Wednesday, November 24, 2004
Toward the end of September, Farnaz Fassihi, a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal in Baghdad, sent an e-mail to 40 friends describing her working conditions in Iraq. Fassihi had been sending out such messages on a regular basis, but this one seethed with anger and frustration. "Being a foreign correspondent in Baghdad these days," she wrote, "is like being under virtual house arrest. ... I avoid going to people's homes and never walk in the streets. I can't go grocery shopping any more, can't eat in restaurants, can't strike a conversation with strangers, can't look for stories, can't drive in any thing but a full armored car, can't go to scenes of breaking news, can't be stuck in traffic, can't speak English outside, can't take a road trip, can't say I'm an American, can't linger at checkpoints, can't be curious about what people are saying, doing, feeling. And can't and can't." Citing the fall of Fallujah, the revolt of Moqtada al-Sadr, and the spread of the insurgency to every part of the country, Fassihi declared that "despite President Bush's rosy assessments, Iraq remains a disaster. If under Saddam it was a 'potential' threat, under the Americans it has been transformed to 'imminent and active threat,' a foreign policy failure bound to haunt the United States for decades to come. ... The genie of terrorism, chaos and mayhem has been unleashed onto this country as a result of American mistakes and it can't be put back into a bottle."
Fassihi's e-mail soon ended up on the Internet, where it quickly spread, giving readers a vivid and unvarnished look at what it was like to live in the world's most dangerous capital. Somehow, Fassihi, in her informal message, had managed to capture the lurid nature of life in Iraq in a way that conventional reporting, with all its qualifiers and distancing, could not.
Other U.S correspondents in Baghdad were startled at the attention her e-mail received. "All of us felt that we'd been writing that story," one journalist told me. "Everyone was marveling and asking what were we doing wrong if that information came as a surprise to the American public."