Zabriskie on Iraq: “There is Anger Everywhere”
Time Correspondent Phil Zabriskie let down his hair with a high school classroom, and let them know exactly what he felt about Iraq after 10 weeks there.
‘ “It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It is easily the most unpleasant place I’ve been. There is anger everywhere.” Iraqis are angry for many reasons, Zabriskie said. They’re angry because they’ve been oppressed for so many years. They’re angry because the dictator they feared didn’t fight back when captured. And they’re angry that American troops haven’t done more to keep the peace since Saddam’s regime fell, Zabriskie said. “The U.S. leadership has not had a consistent plan . . . In my opinion, it should not be as bad as it is right now.” He believes U.S. leaders ignored warnings and were not adequately prepared to deal with Iraq after the initial war. As a result, they have left room for Iraqi religious leaders to organize support and have left the American troops in a bad position. “They have been put in a terribly difficult situation, made worse by political decisions in Washington,” Zabriskie said. “There was not a whole lot of love for Americans to begin with.” The biggest fear expressed by Iraqis now, he said, is civil turbulence among religious groups. ‘
Sometimes I talk to or read a correspondent who spent a few weeks in Iraq, and I don’t recognize the Iraq he or she reports back. Max Boot went embedded last summer and came back with tales of bustling bazaars and a quick return to normal. Since he had not seen the bazaars the year before, he had no grounds for judging whether they were more or less bustling. Nor do bustling bazaars mean everything is hunky dory. (When I was in Beirut during the civil war, people shopped. It was just that some of them got sniped at while they were in line.) One reporter told me last fall that Iraqis are not very nationalistic; that if you just make their tribal leaders happy everything will be fine; and that the capture of Saddam meant the end of the insurgency. But Iraqis are very nationalistic; tribal leaders are less important than they used to be; and the insurgency was never about Saddam; it probably isn’t even about the Baath party in any meaningful way.
In contrast, Zabriskie’s Iraq sounds like the one I read about in Arabic and hear about from people outside the green zone who are not embedded.
There is still a wave of assassinations going on in Baghdad. The streets are unsafe at night. People get murdered. Children, especially girls, are kidnapped and held for ransom. Actually it sounds to me like it is actually worse than Lebanon in the first years of the civil war, at least in Beirut. The US has managed to induce a failed state in Iraq. Although many cities in the South have more security than Baghdad, it sometimes comes at the price of the erection of a mini-theocracy. Geoffrey York’s report from Basra gives the flavor of rule by religious militia that has several times been reported on by correspondents.