Highly personal, deeply disturbing report from a young American journalist, focused on the suffering of the civilian population in Iraq.
A schoolgirl in Tehran when the Iran/Iraq war started (her family subsequently moved to the United States), by 2002 the author was reporting for the Newark Star-Ledger about Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Herself a Shiite Muslim, she established a kinship with Iraqis that enabled her to visit them in their homes, observe their lives and listen to their stories. Hired by the Wall Street Journal in January 2003 to cover the approaching war, Fassihi remained in Iraq until January 2006, living in Baghdad but traveling to Kirkuk, Tikrit and other cities. She draws on her newspaper reports from those years to build this portrait of an embittered population alienated by the breakdown of law and order, the destruction of the basic infrastructure and the impact of an untrained occupation army fighting Iraqi insurgents. Fassihi blames American “incompetence and cluelessness” rather than bad intentions for the situation in Iraq, but her report on the mistaken detention of a teenage boy and his imprisonment at Abu Ghraib scathingly depicts what seems like calculated cruelty. One of her most powerful chapters is “Imagine if New York Were Baghdad,” which vividly brings home to Americans the humiliation of living in a besieged city under the thumb of foreigners: “While chaos reigns, the occupying army reassures you that they have come to bring you democracy and freedom.” Fassihi’s reporting on the bloody conflict between Sunnis and Shiites and of the rival Shiite factions is enlightening, as is the account of her experiences as a Muslim woman working as a journalist in an increasingly fundamentalist society. Readers should not overlook the appendix containing a blistering 2004 e-mail describing the out-of-control situation in Iraq to family and friends that became public on the Internet and sparked this book.
Providing a challenge to those who claim the war is going well and ammunition for those who say otherwise, Fassihi’s passionate reporting is certain to stir controversy.