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Tragedies of Iraq War Outlined in Journalist's Book

A Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, who has covered Iraq since before the conflict began, says insurgents realize they cannot defeat the U.S.-led military coalition on the battlefield. But Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post newspaper says insurgents are trying to create the perception of chaos and anarchy to defeat efforts to build a peaceful and democratic Iraq. Mr. Shadid has written a new book about the impact of the war on average Iraqis.

Mr. Shadid has worked as a journalist in Iraq since before the U.S.-led invasion, and has spent much time chronicling the impact of the conflict on people in Baghdad, as well as those in cities and villages throughout the country.

In his book, called "Night Draws Near, Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War," Mr. Shadid writes about the consequences the war has had on ordinary civilians.

Mr. Shadid, who is fluent in Arabic and a veteran observer of the Middle East, says the political cultures of the United States and Iraq are so different, that dramatic and unforeseen consequences were unleashed after the initial military victory that toppled Saddam Hussein.

"I have a sense that the U.S. experience there was in a way a microcosm of America's broader struggle with the Arab world," Mr. Shadid says. "I think it is a generational battle and I think it is a contest that spins around these axes of religion, culture and identity. I think it is being waged by two political cultures that are so estranged that they can not occupy the same space and I actually believe that."

Among the many and often tragic stories in Mr. Shadid's book is the account of the family of a young man named Sabah, who was accused of giving Americans information that led to a military raid in which three Iraqis were killed.

In what Mr. Shadid calls a case of tribal justice, relatives of the dead men make it clear to Sabah's father that he must kill his son, because of his cooperation with American soldiers, or villagers will murder the rest of his family.

"A few weeks passed, the father protested, he tried to find a way out and he couldn't. On a dark night, he led his son, with another son, behind the house past orchards of fig and almond trees, vineyards and groves of oranges and tangerines, the father raised his rifle and fired twice," Mr. Shadid says. "I heard different accounts of what happened after that. Some people said that he collapsed. His other son then raised his rife and fired three shots, one at Sabah's head."

Hours later, the father buried the son he had helped execute, telling Mr. Shadid he had no other choice but to kill him.

In his book, Mr. Shadid criticizes the Bush administration for not preparing an adequate plan to run Iraq after Saddam Hussein's regime was ousted.

He says the lack of security in some areas allowed the insurgency to take root among former supporters of Saddam, Iraqi nationalists, radical Islamists and foreign fighters.

Mr. Shadid has reached the conclusion that as long as foreign troops remain in Iraq, the violent insurgency will continue.

"If we try and understand this carnage, the only way I have made sense of it, and I tried to explore this a little bit in the book, is that I think there is an element of the insurgency, a current of the insurgency, one that is becoming more powerful by the way, that realizes very bluntly that it won't defeat the U.S. military on the battlefield, that there is no hope for that," Mr. Shadid says. "But they do think there is defeat through the realm of perceptions and that if they can create the perception of failure, create the perception of chaos and anarchy, then that is where they will defeat the United States."

Mr. Shadid says to produce that perception the insurgency will continue to try to create what he calls spectacles of carnage that have become all too familiar in Iraq.

He says two years ago a car bomb that killed 20 people in Baghdad would be an important story that would be identified by a banner headline in his newspaper.

Today, Mr. Shadid says, attacks have become so commonplace that such an explosion could be described by a reporter as a quiet day in Baghdad.