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By Greg Mitchell


(September 29, 2004) -- Readers of any nailbiting story from Iraq in a major mainstream newspaper must often wonder what the dispassionate reporter really thinks about the chaotic situation there and what he or she might be saying in private letters or conversations with friends back home.


Now, at least in the case of Wall Street Journal correspondent Farnaz Fassihi, we know.


A lengthy letter from Baghdad she recently sent to friends "has rapidly become a global chain mail," Fassihi told Jim Romenesko on Wednesday after it was posted at the Poynter Institute's Web site. She confirmed writing the letter.


"Iraqis say that thanks to America they got freedom in exchange for insecurity," Fassihi wrote (among much else) in the letter. "Guess what? They say they'd take security over freedom any day, even if it means having a dictator ruler." And: "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."


Fassihi, 32, who has a graduate degree in journalism from Columbia University and covered the 9/11 attacks in New York for the The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., told Romenesko she writes emails to friends "about once a month, writing them about my impressions of Iraq, my personal opinions and my life here."


The reporter's latest letter opens with this revelation: "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.... 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."


Fassihi observed that the insurgency had spread "from isolated pockets in the Sunni triangle to include most of Iraq." The Iraqi government, he wrote, "doesn't control most Iraqi cities.... 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, Fassihi wrote, "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....


"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.


"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 Baathists 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."


And what of America's "hope for a quick exit"? Fassihi noted that "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....


"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?


"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...."


Making clear what can only, at best, appear between lines in her published dispatches, Fassihi concluded, "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."

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i am not pro-bush and have already posted a couple of times that i am not voting for him. however, i agree with tony blair (i would vote for him to be president as he is far better than either bush or kerry); we have no choice but to see this through. "old europe" and especially france bear much of the blame for abandoning the people of iraq; these insurgents are no friends of the people of iraq and the insurgents would enslave the population just as saddam did. for the insurgents to "win" would be a disaster for western civilization and the freedoms we know.


just as the league of nations failed to halt the axis powers before total war broke out, the united nations has failed the people of iraq (the un has had practice as failing to help people in danger; as i wrote in early august about the people of darfur who are dying by the thousands). france and "old europe" fail to see as tony blair does that their future is being destroyed by the insurgents in iraq. as europe failed to listen to churchill, i fear they will fail to listen to tony blair.


it can, will and should be debated how we got into the war. however, our most pressing concern is what to do NOW and going foward. there is plenty of time to debate the recent past (along with vietnam which has been a popular topic as of late). tony blair is right-on.


the upcoming afgan elections are interesting as well. despite the islamic terror and killing of people trying to register to vote, millions of people are signing up to vote. it is clear that the afgan people want the freedom to pick their leaders like we do; they do not want the slavery of the islamic terrorists. the people of iraq want to join the free world as well. they can not do it alone but need our help and the help of the people in the west.


the wall street journal's reporter's writings (if true and not taken/edited out of context) are indeed sad not only for the people of iraq but as it reflects on "the west" and freedom loving countries everywhere. history will not be kind to france and "old europe" for watching millions of people being turned over to terrorists just as history was not kind to the league of nations and the chamberlin types who ruled in the 1930's.

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I am really puzzled. How can foreign policy be considered Bush's strength when we have never been more hated in the world than we are today? Why is Bush perceived as being able to protect us from terrorist attacks when he ignored screaming warnings prior to Sept. 11? And how can Bush call Kerry a flip-flopper on the Iraq War when Bush's own rationale for the war has gone through 23 permutations? I am sorry, the logic eludes me.

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> we have no choice but to see this



Unfortunately, that comment reflects the failure of Americans to recognize that we have already lost the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq. "Seeing this through" leaves only a choice between retreat before another thousand are killed, or a disorderly evacuation ending in the kind of frantic helicopter airlift that got most of the remaining Americans out of Saigon in 1975.


Saigon used to be the capital of South Vietnam, which is a country where the United States lost another war three decades ago. Americans are not very good at admitting defeat; a lot of people haven't conceded Vietnam yet. So it is not surprising that we haven't yet recognized that we are on the losing side in the current conflicts. Certainly, neither candidate is going to point it out tonight.

