Unwilling Witness: The Terror of Reporting on Your Own Country

A former New York Times reporter explains what it was like to cover his home country of Iraq

Thursday, March 14, 2013

First Lt. Julie Leggett and Sgt. Leonard Doan talk with a town leader about a site survey of businesses in Sequor, Iraq, on Aug. 12, 2009. (Staff Sgt. Luke P. Thelen/U.S. Air Force)

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the U.S-led invasion of Iraq. Abdulrazzaq Al-Saiedi, who covered the war as a correspondent for The New York Times, has mixed feelings about the consequences of the occupation of his native  country. Like many Iraqis, Al-Saiedi initially welcomed the war that brought an end to Saddam Hussein’s brutal dictatorship. Especially since his brother had been executed in Abu Ghraib prison by Hussein's security forces.

However, Al-Saiedi was not prepared for the ramifications of the war and the sectarian violence and chaos that would tear his country apart. "We gained our freedom, but we lost the state, the country…and our national identity," he says. "I don’t think Iraq will ever be the same."

Abdulrazzaq Al-Saiedi is currently a senior researcher with Physicians for Human Rights in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Al-Saiedi says that after the U.S. invasion his optimism for his country was dashed as the situation in Iraq deteriorated quickly.  "I lived most of my life in a war zone, since the Iraqi-Iranian war started in 1980," he says. "We thought, this is the end. Unfortunately, it was the start of different oppression. The start of a different brutal era."

Al-Saiedi was working as a journalist for The New York Times in March of 2004 when he reported on a particularly gruesome and savage attack on American contractors in Fallujah. Upon learning of the deaths of the Americans, he joined a mob of mostly children and teenagers headed for the bridge where it was believed the bodies hung. "When I arrived to the bridge, I saw two bodies hanging on the bridge and two on the ground," he explains, "and the kids were there and kind of celebrating…that just broke my heart and made me so scared because I just imagine…I could be the fifth one. I will be the fifth one if any one of them know I work for The New York Times.”

Al-Saiedi describes the scene at the bridge in Fallujah as the most brutal thing he has seen in his life so far: "A child, I think he’s 10 or 11 years old, he was kicking one of the bodies. There was smoke coming from the flack jacket and he was shouting 'pacha.'" Pacha, Al-Saiedi explains, is a very famous meal in Iraq consisting of the head of a sheep. 

"I was thinking: What’s the game? What’s the goal? I don’t understand…where are we going?"

Abdulrazzaq Al-Saiedi (Alex Johnson/WGBH)

Guests:

Abdulrazzaq Al-Saiedi

Produced by:

Elizabeth Ross

Comments [3]

Grateful

Abdulrazzaq,

Thank you for displaying such a deep level of comapassion and having the courage and strength to share your story with us and the rest of the world. Your actions and the messages you are communicating are very much appreciated.

All the best to you and your family!

Mar. 14 2013 01:09 PM
Chris from St. Clair MI

THE book to read about the middle east, and how the countries, borders, are all fake, created by the british and french empires after WWI, and how they are all destined to dissolve perhaps soon; The Peace To End All Peace.

Mar. 14 2013 10:08 AM
Katherine from Brooklyn

Thank you foe this segment. The personal stories of Iraquis directly affected by the war there brought home in a very moving way the ramifications and consequences of war, which goes on. As your guest says, long after the troops have left. I wonder if we could have heard similar accounts to mark each year of this war whether it would have made a difference to an American public largely disconnected from its realities.

Mar. 14 2013 10:08 AM

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