Former ‘LA Times’ Baghdad Chief Says Iraqis Are ‘Humiliated’

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By: Joe Strupp

Former Los Angeles Times Baghdad Bureau Chief Borzou Daragahi says he doubts the “surge” in Iraq will work, and describes Iraq citizens as “hostile” and “humiliated” after four years of war.

Asked by Brian Lamb, in a forthcoming C-SPAN interview, about his personal views on the war, he replied: “I think at this point, it just ? it seems like it?s become a disaster. I mean, I don?t think anyone could dispute that. It?s just going very, very, very, very badly.” He said he had mixed feelings about the invasion but “As time wore on, though, as the bodies mounted, it just seems more and more like a really bad mistake.”

The interview will be broadcast Sunday night.

Daragahi, a Pulitzer finalist in 2005, admits to deceiving his family, and editors, on some occasions about life in the war zone: “You know, there was no planning of, OK, I’m going to deceive my wife, I’m going to deceive my family. It was just, you know, you’re in this crush of news and trying to get the story out….in addition to that, I had all these bureaucratic duties, because I became bureau chief. I had all these managerial duties – finances and safety issues and logistics, and so on. And so, the pressure, the amount of work was so intense that you end up perhaps sacrificing some facts when you’re recounting your day to your family or your spouse, and even your editors.”

Daragahi, an Iranian-born journalist who has also worked as a freelancer, plans to return to the Middle East soon as a Times’ Beirut correspondent. In the interview with C-SPAN, scheduled to run Sunday night at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m., he recounts life in the war-torn area, how he survived the mental and physical demand, and the difficulties of being a freelancer overseas.

Highlights of the interview, from a C-SPAN transcript, are below:

–On why he believes the military surge won’t work:

“Because there is not – even according to General Petraeus’ own guidebook for fighting counterinsurgencies, they’re not using soldiers, they’re not using enough troops to accomplish their goals…But also, more fundamentally, I don’t think that they can do this militarily. I don’t think the fundamental problems in Iraq right now are military problems.”

— On why Iraqis feel humiliated:

“Iraqis are rather hostile and feel humiliated. And that’s the key thing that maybe some of our policymakers don’t understand. The presence of the U.S. soldiers is very humiliating to the Iraqis. Even those who, in their minds know that it’s necessary to have the soldiers there, at least some kind of force there preventing an all-out civil war from getting even worse…I don’t think they appreciate American culture.”

— On charges that the press is too negative on Iraq:

Well, I would just say, show me those goods.

For example, is infant mortality going down? Is the number of attacks on U.S. and coalition forces going down?
Are the number of Iraqis who are fleeing the country declining? Is there an increase in employment? So, let?s see the facts.

Is there a decrease in the number of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians being killed day to day? If there is, we?ve reported it. I mean, if there has been ? and we put it prominently on page one.

I remember when the recent Baghdad security plan first went into effect, and there was a dramatic decline in the number of sectarian death squad executions, that was on the front page of the ?Los Angeles Times.?

So, I think that the people who say that criticism should at least read our product first.

–His personal feelings about the war:

I think that in the beginning, I was conflicted as to whether I was ? because I had the Kurdish perspective up there, you know. And you don?t fully adopt the perspective of the people that you?re covering. You can?t do that as a journalist. But you?re at least sympathetic to it.

And from the Kurdish point of view, they were very much in favor of the war. They very much viewed it as a liberation. And that was rather infectious.

And so, I can?t say that I was like completely against the invasion. I took a neutral, wait-and-see attitude….

Sort of what it?s turned into in the eyes of many people in the Middle East is a war of imperial conquest gone bad, done poorly. At least the Romans granted their captives citizenship and brought them into the fold and brought stability to the lands that they conquered.

And I think, in the Arab world ? and this is a really disastrous thing, they basically view this is as, you know, the Americans came in and they destroyed an Arab country. And I don?t think they?ll ever forgive us for that.

— On family life and deceiving loved ones when you’re trying to get the news out of Iraq:

“And so, sometimes you get in a situation where you kind of ascertain what that person wants to hear and you tell them what they want to hear…In the case of my going to Iraq, it wasn’t for any other purpose other than to just make it through the day. I mean, it became a sort of day-to-day survival mechanism.”

— On his mixed feelings about going back to serve in Iraq:

“I imagine I will go back. Most ‘L.A. Times’ foreign correspondents do stints in Iraq, small stints, two or three weeks. Generally, we don’t get to not go, even if we don’t want to go….And you get kind of ? I mean, maybe people think I?m crazy ? but you get kind of hooked on it. You get kind of into that sort of existence.”

— On his wife visiting him in Baghdad:

She would come for a few weeks? stretch at a time and rarely as much as I was there, but she would come pretty regularly to Iraq. But as things got dangerous, she had less of a stomach for it.

I remember once, she and a friend of ours went to a supermarket, a very popular supermarket that has like Western stuff. And all of a sudden, outside of the supermarket there was like a terrifying shootout, like a gun fight.

And so, everyone in this supermarket kind of ran into the basement of the supermarket to hide, to make sure that they wouldn?t get hit by any stray bullets as this gunfire continued, and then emerged. And I think that was just enough for her.

— On Mel Gibson and Iraq:

Iraq right now, for foreigners living there, for Western journalists living there, it is a really ? it?s like, you know, ?Road Warrior,? the movie ?Road Warrior? with Mel Gibson.

It?s a real nightmare state to some extent, where there?s basically little in the way of rule of law. Your personal security is constantly threatened.

There?s constant tragedies, a constant flow of tragedies that you hear about that touch you, in terms of things happening to Iraqis you know and even things happening to Westerners that you know. So, it?s unlike anything that is out there in the world.


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