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Conversation: Anthony Shadid

In the second part of our two-part focus on Iraq, Terence Smith speaks with Washington Post correspondent Anthony Shadid who has reported on how the ongoing instability in Iraq is affecting different communities in the war-ravaged nation.

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  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Anthony Shadid of The Washington Post went to Iraq in March last year and has been there almost continuously since. He is one of the very few American correspondents there who speaks Arabic. Anthony Shadid, welcome home.

  • ANTHONY SHADID:

    Thank you.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    It's a pleasure to have you with us. You do have this great advantage of talking every day with the Iraqi people and people of Baghdad especially. How is the interaction between them on a day-to-day basis, between the Iraqi people and the sort of U.S. soldiers that we just saw in that taped piece?

  • ANTHONY SHADID:

    I think, you know, what you saw early on in the occupation right after the fall of Saddam Hussein, was there was a great gap in communication between American soldiers and Iraqis on the ground. There was an inability to communicate basically because the military did lack translators.

    I've been struck over the past year the efforts the military has gone to engage the communities that they're involved in. It's often great efforts to build bonds, to build links, to … they often find themselves the people who are responsible for these communities. They are the authority on the ground.

    I think what you've seen over the past year, though, is the military is often in its greatest concentration in the Sunni Muslim areas, in an area called the Sunni Triangle, where we've seen most of the attacks over the past year. And there is a friction there. There is an acute sense, I think, among a lot of Sunnis of there being an occupation and that the military is the instrument of that occupation.

    And, you know, often it's not … often the grievances aren't necessarily political; sometimes they're even more cultural or traditional, that … the way that houses are raided, for instance, that women are sometimes taken captive, that people are made to even bow … you know, put their heads on the ground. And these kinds of things seem to be the area where you see the most friction in relations between the two.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    You talk to a lot of Iraqis, and I wonder if you hear a range of opinion about — now a year after the war, essentially — about the war itself, about the deposing of Saddam Hussein and about the U.S. occupation?

  • ANTHONY SHADID:

    Yeah. Opinions are … there is no question that opinions are all over the map on what's happened, what's … what will happen in the future as well. I think there is no question that the great majority of Iraqis are appreciative or thankful that the government of Saddam Hussein is gone. That's made clearly.

    It's interesting when you do speak … over the past few weeks I've been speaking to some families that I profiled during the war, and I spent time with them throughout the year and then a great deal of time in recent days. And when they look back on the past year, I think there was a certain period of time right after the war when the looting occurred, when there was a sense of lawlessness, when … when expectations were so high, and those expectations weren't necessarily delivered on.

    That seemed to be a turning point, I think, for a lot of Iraqis and maybe it would be more safe to speak about Baghdad in particular, but a turning point for a lot of people in Baghdad, that perhaps what they expected from the war wasn't necessarily going to materialize. And I think you've seen that disenchantment or that disillusionment percolate through the capital since then.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Do ordinary Iraqis have a sense of connection to the Iraqi governing council that has been essentially put in place by the U.S. authorities? Do they see themselves as represented by that group?

  • ANTHONY SHADID:

    You know, it's a complicated relationship. I think at the first level and probably what influences opinion most about the Governing Council is how little people actually know about it. There isn't … there isn't a real intensive campaign on the way to inform Iraqis about what the Governing Council does.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    It's not in the news day to day?

  • ANTHONY SHADID:

    It is in the news, especially on the Iraqi media network, which is run by the U.S. administration, but it's not familiar with the characters on the Governing Council. It's pretty rare. It's not … it's pretty uncommon to hear somebody know individual members on the Governing Council. It also, I think, is tainted to a certain degree by such a close association with the American administration there in Baghdad.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    What about this process of transition to democracy, which is under way now and is supposed to involve an actual turnover of power to Iraqis June 30, July 1 of this year, do Iraqis feel part of that process?

  • ANTHONY SHADID:

    Well, I think, you know, there's definitely always a range of opinion in Baghdad, but I think you see two things really clearly about that transition going on. On the one hand, I think a lot of Iraqis, when you speak to them in Baghdad in particular, look forward to this transition as perhaps signaling a new era of the occupation, or a new era of the postwar experience, that an Iraqi government is going to be formed, and that will bring a certain level of stability.

    I think, on the other side of it, though, is there is a certain degree of anxiety, a certain degree of unease, that does this mean that the U.S. military is going to withdraw, for instance? Does this mean that the U.S. is going to somehow disengage? And there's not a lot of faith in the institutions that have been built so far to care for security. And I think if you talk to, you know, people in the street, you know, people in any Baghdad street, right now security is their overwhelming concern.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    What other day-to-day concerns do they have? What's life like for ordinary Iraqis a year after?

  • ANTHONY SHADID:

    Security remains the overwhelming topic of conversation in Baghdad today. These three families that I was spending time with over the past few weeks, it's almost the only thing they wanted to talk about. And it's … you know, they look out at Baghdad, and Baghdad itself has very much changed over the past year.

    What was once basically a peon to Saddam Hussein, with his statues, with his portraits, you know, now you see very much a different feel of the city: The concrete barricades, the barbed wire. It's very much a city that feels under siege. And I think a lot of Iraqis feel under siege. They feel very concerned about the bombings that have been going on, one, but also lawlessness that they weren't necessarily accustomed to before the war.

    Besides security, I think everyday life remains the paramount concern. There isn't a lot of talk about politics, really, about the governing council, about elections. There is a lot of talk about electricity, though, about water. And while it is up to prewar standards, it's more equitably distributed, so Baghdad still has less than it did perhaps before the war.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    And these three families that you met before the war and have reconnected with, how are they doing?

  • ANTHONY SHADID:

    They're doing okay. I think, you know, one family was a very poor family and their past year has been just a series of struggles basically to keep their head above water. You know, their expectations, like a lot of people in Baghdad, were set very high after the war, and they don't feel like those expectations have been delivered.

    There's frustration with that and the frustration has even … has bred … I don't want to say paranoia — that's too strong of a word — but there's a deep suspicion over U.S. intentions among the family. And I think you see that across a lot of sectors of Baghdad. There's … and I think it's a difficulty the U.S. faces in Iraq is that for many Iraqis, the United States is seen as all powerful, is seen as able to do anything it wants in the world, and when it doesn't do something that it was expected of it, it starts to breed a suspicion that they have to deal with.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    And for you, for a reporter working there, that security concern that you said is paramount for Iraqis, does that make it more difficult to do your job?

  • ANTHONY SHADID:

    I think reporting is becoming a little bit … is becoming a little bit riskier as time goes on, perhaps not as much for foreign correspondents but the people they work with, Iraqis they work with: drivers, translators, fixers. You have seen threats against those people; you've seen people being killed. And I think that's a growing concern on a part of a lot of journalists there.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    You say it is getting more difficult?

  • ANTHONY SHADID:

    Yeah.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    And more dangerous?

  • ANTHONY SHADID:

    I would say so, yeah. I think we have see seen more killings and threats over the past few weeks than we've seen before that. Who is carrying out the threats and the killings is still shadowy. A lot of the attacks, we don't know who is behind them.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Well, we'll have to stay tuned and follow this whole process as it goes on. Anthony Shadid, thank you very much.

  • ANTHONY SHADID:

    My pleasure.

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