Journalist Leila Fadel reflects upon returning from Iraq

(11 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)


Leila Fadel is a young, award-winning journalist who has been covering the Iraq war since June 2005. For nearly the past three years, she has been the Baghdad bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

In April, she returned to work in the United States. In an video interview for McClatchy, Fadel observed her life seems detached from reality now that she is working in Washington, D.C. and that Americans may be choosing to forget about Iraq.

“I think it is strange to be in a place that doesn’t feel real to me anymore,” Fadel said. “It’s really hard actually to be in D.C., to be in a place that feels so like life is easy, everything is fine.”

“Just the idea that you can wake up in the morning and go to Starbucks, pick up your paper, read about all the horrible things happening in the world and then go to your nice, air-conditioned office and everything is over. It’s really hard and you feel a bit guilty you can have that life,” Fadel said.

Fadel noted an absence of news about Iraq and other troubled parts of the world in the American press. So much so, that she thinks Americans can choose to ignore what is happening.

“All of a sudden, I’m not connected to it anymore.” she said. “I can go through an entire week, if I wanted to, and never read about it and that scares me. And, it scares me that so many people can do that if they want to in their lives just ignore it completely. Not just about Iraq, but everywhere – Afghanistan, Sudan, or Somalia, all those places.”

Asked if Iraq is about to become a minor story, Fadel said she believed so. “I fear that we will forget about it. That it will go from the front pages, to the middle pages, to the back pages, to the no pages. That doesn’t mean the story is going to be over, it just means we’re not going to talk about it anymore.”

Fadel is worried that violence in Iraq will increase in the coming months. “The thing that broke my heart when I left was that I felt that things were getting worse,” she said.

Everything that I saw in the future from the interviews I was doing weren’t good and when that moment comes where it gets so much worse and lives are being lost again… then who writes about it? Maybe there won’t be anyone there to see it or hear it, and then it didn’t happen.

In addition to being interviewed, Fadel wrote an essay reflecting on What war brought to Iraq. Her essay is accompanied by a narrated photo essay. Here are some excerpts, from her piece I think deserve broader notice.

“Iraq taught me to savor the trivial and the good”, Fadel writes reflecting on birthday celebrations and Iraqi weddings. But, she notes:

The reality in this capital of gray and brown, war and poverty always prevailed, however. On my last day in Iraq, as on my first day in Iraq, I didn’t see what the United States and its allies had accomplished.

I couldn’t see much evidence of the billions of American taxpayers’ dollars that have gone to rebuild a nation ravaged for more than three decades by war, sanctions and more war.

I couldn’t understand what thousands of American soldiers had died for and why hundreds of thousands of Iraqis had been killed. I didn’t see a budding democracy in an Iraqi government that was more like Saddam Hussein’s every day. I didn’t see a land long divided by sect, ethnicity, tribe and class beginning to grow into a united nation.

As she noted in her interview, Fadel also writes in her essay that she thinks the fighting is likely to return to Iraq.

Everyone I spoke to said they were worried about the next fight; a conflict that they said most likely will kill more Iraqis than in the past six years.

That battle is likely to begin sometime after the American soldiers leave. Then, the U.S. no longer could restrain a Shiite Muslim-led government that’s determined to make sure that its former oppressors never surface again.

The U.S.-backed government can’t stop the battle for land and oil between Kurds and Arabs in the north. It can’t bury, pay off or protect the Sunni insurgency that fought the U.S. occupation and the new Iraqi leadership that rode to power on the occupier’s tanks.

She writes of the people she has met in Iraq and how their lives have been disrupted and forever changed by the war.

One woman, Hasna Khowass Hassan, lost five of her seven sons in the fighting and her husband was “killed by al Qaida in Iraq in the name of the Islamic State.” She is “a broken women”, Fadel writes, “still shrouded” in black, “her eyes were dulled by sadness”.

Waleed Taha Yas showed Fadel the ruins of his family’s home in village Yasser al Khuthayer. “Waleed had spent everything to furnish the room he’d shared with his wife”.

Now homes in the village are nothing but “charred walls and rubble”. On Nov. 15, 2007, fighters from al Qaida in Iraq fought the villagers and killed at least 17 men.  “For a month,” Fadel writes, “he’d come here and weep.” Now this 25-year-old man is supporting 22 members of his extended family.

In her accompanying photo essay, Fadel talks about the children of Iraq. One picture, she says, “makes me think of a child’s understanding of Iraq.”

One child once told me that he wanted to be an American when he grew up. He thought it meant to wear a uniform, to carry a gun, and to have the power to kill who you wanted.

Fadel concludes her essay wondering again what the “suffering and the bloodshed of Iraqis and Americans alike has accomplished.”

For her journalistic work in Iraq, Fadel won the George Polk Award for Foreign Reporting in 2008. She was one of the best reporters covering Iraq on a day-to-day basis and now she is back in the States, I will miss her insights. Like her, I too wonder what was the point of Iraq?


Cross-posted from Daily Kos.



Skip to comment form

    • Edger on August 6, 2009 at 03:10

    Unfortunately it’s not just Iraq that is rapidly fading from the media.

    Co-opting the antiwar movement and withdrawing (media coverage) from Iraq seem to be two of the best examples of “change you can believe in” that I’ve noticed in the past year…

    The Obama administration’s plan to end production of the F-22 Raptor has received plenty of press coverage, but the Pentagon budget itself, even though it’s again on the rise, hardly rates a bit of notice. In fact, amid the plethora of issues large and small — from health care reform to Gates-gate, from energy policy to the culpability of Michael Jackson’s doctor — that make up the American debate in the media, in Washington, and possibly even in the country, what Chalmers Johnson has called “our empire of bases” goes essentially unmentioned. Not that we don’t build them profligately. At one point, we had 106 of them — mega to micro — in Iraq alone; right now, we have at least 50 forward operating bases and command outposts in Afghanistan to go with a few giant bases (and the Pentagon is evidently now considering the possibility of creating a single, privatized, mercenary force to defend them, according to the Washington Post).

    Tomgram: Chalmers Johnson, Dismantling the Empire

    • Edger on August 6, 2009 at 03:30

    when she was still McClatchy’s Baghdad Bureau Chief, in which she concluded from her experiences while in Iraq that Iraqis will hold America accountable:

    Leila Fadel, Baghdad Bureau Chief of McClatchy Newspapers, speaks to Paul Jay about the changes in Iraq over the past four years. … She says that there is, “the sense of the necessary evil, a lot of people want the U.S. to leave but they’re not sure that Iraq can defend its borders because its security forces were broken apart and built from the bottom up and they’re not ready. They don’t have an army that’s necessarily loyal to the government, they’re loyal to political parties that have sectarian or ethnic leanings. So there’s nothing for them to really hold on to or be sure of in their country. People will hold America accountable for their current suffering and what happens next.”

    Real News – March 20, 2009 – 13 minutes

    Leila Fadel: Iraqis will hold America accountable for what happens next

    • TMC on August 6, 2009 at 17:37

    with being back in the “real world”. When I returned from Gaza to NYC, it was strange to me that very few were even aware of the what was going on with the Middle East and the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even as I have adjusted to being home, I am dismayed at the misinformation and blatant lies that people are believing.

     I have pretty much stopped watching the corporate controlled news. I find it uninformative, biased and banal for the most part. I read many of Ms Fadel’s  perceptive reports and I, too, will miss them.


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