On the eve of the war in Iraq, all news correspondents were ordered to leave Baghdad for the sake of their safety. Many streamed out. One man, instead, went deeper. At his own peril, Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter Anthony Shadid chose to stay, armed only with his convictions that the coming events would shake the Middle East to its core.
What followed Shadid’s decision was insightful, honest, and compassionate reporting, straight from Baghdad. With exceptional bravery, he gave readers an honest and powerful view of the common Iraqi citizen’s experience of the war, as well as haunting coverage of the aftermath. With it, he succeeded in showing a profoundly human side of these events, and the new struggles that followed in its wake.
About the Author
Anthony Shadid has reported from throughout the Middle East for a decade, first as Cairo correspondent for The Associated Press and then for The Boston Globe, where he drew attention for reports from the West Bank and other fronts. His first book, Legacy of the Prophet, drew praise from the late Edward Said. At The Washington Post his stories have often appeared on page one. For his work in Baghdad he has received the Overseas Press Club Award (his second), the Michael Kelly Award, and last April was given the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting.
Read an Excerpt
The 2004 Pulitzer Prize
Awarded to Anthony Shadid of The Washington Post for his extraordinary ability to capture, at personal peril, the voices and emotions of Iraqis as their country was invaded, their leader toppled and their way of life upended.
'We're in a Dark, Dark Tunnel'
Family Weathers Attacks, Prepares for U.S. Siege
Monday, March 24, 2003
BAGHDAD, March 23 — The melancholy wail sailed across the city and pierced the walls of the middle-class Baghdad home. The sleepless family listened in silence until the mother, her face lined with fear and pain, shook her head.
"Siren," she whispered.
At that, her daughter jumped up and threw open the door. She ran to open the windows next, fearful the blast would shatter them. The son sprinted outside, hoping to spot a low-flying cruise missile that would send the family huddling, yet again, in a hallway.
And they waited for the bombs.
"It's terrible," the mother said, as the minutes passed. "We really suffer, and I don't know why we should live like this."
Her daughter nodded. "I get so scared, I shake," she said. "I'm afraid the house is going to collapse on my head."
While the outside world has grown accustomed to detached images of fire and fury over Baghdad, and the government here boasts of victory over the invaders, this rattled family of five in the middle-class neighborhood of Jihad has watched war turn life upside down. Their world now is isolation, dread and a bitter sense that they do not deserve their fate.
"We're in a dark, dark tunnel, and we don't see the light at the end of it," the daughter-in-law said.
The family met privately with a journalist today, without the presence of a requisite government escort and with a promise that their identities would not be published. Over a lunch of Iraqi dishes — pickled mango, kibbe, kufta and chicken cooked with rice, peanuts and raisins — they spoke with unusual candor about politics and war. At times brashly, they discussed subjects that are usually hinted at, as if Baghdad were already in limbo between its past and its future.
"Iraq is ready for change," the father said. "The people want it; they want more freedom."
But family members expressed anger at the U.S. government, which has promised to liberate them. They criticized President Saddam Hussein and his dictatorial rule, but insisted that pride and patriotism prevent them from putting their destiny in the hands of a foreign power.
They spoke most fervently of a longing for routine — the most mundane rituals of going to work, sharing dinner on a quiet night and sleeping at a set hour. They predicted little of that stability ahead. From a bloody battle for the capital, to lawlessness, to the humiliation of an occupation, they braced for a future that hardly anyone in Baghdad dares predict.
"Everything is turned around," the daughter-in-law said.
For weeks, the daughter-in-law helped prepare the house for war. She and her husband hauled a mattress downstairs, setting up their bedroom in the dining room. The family rearranged furniture so that they could sprint to open the windows. Sofas and tables were cloaked in dust cloths to protect them from flying glass and debris. Two rifles and bags of ammunition were propped against the wall.
Scattered around the two-story house were supplies to help them withstand a siege. Two tanks were filled with kerosene for cooking in case the electricity went out. The mother filled every pan, kettle and thermos with water, in case the pumps stopped working. Flour, sugar, rice, beans, powdered milk, biscuits, jam, cheese, macaroni, wheat, and cereal filled bag after bag.
"These will last three months," the son said, surveying the stockpile.
His wife interrupted to disagree. One month, no more. "The men in our family have very big appetites," she said.
It was a rare moment of levity in a city with little joy. The family members gazed out the window at a sky shrouded in black smoke from fires lit by Iraqi forces to conceal targets from U.S. strikes. The oil pits burned for a second day, turning a sunny, cloudless Baghdad sky into an eerie gauze. In vain, the family hoped the smoke would limit the air assault.
They had already had enough, they said. The worst so far was Friday, when U.S. and British forces fired 320 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Baghdad, wrecking the symbols of Hussein's rule. Ten of the missiles landed near their home, shattering the window in the front of the house. The shock waves threw open the refrigerator, tossing its drawers on the kitchen floor.
"They were powerful, really powerful," the mother said. "They came one after another."
Baghdad is a city that takes pride in its toughness. Residents are fond of listing the challenges history has thrown before them. The men in the family sounded a similar theme.
