“One could argue that Iraq is already lost beyond salvation.”

Wall Street Journal reporter Farnaz Fassihi is on assignment in Iraq where she regularly writes letters home to family and friends on the situation there and how America’s attempt at bringing democracy to the Middle East is progressing. Being personal letters they’re not subject to the editorial process her news articles are and a recent letter paints such a contrary picture to what the Bush Administration claims is the situation in Iraq that someone felt the need to forward it beyond just Fassihi’s circle of friends and it took off like a wildfire burning across the Net. I came across it in Romenesko’s column at Poynter Online and I’m reproducing it here for your enlightenment:

    From: [Wall Street Journal reporter] Farnaz Fassihi
    Subject: From Baghdad

    Being a foreign correspondent in Baghdad these days is like being under virtual house arrest. Forget about the reasons that lured me to this job: a chance to see the world, explore the exotic, meet new people in far away lands, discover their ways and tell stories that could make a difference.

    Little by little, day-by-day, being based in Iraq has defied all those reasons. I am house bound. I leave when I have a very good reason to and a scheduled interview. 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 stories, 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. There has been one too many close calls, including a car bomb so near our house that it blew out all the windows. So now my most pressing concern every day is not to write a kick-ass story but to stay alive and make sure our Iraqi employees stay alive. In Baghdad I am a security personnel first, a reporter second.

    It’s hard to pinpoint when the ‘turning point’ exactly began. Was it April when the Fallujah fell out of the grasp of the Americans? Was it when Moqtada and Jish Mahdi declared war on the U.S. military? Was it when Sadr City, home to ten percent of Iraq’s population, became a nightly battlefield for the Americans? Or was it when the insurgency began spreading from isolated pockets in the Sunni triangle to include most of Iraq? 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.

    Iraqis like to call this mess ‘the situation.’ When asked ‘how are thing?’ they reply: ‘the situation is very bad.”

    What they mean by situation is this: the Iraqi government doesn’t control most Iraqi cities, there are several car bombs going off each day around the country killing and injuring scores of innocent people, the country’s roads are becoming impassable and littered by hundreds of landmines and explosive devices aimed to kill American soldiers, there are assassinations, kidnappings and beheadings. The situation,  basically, means a raging barbaric guerilla war. In four days, 110 people died and over 300 got injured in Baghdad alone. The numbers are so shocking that the ministry of health—which was attempting an exercise of public transparency by releasing the numbers—has now stopped disclosing them.

    Insurgents now attack Americans 87 times a day.

    A friend drove thru the Shiite slum of Sadr City yesterday. He said young men were openly placing improvised explosive devices into the ground. They melt a shallow hole into the asphalt, dig the explosive,  cover it with dirt and put an old tire or plastic can over it to signal to the locals this is booby-trapped. He said on the main roads of Sadr City, there were a dozen landmines per every ten yards. His car snaked and swirled to avoid driving over them. Behind the walls sits an angry Iraqi ready to detonate them as soon as an American convoy gets near. This is in Shiite land, the population that was supposed to love America for liberating Iraq.

    For journalists the significant turning point came with the wave of abduction and kidnappings. Only two weeks ago we felt safe around Baghdad because foreigners were being abducted on the roads and highways between towns. Then came a frantic phone call from a journalist female friend at 11 p.m. telling me two Italian women had been abducted from their homes in broad daylight. Then the two Americans, who got beheaded this week and the Brit, were abducted from their homes in a residential neighborhood. They were supplying the entire block with round the clock electricity from their generator to win friends. The abductors grabbed one of them at 6 a.m. when he came out to switch on the generator; his beheaded body was thrown back near the neighborhoods.

    The insurgency, we are told, is rampant with no signs of calming down.  If any thing, it is growing stronger, organized and more sophisticated every day. The various elements within it-baathists, criminals, nationalists and Al Qaeda-are cooperating and coordinating.

    I went to an emergency meeting for foreign correspondents with the military and embassy to discuss the kidnappings. We were somberly told our fate would largely depend on where we were in the kidnapping chain once it was determined we were missing. Here is how it goes: criminal gangs grab you and sell you up to Baathists in Fallujah, who will in turn sell you to Al Qaeda. In turn, cash and weapons flow the other way from Al Qaeda to the Baathisst to the criminals. My friend Georges, the French journalist snatched on the road to Najaf, has been missing for a month with no word on release or whether he is still alive.

