A riveting and wrenching account of a Norwegian journalist’s experiences in Baghdad before, during and after the American invasion of Iraq.
Seierstad (The Bookseller of Kabul, 2003) establishes a principle that dominates this powerful work: “The truth about the war in Iraq does not exist.” Everyone lies. The Iraqi bureaucrats lie as the Americans prepare and launch their attacks; the Iraqi media broadcast and print stories that are patently false; the Americans lie about their objectives in the country. (The author reports many American soldiers saying the invasion is payback for 9/11.) Seierstad begins with her difficulties in Baghdad before the regime fell. She didn’t speak the language; couldn’t go anywhere without a “minder”; and repeatedly struggled to convince officials to let her remain. (Once, she was evicted but soon found her way back from Jordan.) But then she discovered a wonderful translator and guide, Aliya, who stayed with her until she left the country after the fall of Baghdad. When order disintegrated as the Americans approached, the author was able to get the stories she craved through interviews with ordinary Iraqis and visits to sites of damage and destruction—hospitals, marketplaces, schools—writing descriptions of what she saw that can require of the reader a steady eye and a calm stomach. Seierstad reproduces here, within the context of her narrative, a number of the actual stories she filed. Horrors were everywhere. American soldiers, she claims, targeted journalists and, unable to distinguish friend from foe, shot numerous civilians whose only offense was to fail to understand English. In Saddam City, later, she heard harrowing tales of families that had been decimated by the dictator’s brutality. Looters now ran wild while Americans guarded the Oil Ministry.
Dispatches scorched by the flames of battle and delivered by Seierstad, to enormous effect, in tense, crisp language.