"We have 11,000 years of history. I know it sounds facetious, but it gives you resilience," the father said.
Of the bombs, his son added, "The bark is worse than the bite." But in private moments today, the suffering was close to the surface. Friends, they said, had fled to Syria in January, only to run out of money before the war started. Others had headed north to the city of Mosul, hoping to endure the war with relatives.
Those who stayed have struggled to negotiate the uncertainty. A pregnant friend of the daughter-in-law was supposed to have a Caesarean section within 10 days. But her doctor has vanished. Hospital after hospital has refused to admit her, overwhelmed with the task of preparing for the wounded. Another friend who is seven months pregnant has begun taking valium.
A neighbor said she stuffed cotton in the ears of her two young children every night. She fretted about finding diapers and milk.
"She's in a complete panic," the daughter-in-law said.
When it came to the cause of Iraq's predicament, family members pointed to Hussein, describing him as rash. He invaded Iran, trapping them in an eight-year war. He seized Kuwait, bringing on the Persian Gulf War and the devastation of sanctions that largely wiped out Iraq's middle class. After that war, they were ready to overthrow him themselves.
But they bitterly denounced the war the United States has launched. Iraq, perhaps more than any other Arab country, dwells on traditions — of pride, honor and dignity. To this family, the assault is an insult. It is not Hussein under attack, but Iraq, they said. It is hard to gauge if this is a common sentiment, although it is one heard more often as the war progresses.
"We complain about things, but complaining doesn't mean cooperating with foreign governments," the father said. "When somebody comes to attack Iraq, we stand up for Iraq. That doesn't mean we love Saddam Hussein, but there are priorities."
A friend of the family interrupted. "Bombing for peace?" he asked, shaking his head.
"I don't even care about the leadership," the daughter-in-law said. "But someone wants to take away what is yours. What gives them the right to change something that's not theirs in the first place? I don't like your house, so I'm going to bomb it and you can rebuild it again the way I want it, with your money? I feel like it's an insult, really."
Gathered around the table, the family members nodded their heads.
"There are rumblings of dissent," the father said. "But these rumblings don't mean: Come America, we'll throw flowers at you."
The family is Sunni Muslim, a minority from which the government draws its strength. Sunnis appear to have the most to lose in a postwar Iraq that would undoubtedly devolve authority to Kurds in the north and the Shiite Muslim majority in the south. The son acknowledged that some Shiite friends had a different opinion of the U.S. attack. But Iraqi nationalism — and a history replete with sometimes violent opposition to foreign intervention — could influence the course of the war and its aftermath.
On this day, though, survival was the more pressing issue. By late afternoon, the thunder of bombing broke across the horizon. The son said he heard a rumor that B-52s were on their way, and the family members guessed at the time it would take them to arrive.
They were jittery, flinching at the slightest sounds. "That's wind, that's wind," the father said when the door slammed shut. When the son got up, his chair banged the wall and the mother jumped. A few minutes later, he did it again.
"Quit doing that," his mother said. "I'm so scared. Every little noise."
Outside, the sounds of ordinary life came from the street. A cart passed the house, its horn blowing. It had come to collect trash and refill kerosene tanks for cooking. As the cart passed, the routine it evoked seemed to anger the son.
"I should be able to live like other people are living," he said glumly. "I shouldn't fear bombs falling on my head, I shouldn't be hearing sirens. Why should I have to like this? Why should this be normal?"
Everyone looked to the floor, no one saying a word.
In a Moment, Lives Get Blown
Thursday, March 27, 2003
BAGHDAD, March 26 — Shards of corrugated tin dangled from roofs like chimes, colliding on the winds of a savage sandstorm. Shattered pipes poured sewage into the streets. The charred carcasses of cars sat smoldering, hurled onto the sidewalk.
Ali Abdel-Jabbar watched helplessly as his friend, Mohammed Abdel-Sattar, lay on the ground, his legs torn off. He lived. Across the street was the severed hand of Samad Rabai, tossed gracelessly in a pool of blood and mud. He died.
In a moment, two explosions transformed a busy stretch of life today into a junkyard of mangled wires, uprooted trees, toppled lights, anguish and grief.
Iraqi officials said at least 14 people were killed and 30 injured in the blasts — a count that matched hospital estimates — in the biggest loss of civilian life in Baghdad since U.S. and British air attacks began last week. The explosions devastated a 100-yard swath of shops, homes and a restaurant in the working-class neighborhood of Shaab, on Baghdad's northern outskirts.
Pentagon officials denied responsibility for the bombing, saying there were no U.S. targets near the neighborhood. But U.S. military officials in Qatar said that U.S. aircraft targeting Iraqi surface-to-air missile launchers in a residential area in Baghdad had fired precision-guided weapons at about the same time as the bombing, possibly causing civilian damage.
In the Shaab neighborhood, the carnage spoke of the helplessness and dread that has enveloped the capital.
"Who accepts this?" shouted George Said, a mechanic whose store was littered with spilled oil, a door torn from its hinges onto the floor. "Does America like this, does Bush like this, do the American people like this? How can they accept the destruction?"
