Real facts on the ground in Iraq

 In Iraq

For the most part, I consider myself lucky this election season that I don’t have cable, or even an antenna on my TV for that matter.  It was a bit of a shock watching TV on a JetBlue plane when “bittergate” broke, seeing how the media goes insane and spends hours picking over the latest scandal, rather than providing the public with useful information.  Like many of you, I find the most insightful commentary on blogs and from the Daily Show and the Colbert Report websites.

This weekend, however, I also spent some quality time watching Bill Moyers online.  Any of you Bill Moyers fans out there already know this, but it was so refreshing to see reasoned, engaging, illuminating discussion, whether it’s on the Rev. Wright scandal or the situation in Iraq.  I wanted to pass along this interview with Leila Fadel, the Baghdad Bureau Chief for McClatchy newspapers.  Fadel is an accomplished young American  journalist and fluent Arabic speaker who has been reporting on the ground in Iraq, getting both sides of the story from Americans and Iraqis.  Here’s one interesting excerpt:

LEILA FADEL: Yes, exactly, I mean, at one point I was walking into Sadr City covered, looking at the American–

BILL MOYERS: Covered in a?

LEILA FADEL: Covered in a scarf so that I wouldn’t stand out in the neighborhood. I had to walk in ’cause there was a curfew. I had to take a taxi once I got inside with authorized vehicles. I had to go to the hospitals. And I was nervous. You know, I walked by one square at the entrance of Sadr City in the south. And the Iraqi residents in the area were telling me, "Oh, you gotta run through this area. There are American snipers on that roof."

And there were rumors that women and children were being killed. The U.S. military said that was not happening. Then I’m embedded with these guys. And they’re in an abandoned house– that they’ve never seen before. They’re going through photo albums and trying to entertain themselves with air soft guns whenever they’re not getting shot at. They were calling the little store that was this man’s living, whoever lived there– the Wal-Mart so that they could go in and get Lysol to try to clean the toilets that were no running water and no, you know, completely stopped up.

And I asked them what would you do if this guy comes home? What are you gonna do? And he said, "Oh, they won’t come home." The platoon leader told me, "Oh, he won’t come home. It’s very dangerous." So a few hours later the man walks up to the door. And he says, "Excuse me, but, you know, I wanna move back into my house." They said, "No, not until it’s safe here."

He said, "Well, can I have the books for my daughter so she can study?" And so they wouldn’t let him in his house. And the translator, who they called Joe, a nickname and– Joe, went around and got some books and handed it to him through a crack in the door of his own house. And he said, "Well, watch my cigarettes. I’m broke. I need to be able to sell those." And so it was telling. And I asked these men, you know, what would you do if there was a foreign army in your house?

BILL MOYERS: You asked the Americans?

LEILA FADEL: I asked the American soldiers. And one soldier told me he would blow up half the house to get back into it. And another said he would be a sniper on a rooftop and start taking people out. And I said, "Well, isn’t that what this group is doing?" And one soldier told me– he was from Athens, Tennessee, I think. And he said, "But we’re trying to do something good for them."

BILL MOYERS: Are they frustrated?

LEILA FADEL: Very frustrated. I think they’re very frustrated. I think they don’t necessarily understand what they’re fighting for anymore, what the exact cause is. I mean, right now they’re in Sadr City, really caught in a political conflict between two Shia groups.

It’s definitely worth watching the entire interview.  You can hear more from Leila Fadel at her Baghdad Observer blog, and read first hand about the real impacts of the war on Inside Iraq, a blog written by her Iraqi staff members.

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