    America’s last hope for a quick exit? The Iraqi police and National Guard units we are spending billions of dollars to train. The cops are being murdered by the dozens every day-over 700 to date—and the insurgents are infiltrating their ranks. The problem is so serious that the U.S. military has allocated $6 million dollars to buy out 30,000 cops they just trained to get rid of them quietly.

    As for reconstruction: firstly it’s so unsafe for foreigners to operate that almost all projects have come to a halt. After two years, of the $18 billion Congress appropriated for Iraq reconstruction only about $1 billion or so has been spent and a chuck has now been reallocated for improving security, a sign of just how bad things are going here.

    Oil dreams? Insurgents disrupt oil flow routinely as a result of sabotage and oil prices have hit record high of $49 a barrel. Who did this war exactly benefit? Was it worth it? Are we safer because Saddam is holed up and Al Qaeda is running around in Iraq?

    Iraqis say that thanks to America they got freedom in exchange for insecurity. Guess what? They say they’d take security over freedom any day, even if it means having a dictator ruler.

    I heard an educated Iraqi say today that if Saddam Hussein were allowed to run for elections he would get the majority of the vote. This is truly sad.

    Then I went to see an Iraqi scholar this week to talk to him about elections here. He has been trying to educate the public on the importance of voting. He said, “President Bush wanted to turn Iraq into a democracy that would be an example for the Middle East. Forget about democracy, forget about being a model for the region, we have to salvage Iraq before all is lost.”

    One could argue that Iraq is already lost beyond salvation. For those of us on the ground it’s hard to imagine what if any thing could salvage it from its violent downward spiral. 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.

    The Iraqi government is talking about having elections in three months while half of the country remains a ‘no go zone’-out of the hands of the government and the Americans and out of reach of journalists. In the other half, the disenchanted population is too terrified to show up at polling stations. The Sunnis have already said they’d boycott elections, leaving the stage open for polarized government of Kurds and Shiites that will not be deemed as legitimate and will most certainly lead to civil war.

    I asked a 28-year-old engineer if he and his family would participate in the Iraqi elections since it was the first time Iraqis could to some degree elect a leadership. His response summed it all: “Go and vote and risk being blown into pieces or followed by the insurgents and murdered for cooperating with the Americans? For what? To practice democracy? Are you joking?”


Fassihi dropped Romenesko an email to confirm that the letter is actually hers:

Hi, Yes, I am the author. The e-mail is authentic, my reaction is that I’m stunned at how this has rapidly become a global chain mail. I wrote it as a private e-mail to my friends as I often do about once a month, writing them about my impressions of Iraq, my personal opinions and my life here. and then it got forwarded around as you can see in a very unexpected way.

Additionally WSJ managing editor Paul Steiger stepped up to defend Fassihi against critics who might try to claim her reporting is biased as a result of this letter. This is definitely something to keep in mind when you go to vote this November.

11 thoughts on ““One could argue that Iraq is already lost beyond salvation.”

  1. Things are getting worse everywhere in Iraq. Recently a British commander described the Southern Zone as being something like Blackhawk Down. In the last day or two I heard an interview with a journalist who had been kidnapped by insurgents while on the way to conduct follow-up interviews with members the Turkomen community in Northern Iraq. The journalist indicated that the Iraqi policy were openly collaborating with the insurgents. (Were relying on my memory here. I couldn’t find a link for either of these statements.)

    Here is a quote from Molly Ivin’s latest column.

    Now Bush says he would give the “mission accomplished” speech again. “Absolutely,” he said.

    The only prominent person in the administration who seems to recognize reality is Colin Powell, who says that the war is going badly and that it has increased anti-Americanism in the Muslim world.

    The recent National Intelligence Assessment (NIE). says it all. The best case is the situation that we have now – the worst case is civil war. Contrary to what he says, I don’t think Kerry will be able to pull together international support to fix things in Iraq. I hope I’m wrong.

