"Forget about democracy, forget about being a model
	for the region, we have to salvage Iraq before all
	is lost."

	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 things? 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

	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?"

	Farnaz Fassihi

	(September 29, 2004) After she confirmed writing
	the letter on Wednesday, Paul Steiger, editor of
	the Wall Street Journal, stood up for her, telling
	the New York Post that her "private opinions have
	in no way distorted her coverage, which has been a
	model of intelligent and courageous reporting, and
	scrupulous accuracy and fairness."--Greg Mitchell
	(gmitchell@editorandpublisher.com), editor of E&P	
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