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Our man in Baghdad


Embedded reporters got the spotlight in the Iraq war, but Heritage Hall graduate Anthony Shadid got a different view from his Baghdad hotel.

Melissa Beggs February 17th, 2012

Editor's note: In light of the Feb. 16 death of Anthony Shadid, Oklahoma Gazette has pulled this May 15, 2003, article from its archives.

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By the time this story goes to print, Anthony Shadid will be gone again from his work in Washington, D.C. — back to Baghdad, chasing after a story of his own.

But the 1986 Heritage Hall graduate and now man-about-the-Middle East was at home earlier this month in the D.C. area for a brief rest from the Iraq war coverage for Washington Post. He spent his time visiting with family and friends, thinking about a new book and reviewing the past months’ war coverage, in all its unprecedented detail.

“I was not embedded, and we had very little contact with the embedded reporters,” Shadid said. “I think it was very important that we were there, the few of us that were on the receiving end of the war. Embedded reporters saw the bombs being loaded up. We saw them fall.”

The journalist and author raised in Oklahoma City was in state news last April when he was shot in the shoulder in Ramallah, Israel. The Israeli government responded to the Globe’s complaint about the shooting a year later, saying it could not determine whether it was Palestinian or Israeli fire that wounded Shadid. He said he “does not believe it was Palestinian fire.”

“Operation Iraqi Freedom” left Shadid unhurt, although journalists staying at the same hotel were killed in military crossfire.

Shadid, 34, covered the war in a roughly six-week stint, toughing it out in Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel as bombs fell and fellow journalists headed for safety.

For all its danger, Shadid said it wasn’t the most unsafe he ever felt.

“I never got the sense of being in as much danger as when I was covering the West Bank, where I was shot,” he said. “But I was thinking about my family. I know my father was sleepless for days, and my mother called the newspaper about every day, and my wife was worried.”

So why stay?

“Someone had to be there to document what was happening. It couldn’t be left entirely to the embedded reporters to cover the war. That was just one side.”

Descended from Lebanese immigrants, Shadid got his first international job in 1995 as an Associated Press correspondent in Lebanon. He worked in Cairo and Los Angeles for the AP, then later became a Washington correspondent for the Boston Globe. In January, Shadid left the Globe to become the Post’s Islamic affairs correspondent. He is fluent in Arabic.

Shadid is also an author of a book on the politics of Islam and is considering a new book, either on the war coverage or on Arab world issues.

He’s now on his way back for another six weeks to chronicle the rebuilding of a city that is now either liberated or occupied, depending on whom he asks.

Shadid said he was eager to talk to the Iraqi people and watch what will become of post-Saddam Iraq. One element of his story is sure: tension between two worlds.

“I am fascinated by how the power is emerging from the ground, how the old powers like the Shiite clergy are staking out authority,” Shadid said. “Those forces will define the future of Iraq.”

America and its allies will have to accept “deep, deep ambivalence” from the Iraqi people, who struggle with the “tension between occupation and liberation,” he said.

America will also have to accept that a government chosen by the Iraqi people may not be one palatable to the West.

“The Shiites have a majority in Iraq, and they may not be what we would choose, but it would be a democratic choice for Iraq,” he said. “How do you reconcile that?”

When that question is finally answered, Shadid wants to be the one to carry the message.
 
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