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Letter form Bagdad.


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Subject: Letter from Baghdad


Devastating. Let us hope this letter will shortly

circulate on the blogs and media not beholden to the



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



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


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


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




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Awesome letter.


Speaking of awe, anybody remember "Shock and Awe?" Whatever happened to them? They were supposed to be the cornerstone of the Iraq campaign. Saddam's army, the insurgents, terrorists from outside--what happened to their sense of awe?


I guess awe just ain't what it used to be.

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