A reporter’s notebook documents life in Iraq before and during the current war.
It seems telling, if strange, that Saddam Hussein’s so-called Triumph Leader Museum—devoted to himself, naturally—contained trophy cases full of gifts from foreign leaders: “a pair of decorative riding spurs which, according to the museum labels, were a 1986 gift from Ronald Reagan; a collection of guabayera shirts from Fidel Castro . . . ceremonial swords from Jacques Chirac and Vladimir Zhirinovsky.” Hussein’s hold on Iraq, suggests New Yorker correspondent Anderson (The Lion’s Grave, 2002, etc.), owed much to such legitimating kindness, enabling the dictator to lord it over his people with astonishing comprehensiveness. And with considerable leeway: on receiving 100 percent of the vote in the last election, Anderson writes, Hussein freed all but a few inmates from the now doubly notorious Abu Ghraib prison, saying that they were no threat to anyone; explained prime minister Tariq Aziz, “We are like Jesus Christ, who pardoned the people who crucified him.” Hussein was anything but Christlike, though, says Anderson, who suggests that Iraq did indeed have the WMDs that have so far eluded Western investigators—and, moreover, sheds no tears for the fall of the tyrant. Still, and interestingly, his pages are full of veiled warnings from Iraqis about what lies in store for any would-be occupier—“If you do anything in Iraq, do it quickly,” says one—and, ominously, about what lies in store for the world should Islamic fundamentalism replace secular government. Anderson’s descriptions of the American “shock and awe” attacks on Baghdad are stunning (“Saddam’s palace complex was littered with the smoking hulks of bombed buildings. I noticed that Iraqis did not gather to stare at the damage, but cast fleeting, sidelong looks at it”), though his account of events subsequent to the invasion will disquiet anyone who supports a continued American presence there: as he suggests at the close, “a year after the fall of Baghdad, it seemed as if the city had not really fallen at all. Or, perhaps it was still falling.”
First-rate frontline reportage, full of luminous and eye-opening details.