Life in Iraq: A Reporter's View

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Philip Reeves has been reporting in and out of Iraq over the past two years. Steve Inskeep talks to Reeves about his experience there, about the pre- and post-election atmosphere and about how the people of Iraq are slowly adjust to living in a war zone.


NPR reporters Philip Reeves has finished one more tour in Iraq. His latest reporting trip took him to Baghdad at a time when residents are absorbing a sharp increase in car bombings.

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

All of them have a story about a car bomb that was close to their home or nearly missed them or affected friends of theirs.

INSKEEP: When our correspondents finish their time in Iraq, they often sit down to give us their impressions. The latest of Philip Reeves' seven assignments was marked by so much violence, it became ordinary.

REEVES: All of them have a story about a car bomb that was close to their home or nearly missed them or affected friends of theirs. We actually kind of were sitting around in NPR's offices in Baghdad and a car bomb went off three blocks away, and this time, whereas two years ago we would have all leapt to our feet, grabbed our notebooks and tape recorders and run to the scene, this time really it was just another daily event.

Freedom, in terms of working, is greatly restricted. Someone compared it--covering Iraq--to looking at a society through a straw, and I think that's actually a very accurate reflection of what it's like now.

INSKEEP: There's been much commentary about the differences between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, the three major groups in Iraq. How did their relations change during your last reporting trip?

REEVES: I think the most striking thing was the growth of Sunni disillusion over the political process. Remember that most of them didn't vote in the January elections, but I felt that as time was continuing and the formation of the transitional government was bogged down in bickering over jobs and how much representation to give the Sunnis, that the Sunnis in Bagdad were becoming increasingly cynical about the political process, and that feeling became stronger during the period that I was there. Relations between the Shia and the Kurds were clearly also fragile, particularly over the degree of autonomy to give the Kurds.

INSKEEP: One other thing, Philip Reeves. During your last tour in Baghdad you spent some time with Iraqi security forces who are seen as the key to the future of Iraq. If US troops are going to leave, Iraqi forces would need to replace them. When you were traveling with the Iraqis, when your life was in their hands, in effect, did you feel safe?

REEVES: No. I didn't feel safe, to be frank with you, but then I don't feel particularly safe if I'm traveling around with the US military, either. It's a guerrilla conflict, and people are dying every day, and the US and Iraqis are being attacked every day. The Iraqis that I was with appeared, to my non-military eye, to be reasonably well-drilled and competent.

But there was also a very striking moment when I was traveling with them in which we went into a classroom full of schoolchildren, and the Iraqi colonel I was with was eager to extract from these children some information about two suspects that he and his men were searching for. And the classroom went silent. The children refused to speak, and in the end, all he could get out of them, even though he offered them money, was a recitation of the alphabet. Now that gave me a sense that even if you have effective security forces on the ground, there is a very large challenge ahead of them if they are to be able to operate in a manner that actually brings this insurgency under control by gathering information and intelligence from the ground. It was a very revealing moment.

INSKEEP: NPR's Philip Reeves has finished his latest reporting tour in Baghdad. He's back at his home base in India.

Philip, thanks very much.

REEVES: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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