Why report, especially from a war zone? "It's infinitely fascinating is the crude answer. But, I'm not really very interested in the strictly military part of war. Rather I'm fascinated by how people survive, and how the process of war affects the attitudes of all sides involved, and how they pull out of it." Naked in Baghdad completely fulfills the promise inherent in this statement. Garrels talked to people on the street and some of the bureaucrats in the Hussein government; however, it is the regular people who bring us the most enduring images of what the war means in Iraq.
Garrels arrived on 10/20/02 just after Saddam Hussein had emptied his prisons. Tens of thousands of criminals were reunited with their loved ones. Many more thousands were not reunited. Their loved ones had disappeared into the political abyss over the years and were likely to never be heard from again.
The book is divided into three parts. "Before" covers the period from 10/20/02 until 3/19/03, the time prior to the beginning of U.S. air strikes on Baghdad. "During" covers 3/20/03, the time of the first air strike, until 4/15/03, when she left the city. This point marked the end of the hardback edition. The expanded paperback edition includes "After" which covers the period from her return to Baghdad on 8/1/03 until 5/5/04 when she departed finally, for purposes of this updated paperback book, on May 5, 2004.
Garrels reserves negative words for television reporters, especially CNN, "which has curried favor with the Iraqi authorities in order to maintain its substantial presence." Consequently, Garrels wonders, how close CNN's reports are to the whole truth. She doesn't see the point in self-censorship (which CNN practices) since the information Saddam doesn't want told (the terror, how he is despised) is available elsewhere. She is in Iraq "to try to understand how Iraqis see themselves, their government, and the world around them." She calls Dan Rather's interview with SH "obsequious tripe." Only 16 U.S. reporters - none from the big television networks - remained in Baghdad during the bombing. She takes a perverse pride in this.
Bureaucracy reigns supreme in a crumbling Iraq. Bribes must be paid to everyone. Satellite phones are sealed and must be opened (and left) at the Ministry of Information so that no unauthorized broadcasts can be made. Money must change hands. Given the enormous sums of money paid in official fees (bribes), how did she physically carry the currency? 3/19/03: CBS leaves and loans $5,000 cash. Then, two weeks into the war new press passes must be obtained. Newsweek, for example, must pay $15,000; little NPR pays only $1,500.