  2. And I am an optimistic person. I guess if you want to try to find something to be pessimistic about, you can find it, no matter how hard you look, you know?
    —G.W. Bush, Washington, DC, June 15, 2004

    No matter how hard you look?  Tell that to the troops, Mr. President, they have to be careful not to step on your optimism.

  3. Even if Kerry gets ‘enough’ support (which he won’t), he will not be able to fix this problem.

    The cat is out of the bag, you can’t rewind time etc…

    No really, I feel the situation has gone beyond salvagable unless you send maybe 500.000+ troops. And even then I’m not sure it would be more than just a temporary reprieve.

    Unrealistic expectations, blunders and uncaring leadership got the US and Iraq where they are now.

    The best Kerry can do is ‘go out’ in style. But whatever he does if he is elected, watch the Republicans savaging his every move. Heck, they’d savage him if he used The Shrubs script.

    Okay, I’ll cool off now. But I’m way happy that Germany did not get involved in this horrible mess.


  4. But I’m way happy that Germany did not get involved in this horrible mess.

    I agree with the policy, but I’m dubious about the motives prompting it.

    An interesting question is whether France and Germany want Bush to win or not. As an article somewhere mentioned, if Kerry wins they might be forced to make a serious aid effort in Iraq and lose the bogeyman that pushes European integration while distracting from internal problems.

    However that may be, if this email accurately portrays the situation in Iraq (chances are it does), then even a positively oppresive number of troops won’t do more than plug up the pressure cooker.

    Even if Kerry wins, the situation may degenerate into open civil war by the time he assumes office.  Failing that, I can see a Catch-22. The US will need a significant international contribution to fix Iraq, but help won’t be forthcoming until the US has things under control.

  5. ‘Pressure cooker’ – the way you put it, that was exactly what I was searching for.

    elweddridsche (does that name have any specific meaning ?) I am very aware that the original stance of our chancellor against the war was not pure reason and morality. He saw that it was unpopular here, and he won the election by his stand.

    But really, it DOES seem that *gasp*,

    1) Iraq 2) the world and certainly 3) the US would be better off if Bush had never gone to war there and Saddam was still in place.

    An evil thought, sure, but wrong?

    ‘We’ as far as I know don’T want Bush to win. But we certainly are of too minds over it too. Case in point, I’m planning an ‘election party’ here in Germany: If Kerry wins, we can be happy. If Bush gets a second term, we can have fun drawing up all the gloomy stuff thats going to happen next…

  6. The report (unofficial though it was) was interesting after the Bush-Kerry Debate last night.

    All I can remember after watching it last night is that Kerry has a plan and Bush kept saying “It’s hard work”. I don’t think sending Americans to their death can be described as hard work, nor should it be.

      TheIraq (situation) is a debauchery, an aberration, and now an abortion that will not be remedied without a high cost of money and lives.

      Bush kept saying how the election in Iraq was going to prove his case.  But if it does it will not be, I feel, that he is expecting.

    God (if there is one) bless America because we are going to need it!!!

  7. It sounds like you have all been defeated – now would someone tell the troops that we’ve lost?

  8. Hey Chicken Little – strong words for someone who is afraid to even leave an email addy.

    Why don’t *YOU* go over there and tell the troops they are going to win soon – after all there’s only a few diehard insurgents left!

  9. And as an addendum: You can loose wars without ever being beaten in a military sense. I do fear that Iraq has passed that tipping point several months ago.

  10. It sounds like you have all been defeated – now would someone tell the troops that we’ve lost?

    The troops have a better idea of what is going on in Iraq better than any of us back here. One source the soldier’s viewpoint can be found at
    Operation Truth. Here is quote from one of the entries.

    I enlisted in the Army Reserve following September 11, 2001, one of the hardest and best decisions I have made in my life. I love the United States, the Army and my unit. Out of this deep love, I ask that we as Americans take a long look in the mirror. We must ask ourselves who we are and what we stand for. We as a nation must face the monster we have created in Iraq, sooner rather than later. We must find a way out of the mess in Iraq with minimal loss of American and Iraqi life. We owe it to the soldiers on the ground and the embattled Iraqi people.

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