April 16, 2009

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad on Baghdad

Not too long ago, I bristled when Andrew Bacevich carelessly observed that "The Long War has been good to Dr. [David] Kilcullen."

Good in what sense, I wanted to ask? Professionally? Or personally?

Many of the people who have benefited the most professionally from the war on terror and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered the most personally. Hidden from the public view are the marriages broken, the close friends lost, and the traumas experienced.

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad has, over the past six years, become one of the most essential journalists in the English language. Named Britain's most outstanding foreign journalist last year, Ghaith grew up in Baghdad, deserted from Saddam's army, and taught himself English through the BBC World Service. He told me a story once of reading Charles Tripp's history of Iraq concealed in a newspaper at an outdoor cafe in Baghdad where he, a deserter, sat just two tables over from a pair of mukhabarat. In international journalism, Ghaith is a rock star. The guy embedded during the battle of Fallujah ... on the other side. But when a journalist based in London started screaming at me at the end of a long dinner party in Beirut this fall for having served in Iraq, it was Ghaith who stood up for me. Not because he agreed with the war -- but because he believed that no matter how late it happened to be and no matter how much wine had been drunk, certain manners should not be tossed aside. I was his guest, and he was having none of it.

But Ghaith has returned to Baghdad for the Guardian and has filed a series of haunting reports on a city lost to sectarianism. Ghaith is a proud Baghdadi, and he has discovered that there is no such thing left in Iraq. And I get the sense that Ghaith would gladly trade all his laurels and successes for the chance to come home to a city less broken.