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Naked in Baghdad

by Anne Garrels

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Naked in Baghdad by Anne Garrels
Anne Garrels is a senior foreign correspondent for National Public Radio. She has covered conflicts in Chechnya, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and now Iraqi. She began as an on-air reporter for ABC television, but soon turned to radio. In Baghdad, she clearly risked her life to report during the lead up to the war, then to stay during the U.S. bombing and its aftermath.

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' "string" is the stories of every day Iraqis, the tribulations they face and their endurance in the face of seemingly impossible conditions, both before the bombing began and afterwards. Strings include Iraqis' hatred/fear of Saddam, their hatred of U.S. occupation, their hatred of the U.S. appointed governing council, and Iraqi censorship of news internally and externally prior to the war.

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.

During these periods she did have a number of respites back at home. But even these required significant hassles from border guards. Those leaving the country were forced to have AIDS tests which required a "fee" of increasingly high amounts. Garrels did not have to have this test because she was an "old woman," that is, she was over 50. At this point, women were expected to have no interest in sex; therefore, there was no need to have an AIDS test.

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.

Her greatest enmity is reserved for Geraldo Rivera, a pseudo-journalist, in her view. In violation of all conventions, he carried a weapon and was even surrounded by bodyguards. Garrels knew him from Afghanistan where too many of his reports were made up, exaggerated, or pure lies. The U.S. military famously "dis-embedded" him from Iraq when he gave away his unit's position by drawing a map in the sand.

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.

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