Crowds poured into the muddy, congested streets, shouting, "We will sacrifice our blood and souls for you, Saddam."
But in private, some residents complained bitterly that the Iraqi military had trucked missiles and other weapons to a grass-and-mud clearing at the neighborhood's edge. One neighbor said the trucks moved in from 11 p.m. to dawn, their movements shrouded to a degree by a two-day sandstorm that Iraqis said was the fiercest in years. Four tents and military equipment remained there today, concealed in part by trenches and dozens of industrial-size spools for cable. Down the road were at least four antiaircraft guns.
The neighbor said he blamed "both sides" for the destruction that sent shattered glass cascading through his apartment. His refrigerator and television rested against the pockmarked wall, tossed across the room by the force of the blast. Flying debris injured his mother, father, brother and sister, all of whom lived together in a cramped, two-room apartment.
"We are the simple people who get hurt. The government doesn't get hurt, but we end up getting hurt," the 35-year-old resident said. The government "is responsible for the people. They should take care of the people."
It was a day of menace in Baghdad, a capital forced to contend with around-the-clock bombing, smoke billowing from burning oil trenches that has compelled some to flee, and a sandstorm that has convinced many that divine intervention rules their fate.
On the storm's second day, the city of more than 5 million was coated in a film of dust, blown in from Iraq's deserts. The sky turned from a blinding yellow at dawn to blood-red in the afternoon. A dusk-like brown was followed by an eerie orange at nightfall. An occasional vegetable stand provided the city's few glimpses of color in its onions, tomatoes, eggplant and oranges. Rain fell throughout the day, bathing Baghdad in mud.
Cars drove with their headlights on at noon, and street lights cast a faint glow over the city streets. Residents complained of sleeplessness, some saying they had started taking Valium to ease the anxiety brought by the storms and the bombing. Few in the capital predicted that the worst was over; even fewer were willing to predict what the next few weeks would bring.
Shaab today was their worst fears made plain.
U.S. forces have, on the whole, waged their air assault on Baghdad with precision, targeting presidential palaces, government offices and intelligence headquarters since last week. At dawn, blasts shook the area that houses the Information Ministry, knocking Iraqi television off the air for several hours. But there have been errant strikes too, demolishing a student union building at Mustansiriya University, a laundry in a village outside Baghdad and clusters of homes in the neighborhoods of Adhimiya and Qadisiya.
In Shaab, the bombs struck at 11:30 a.m., a time that the streets, even in war, were crowded with mechanics, vendors of auto spare parts, customers at electric appliance stores and families sitting down to a late breakfast after a jarring night of bombing.
Residents said they heard the murmur of a bomber in a cloaked sky. Seconds later, the first explosion struck.
Abdel-Jabbar was in his workshop, putting together cardboard boxes. The blast collapsed the shop's entrance, showering the store with bricks and cinderblocks. He said the shock waves tossed cars and people several feet. One of them was Sattar, a 22-year-old friend repairing his car in the street. Sattar survived, Abdel-Jabbar said, but his legs were severed.
"Does he carry weapons of mass destruction?" Abdel-Jabbar shouted, as the sirens of ambulances, police cars and civil defense vehicles tried, in vain, to navigate traffic that had come to a standstill in the wrecked street. "Do his wife and children carry weapons of mass destruction?"
Next door, two workers had been scurrying around the Dulaimi Restaurant, preparing for lunchtime. Both were killed in an instant. The restaurant's red and blue tiles lay splintered on the sidewalk, plastic white tables and chairs were turned upside down, wires hung from the ceiling like a spider's web and its sign dangled overhead, giving perch to a bird.
Within moments, the second blast struck the other side of the street. Qais Sabah and his family of eight were sitting down to a breakfast of falafel, boiled eggs and bread. They jumped at the first explosion, then were thrown to the ground by the second.
Hours later, the 35-year-old day laborer looked out over the detritus of his house. A cracked porcelain plate that read "God" hung askew on the wall. On the sidewalk outside was the severed hand of Samad Rabai, 17, the owner of an appliance store.
"It's a crime against us," Sabah said. "There's nothing here to bomb."
Tareq Abdullah was making a halfhearted attempt to wash the dust off his white Lada sedan when the bombs struck. He was thrown several feet, then crawled to his car. He said he was desperate. His 4year-old son, Ali, was still inside, screaming.
In the hospital, Abdullah lay in a bed with bandages covering wounds to his head, chest and both legs from flying debris. He had trouble hearing, his ears still ringing from the bomb's percussion. "I feel pain," he said, over and over.
Next to him, his brother Ahmed, wearing a soccer jersey smeared with dried blood, looked at the bed and started crying.
"Look at my brother," he said, shaking his head. "Look at my friends."
In another room, Alawi, the nickname given to young Ali by his relatives, lay in a bed with a bandage over his head. With deep brown eyes and the look of a young child struggling to make sense of disaster, he said the Americans were trying to kill his father. He pulled nervously on the threads of the blue-and-white blanket covering the cut on his shoulder, recounting his fear.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Washington Post Pulitzers: Anthony Shadid"
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