A moving tribute, by NPR correspondent Goldfarb, to his Kurdish translator, guide and friend, an early victim of post-conquest terror in Iraq.
Ahmad Shawkat was a man of parts: a secular Muslim happily married to a believer, frequently imprisoned and tortured by Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime, he was a lecturer in histopathology and anatomy at the University of Mosul who also “lived the life of an old-fashioned man of letters, writing fiction and criticism and giving lectures to his medical students on literature.” He was also a fine translator, Goldfarb was glad to learn, able to give an accurate sense of a document or communication that needed only a gloss, but also able to add nuance and shading to a statement when the situation called. In these pages, Ahmad keeps Goldfarb alive over the course of a season of war, dodging bullets fired from all sides; he also takes him into territory that few other correspondents got to, where he was able to gauge Iraqi suspicions of their supposed liberators, the Americans. (Says one Iraqi man, “I know and I understand very well that there are no mass destructions weapons in Iraq. And Mr. Bush knows that very well. . . . They will find nothing.” Another wonders why anyone in the American government would take Ahmed Chalabi seriously.) When the Americans take control, Ahmad secures a grant to open an institute to teach his fellow Iraqis about democracy and founds a journal, writing editorials that displease the “arrogant political careerists” of the occupation government as much as they do hard-core Ba’athists. In the end, Ahmad is shot down in the street, forever silenced. Goldfarb makes plain that this was exactly the sort of man the new Iraq needs, never mind that the American occupation government “seemed hell-bent on making sure the Iraq that Ahmad envisioned would never exist.”
For that, Goldfarb blames the Bush administration, closing with a reasoned but white-hot denunciation of American imperialism. One of the best of the many books to emerge from the Iraq invasion.