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Dawn over Baghdad
The other side of post-war Iraq
By Steven Martinovich
By now even those unequivocally opposed to the war in Iraq must have some questions about the quality of media coverage. Despite the fact that most reporting is devoted to coverage of attacks and their aftermath, it should be readily apparent to most that the majority of the country is relatively calm and getting about the business of rebuilding. Yet the media's focus is almost exclusively devoted to the dark side of post-war Iraq. We're receiving one side of the story and are being denied the whole picture.
Karl Zinsmeister's Dawn over Baghdad: How the U.S. Military Is Using Bullets and Ballots to Remake Iraq aims to rectify that by reporting on the events of a trip he made to Iraq earlier this year. Zinsmeister had been embedded with the 82nd Airborne during the war and returned to see their efforts in battling the insurgency and rebuilding Iraq, and how the Iraqi people were dealing with the new world they were thrust into. Although the news isn't all good, Zinsmeister argues that the situation is gradually improving.
The bulk of Dawn over Baghdad is from the perspective of the American soldiers who have the difficult talk of helping to rebuild a nation while simultaneously attempting to eliminate insurgents. The men and women of the 82nd Airborne are equal parts warrior and diplomat, launching raids to capture or kill militants one day and negotiating with religious and political leaders the next. Officers work to ensure a role for women in the nation's political system despite claims by religious leaders that Iraqi women prefer to stay home and leave such affairs to the men. They walk a fine line between showing a friendly face to Iraqis and bringing down the hammer on those occasions when it's needed.
It's an incredibly nuanced situation, one that Zinsmeister is unfortunately only partly able to explore because of his brief time in Iraq. A picture that the media has largely ignored in favor of the violence that is easier to package and explain to viewers. As Zinsmeister makes clear, there are multitudes of interesting stories emerging out of Iraq that aren't being told because of a perfect storm of media disinterest, a White House unable or unwilling to tell it's side of the story and a military content to leave public relations to someone else. The end result is that Iraqis remain today a mystery to the very people that liberated them.
"We hear a great deal about what Iraq's extremists want. But the American public knows comparatively little about what ordinary, everyday Iraqis believe and hope for. In Iraq as in most countries, there is a large silent majority, so popular opinion can't accurately be judged by listening only to squeaky wheels. We need to look beneath the roiling surface of attacks, demonstrations and explosions that dominate the daily headlines, and take time to examine the underlying bedrock of popular convictions."
Zinsmeister is cautiously optimistic about Iraq's future. Although their co-religionists in Iran have given them a bad name, he argues that Iraq's Shiite's are one of the keys to political stability. Ethnic strife is unlikely thanks to efforts to include everyone in the political process and the Sunnis, the group that hitched its wagon to Saddam Hussein's regime for three decades, are balanced by more moderate forces among the Shiites and Kurds. Of course, there remain tremendous problems. Corruption is infests Iraqi society, its political and religious leaders have problems with honesty and among ordinary Iraqis there is a lack of patriotism, responsibility and desire for selfless service.
If Dawn over Baghdad has a significant failing it's the aforementioned lack of resolution that dominates Zinsmeister's accounts. Readers are taken on a tour of the Sunni Triangle where Zinsmeister thrusts them into a number of varying situations but ultimately each story lacks an ending. That's hardly Zinsmeister's fault -- and perhaps unfair to expect otherwise -- considering the fluidity of the region he covers and the work still yet to be done but it can leave a reader feeling unsatisfied.
That, however, is a minor problem. Dawn over Baghdad brings a welcome counterbalance to the steady stream of gloomy reporting without turning into mindless cheerleading. It's unlikely the book will serve as a gentle hint to the media to reexamine its coverage of post-war Iraq but it nonetheless serves a valuable purpose. The importance of the Iraqi campaign and its aftermath demands that all sides of the story receive a fair hearing, particularly considering the price being paid in blood.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
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