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dear ignoto,

i did not see a score board saying we have lost afghanistan and iraq; both are very much in play. given time and positive support there may be a "win" for freedom not just for the citizens of those countries, but for all of us.


i've been impressed at the millions of afghans who are registering to vote (including millions of women, gasph, horror).why are the islamic militants targeting women who register to vote? they fear a free afghanistan that could deliver decent lives to its people.


these people who kill iraqi women and children with no second thought are doing all in their power to stop freedom. they are not helping the people of iraq to lead better lives but want their vision to control iraq.


just as hitler wrote out his plans for his vision of europe, bin laden has done the same. there should have been no surprises in hitler's actions as his vision was clearly laid out.i saved an article from the wall street journal of 9-8-2004, page A4; it takes the 9-11 report and concludes:

mr. bin laden's dream is to remake the world order, uniting the world's billion-plus muslims under a new caliph--that is, a modern-day successor to the prophet mohammed who would rule the broad islamic world spanning the continents. "for those yearning for a lost sense of order in an older, more tranquil world, he offers his 'caliphate' as an imagined alternative to today's uncertainty." the 9/11 report explains. thus, the extremists who target the u.s. aren't interested in changing nation-states, but in wiping them out.


bin laden is out to wipe out the nations of egypt, jordan saudi arabia, etc. all muslims are to be united under his caliphate. second order of business is to reclaim "lost" muslim lands such as spain. the final phase is to have the non-muslim world submit to islam. i do not want to be around for phase three! while we today debate gay marriage, in phase three gays will be pleading for the right to live.


these mad men often have a well documented plan and bin laden is no different. we have no choice but to "win" the freedom for the afghan and iraqi people; their fight is our fight. europe of the 1930's never understood that they needed to stop hitler early; we can not use that same excuse. may god help the next us president to defeat the islamic terrorists and the states that sponsor them.

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>i did not see a score board saying we have lost afghanistan

>and iraq; both are very much in play.


Our mission in Afghanistan was to neutralize Bin Laden and Mullah Omar. We failed. Score: Them 2, Us 0.


Our mission in Iraq was to eliminate weapons of mass destruction and install a stable regime. We failed. Score: Them 2, Us 0.



>i've been impressed at the millions of afghans who are

>registering to vote


Then you were probably also impressed in October 2002 when:


BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi President Saddam Hussein won 100 percent of votes in a referendum for a new term in office, official results showed on Wednesday. Saddam's top deputy Izzat Ibrahim, reading official results at a news conference in Baghdad, said turnout was also 100 percent in Tuesday's referendum.


Nearly 12 million Iraqis were eligible to answer a simple "Yes" or "No" for another seven-year term for Saddam, who has ruled Iraq for 23 years through the tight grip of the military and police.


The authorities had urged voters to turn out in force to show massive support for Saddam in the face of U.S. threats of military action and President Bush's declared desire to remove him from power.


The United States has dismissed the vote and said it lacked any credibility.



>these people who kill iraqi women and children with no second

>thought are doing all in their power to stop freedom. they are

>not helping the people of iraq to lead better lives but want

>their vision to control iraq.


No one disagrees with that. What you fail to see through your rose-colored glasses is that not only can we do nothing about it, we are making the situation worse for them and others worldwide.


>just as hitler wrote out his plans for his vision of europe,

>bin laden has done the same. there should have been no

>surprises in hitler's actions as his vision was clearly laid



Hitler controlled an Army and relied on government payroll. Bin Laden is a stateless person who relies on hatred of America for volunteers and donations. The more Muslim children we kill, the more Muslim adults hate us. Get it? No, of course you don't.


>these mad men often have a well documented plan and bin laden

>is no different. we have no choice but to "win" the freedom

>for the afghan and iraqi people; their fight is our fight.



Another victim of the Bush shell game. Bin Laden is evil, so let's invade Iraq. As Kerry said, it's like invading Mexico in response to Pearl Harbor. The invasion of Iraq was on the agenda well before September 11. They were looking for an excuse, and they thought the American people were stupid enough to fall for it.

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Guest zipperzone

>And how can Bush call Kerry a

>flip-flopper on the Iraq War when Bush's own rationale for the

>war has gone through 23 permutations? I am sorry, the logic

>eludes me.


LOGIC? Since when has anyone ever accused this idiot of having the faintest grasp on logic. And if the American people have any grasp of it - there will not be another 4 years.

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