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Naked in Baghdad

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Anne Garrels account of her stint reporting for NPR during the buildup to the to 2003 Iraq War puts you right in the hotels filled with spies and paranoia. As a westerner in this land, she was dependent on her minders not being slavish devotees of Saddam Hussein. One minder actually had two heroes – Saddam and Slobodan Milosevic. However she was able to find one who helped her get a bit more of the truth in Iraq than the Bathists would have liked.

As an NPR reporter Anne ended up below the radar of some of Saddam’s officialdom, who regularly extorted bribes in the forms of fees from higher profile TV reporters. She even offers insight into the bitter sniping between reporters who had to renew work visas every ten days or be evicted from Iraq, thus losing their chance to report anything.

Anne’s writing is clear and concise, and she avoids going into cliches, though you can’t help but be moved by the fear she saw in the eyes of the ordinary Iraqi. She was able to read between the lines to tell what some thought of the former regime when speaking openly against it would have certainly meant death. She also notes Iraqis who criticized America before the war, putting in her own asides wondering why they don’t seem to be given pause by the mass slaughter Saddam had inflicted on the people for thirty years. Noted throughout the text are the underlying tensions in Iraq, though with Saddam they were brutally repressed. Sadly these views seem to have been borne out by the violence and chaos after the fall of Saddam, when as many of her interview subjects predicted, the coalition forces were ill-prepared to control Iraq.

Given the limits placed on her and the constant surveillance, it’s an amazing testament to her reporting abilities and to the efforts of her key “minder,” Amer, that they managed to get as many stories and to as much of the truth as they did. Her experience in war torn areas in Russian republics and Afghanistan help give insights to this book, making it more than just a reporter’s diary.

Weaker points include some missives from her husband about what Anne’s safety and state of mind are – from his vantage in the US albeit with personal contact with her via satellite phone and email. Although I think it points to how compelling Anne’s writing is, and how eager one is to return to it. She does not focus on militaristic aspects, but brings in human elements to the story. For those attempting to gather a deeper understanding of a war far away that may have repercussions of years to come, this is an excellent start.

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About Jerry Ritcey