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BOOKS & THE CULTURE War Stories BY SUSAN BRIANTE Naked in Baghdad: The Iraq War Asseen By NPR’s Correspondent Anne Garr& By Anne Garrels Farrar Straus & Giroux 222 pages, $22. uring the first Gulf War, as a young journalist for the now defunct Tulsa Tribune, I interviewed reservists on the eve of their deployment. Up until that point, my “experience” of war had come from family memories or big-budget Hollywood productions. Vietnam was a conflict that I caught glimpses of through films such as Platoon or Full Metal Jacket. But even as I interviewed reservists struggling with their army issued gas masks, my view of the first Gulf War was narrow and oblique: jittery black-and-white footage of “smart bombs” racing through the sky or from artillery viewfinders that made thunderous explosions look like silent bursts of sand. When the Bush administration raced toward war with Iraq last year, many U.S. news organizations pulled out of Baghdad and it seemed like we would once again be left with a video-game perspective on the conflict. NPR correspondent Anne Garrels was one of the few American journalists who remained despite threats that they might be held hostage or used as human shields. Her daily accounts of the warfor which she recently won a prestigious George Polk awardprovided glimpses into Iraqi life that could not be gleaned from an armored personnel carrier or the safety of the Jordanian border. In her book Naked in Baghdad, Garrels describes the story behind the story as she reveals the difficult and collaborative work of reporting in a police state under siege. For more than 25 years, Garrels has worked in Russia and several of the former Soviet republics, as well as China, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Central America. When she’s not on the job, she lives with her husband in Norwich, Connecticut, where she reads Montaigne and takes Emergency Medical Technician training between assignments. But no amount of classes can provide a journalist with the insight necessary to write on political and military situations hundreds of miles away and often hundreds of years in the making. Like many foreign correspondents, she depends on a local liaison, or fixer, to help her maneuver through the bureaucratic logistics as well as the language. In Iraq, she hires 38-year-old Amer who provides her with everything from fresh fruit and cases of cheap wine to sources who will honestly speak about the Hussein regime and American invasion. When it becomes too dangerous for Garrels to leave the hotel, Amer even records sounds and conducts interviews out in the streets. Garrels explains: In every foreign assignment I have ever had, there has always been someone who makes the difference. Every journalist’s secret is her driver or “fixer,” a local person whose translation skills go well beyond words: Lionya and Irina in Moscow, Mimosa in Kosovo, Wadood and Andar in Afghanistan. These people shared every aspect of their lives so that I could better understand their countries. Working around the clock, in tumultuous and dangerous circumstances, they found the people I needed to see, they got me into the places I needed to get to, and they have become my extended family. In Iraq, the combination of Garrels’ experience and Amer’s knowledge produces reporting that makes the war’s effects tangible. Garrels casts a critical eye toward the brutality of Hussein regime as well as U.S. motives for intervention, describing the conflicted attitudes of the Iraqi people with precision and compassion. She remembers the Baath party community leader who proclaims his loyalty to Saddam Hussein before asking her to take his child to the United States. She gives voice to the musician who pens “love songs” for Hussein and talks proudly of his son in Chicago. Naked in Baghdad allows the author an opportunity to correct the images of Iraq promoted by the “shorthand coverage” of network television with its film of toppling statues and American flagwaving. She writes, “The street scenes are nothing like as joyous as the cameras make them out to be. There are plenty of people standing around, numb or shocked at the events.” In the aftermath of last April’s siege on Baghdad, she observes: “The American troops are still doing little to stop the looting, and Iraqis are furious that one of the first and only buildings the United States has protected is the Oil Ministry. This will not easily be forgotten and reinforces what many Iraqis fear: that the United States is here for oil and only oil.” Nearly a year later, her initial concerns are more valid than ever. Garrels’ Naked in Baghdad: The Iraq War as Seen by NPR’s Correspondent was one of several books rushed to print in the aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein. Instead of an academic or historical analysis, she offers dated entries beginning in October 2002 and ending 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3/12/04