose aesthetic—dictatorial solipsism—had been somewhat dismantled but not replaced with anything new.
BAGHDAD — I’ve spent the last few days driving around looking for those signs of exuberant jubilation that you see on CNN. I don’t know where they find them. I’ve come across one anemic parade down Karada Street, a few dozen men and a handful of women chanting out, “Saddam is nothing.” The women were the most exuberant. Four older Shiites in black abaya robes saying, over and over again, in Arabic and English, “I am so happy. I am so happy.” Along Karada, the main shopping strip in Baghdad, men stood in front of their shops, staring blankly at the revelers.
Adam Davidson reports from Baghdad on the charismatic, ambitious young Americans who want to bring freedom and hope to Iraq, if only the Iraqis would listen to them. There is a ominous information gap between the U.S. officials running the country and the Iraqi people being governed. (18 minutes)
For an Iraqi perspective on the war, we hear from Iraqis who’ve just crossed over the border into Jordan. It’s the only open border with Iraq and 150,000 Iraqis live in Amman. Reporter Adam Davidson talks with a soldier who’ll probably fight in the war against the United States, a man who claims he was one of Saddam Hussein’s bodyguards and knows locations of hidden chemical weapons in Iraq. (18 minutes)