Back to Iraq, In A Way

Tonight, “Only the Dead,” a documentary by my old Baghdad bureau chief Michael Ware premiers on HBO. I am both anticipating and dreading this documentary.

Ware was already well established as the guy with the sources in the insurgency by the time I started my second Iraq journey in early 2004. I met him in a hotel room in Baghdad and he struck me as someone deeply in love with the adrenaline of reporting on the insurgency, combat reporting, at continually cheating death. I was … not entranced, but deeply admiring. He’s a big guy, over six feet, with a build that reflects his days as a rugby player. His nose looks like he ran into a wall, picked himself up and did it again just to teach the wall a lesson. He was funny, profane, frightening and always ready with a good story. (It’s a shame I only have pictures of him at parties. I won’t post them, though. He’s been through enough.)

But he was also, by that time, deeply wounded. I didn’t realize how much, but he had gone from his native Australia to Afghanistan and then to Iraq. In three years of conflict, he had picked up an addiction to war that I would come to know as well. My friend Phil Zabriskie writes in TIME how damaged Ware would eventually become:

Ware’s camera catches a dazed, baleful expression across the Marine’s face. “I could see good men here losing their grip, losing themselves,” Ware narrates. He knows whereof he speaks, because the same thing, of course, was happening to him.

This became even more harder to ignore after Ware moved from TIME to CNN in mid-2006. Always high energy, he became increasingly manic and erratic. Friends and colleagues worried for his health and safety, concerned that the persona of Mick Ware, the madman Aussie war correspondent who’d take risks others wouldn’t, was starting to obscure the excellent, often prescient work done by Michael Ware, the journalist.

After he left Baghdad, he was a mess, Phil writes. “He could barely function away from war. He couldn’t sleep. He self-medicated. He saw roadside bombs when he drove and the faces of the dead when he closed his eyes.” He was suffering from serious PTSD. For a while, I had mild symptoms and likewise did reckless things. But Ware saw worlds worse than anything I encountered. “For a long time, Ware wanted to die,” Phil writes.

But thankfully, he found help. And now he’s telling the story of the war as only can, using the (initially) haphazardly filmed conflict. We haven’t spoken in years, but I hope that changes. If he can come back, there’s hope for everyone.

So I’m eager to see the film tonight (old addictions never really go away), but I’m also dreading the memories it will serve up. We had car bombsfriends kidnapped, and yes, killed. I almost took a bullet in Najaf. Iraq was unimaginably dangerous for reporters from 2004-2008 (and more so for Iraqis), a fact that our stateside audience just never seemed to grasp, no matter how many journalists were killed.

Anyway, Ware is right: Only the dead see the end of war. It never leaves you. And I don’t know if you can ever make peace with it. Maybe there are only cease-fires.

Crossposted to truly, nomadly, deeply

The End of an Era, and the Beginning of a New One

Greetings all. It’s been a while. I wanted to take a small post and update you all on what’s happening here.

As many of you know, for the past few months, I’ve been at Stanford as a Knight Fellow, researching foreign news and online content. This fellowship ends in June. I have decided to depart the Middle East then and head for Pakistan, where I will be working on a new blog project, InsurgencyWatch. You can read more about the idea behind the new site here. You can also catch its latest posts via the RSS feed to the right.

Back to Iraq will continue to exist, but mainly as an archive and republishing site for the new content on InsurgencyWatch. I hope you’ll all join me over at the new site, and we can make interesting things happen again in the field of foreign correspondence.

New look coming…

There’s a new batch of software in town: [MovableType 4](http://www.movabletype.org). So far, it’s very nice and in honor of the cleaned up code and new functionality, I’ll be changing Back to Iraq’s look and feel. This will be the third or fourth iteration of B2I through the years and it’s become a bit of a tradition for me to shake things up and try to make reading the site a pleasant and useful experience for you. So please bear with me while the work continues.

Thank you,
The Management

IraqSlogger duties

Hello all– I just wanted to remind y’all that I now do the U.S. media roundup/critique for IraqSlogger.com. Today’s offering has reports on Marines’ spin from Haditha and a depressing/charming story about a rooftop pool in Baghdad.
Please “check it out”:http://www.iraqslogger.com/index.php/post/3311/US_Papers_Sun_Keeping_Cool_in_Baghdad.

There’s Competence and Then There’s “Competence”

I’m coming a bit late to this because of server problems, but it’s something that’s been bugging me about the whole Reid-Pace “competence” imbroglio.
The question nagging at me is not who called whom incompetent or whether Reid was wrong or right to do so. I mean, Pace had just been fired, so Reid’s not that far off calling the former chair of the joint chief’s abilities into question.
No, what I wonder is why Reid’s comments didn’t get picked up by the bloggers in the conference call.
Why did the almost all of the liberal bloggers deny he said that Pace was incompetent when from the “transcript posted on Talking Points Memo”:http://electioncentral.tpmcafe.com/blog/electioncentral/2007/jun/14/obtained_a_tape_of_reids_conference_call_with_bloggers_reid_did_blast_pace, he did, and it appears pretty clear he’s talking about Pace? Did they screw up or are they trying to cover Reid’s ass, since he’s “on their team,” so to speak?
Now, I say this as a blogger with both indy cred — you’re reading it — and strong ties to the so-called MSM. But if bloggers are supposed to be an alternative/side dish or even an antidote to the excesses and failings of the mainstream press, why did they miss this? It’s a genuinely Big Deal, so was it a miss or a willful omission?
If it was a willful omission, it’s a horrible one. And it would prove that most liberal blogs — or conservative ones — shouldn’t be considered credible alternatives to anything if they can’t step up to their responsibility and report on newsworthy items even if it might get “their guy” in hot water. The right-wing blogosphere has had this problem for years now. Has it infected the left side as well?
On the other hand, if it’s a mistake, it’s a doozy. Any reporter who missed that would be tarred and feathered by editors. (And it’s significant that mainstream reporters in were the ones who broke this story, even though bloggers had every opportunity to break it.) So, why are the bloggers given a free pass on this lapse?
Indeed, it was Talking Points Memo itself that in 2002 was instrumental in bringing down another Senate majority leader. The mainstream press was heckled and criticized for missing Lott’s noxious comments. (And rightly so, in my opinion.)
But shouldn’t bloggers — in a friggin’ conference call with the current Senate majority Leader, for crissakes — need to be held to the same standards of accountability and, dare I say it, competence, that they hold the MSM to? Why the double standard?

Back Up and Running

BEIRUT — Hello all. Here at Back-to-Iraq.com, we’re back up and running at our new, zippy servers at LivingDot.com (who have been lovely, really.) Yahoo has been left in the dust, which was a long time coming. The domain may take a little while to propagate out, but within a couple of days, things should be back to normal.
This downtime came at a terrible time, what with things hotting up up north at Nahr el-Bared and Iraq always on fire. I’ve also got a nasty eye problem at the moment that prevents me using the computer for long, but that also should be cleared up in a couple of days.
In other news, I’m due to start a column for Spot-on.com soon, which will in theory put me on the Op-Ed pages of the Washington Post.. Look for that to happen this week or next.
I’m also the new US media roundup writer for IraqSlogger.com, Eason Jordan’s amazing all-Iraq news site. Please be sure and check it out.
So, as soon as the eye gets better, I’ll see you all (heh) then. In the mean time, I’ll bug Johannes to write some more posts.