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A Note From a Friend in Baghdad

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I got a note from a friend today. An American who works in Baghdad and does not want his identity revealed. He says women are being kidnapped and killed for the clothes they wear. He says women are being hunted. The country is in chaos. People are mourning the loss of Saddam Hussein, convinced things were better before.

It's an awful thing to think, that things might have been better under a murderous dictator. But it seems to be accepted wisdom among the diplomats. And even if it isn't true, still, if it is close enough that a sizable percentage could think it, then we have failed miserably.

We have failed miserably in Iraq. We have tortured prisoners in Abu Ghraib, murdered civilians in Haditha. We turned our backs on the Geneva Accords and American values, promising to build democracy in the Middle East, and received only a failed state in return.

I wanted to go to Iraq at the end of this month, frustrated by the lack of available information on the conflict. I contacted friends who have been there. I wanted to know how much I would have to raise. George Packer at the New Yorker told me, "It's extremely hard to do these days, for security reasons. You need a safe place to stay -- the few free-lancers still in Baghdad mostly stay at the Hamra hotel -- and a reliable team of driver, translator, and guard. A month would probably run you upwards of $5000 plus airfare. But the dangers are extreme and I'd be very cautious about going at all unless you feel you have good enough contacts in Baghdad to make sure you stay safe. Sorry to be discouraging but even the pros are starting to pull out."

Another, a contributor to Harpers wrote, "I know what you're envisioning can be (and probably has been) done, but I would strongly caution you. There are still a lot of kidnappings. Just getting from the airport to the green zone, if you're not embedded and don't have someone to pick you up, can cost thousands of dollars. For one ride! Hotels in the green zone are super expensive, and always full, so there, too, you may have trouble. Again, not trying to be a wet blanket, but with the sectarian violence out of control, I'm not sure how many Iraqis in Baghdad would even be willing to sit down and talk extensively with an American journalist they don't know."

There are still those that question why we never hear good news out of Iraq. The first and obvious answer is because there isn't any. But beyond that we've created a situation so awful that even the professional journalists are leaving, and the freelancers, who might uncover the more interesting aspects of the occupation, can't even get from the airport to the green zone. The diplomats are sleeping in crates, aren't allowed outside, and aren't supposed to talk to the press. And my source in country tells me things are ten times worse than anyone is saying. Most people can't even find out that much.

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- Stephen Elliott