My first day there [April 13, 2003], I had a driver, a Shia driver, drive me around, and he took me to Sadr City, which at the time was still called Saddam City. But the event that had a lasting effect on me was a week later — going to a Sunni mosque in the al Adhamiya district. I was actually going there just to meet an old college friend who was in Baghdad and I thought I would catch up with her. She was at the mosque. Iraq’s most important Sunni cleric had just gotten back from five years of exile, and about ten thousand people had come to hear him speak, and he was emphasizing Sunni-Shia unity [and] opposition to the Americans from the first day.
And these marines, a patrol of marines walked in on the whole event — on the Friday service with ten thousand people there — and this was like the most pro-Saddam neighborhood in Baghdad — wealthy Sunni Baathists. They walked right into the crowd on the street, and there was a very tense standoff. They were pointing their machine guns at the crowd. The crowd was very angry.
They were finding documents — everyone was looting the government buildings and finding the files — [Saddam Hussein’s government] had secret files on them, and they were finding out that their neighbors had been informing on them for years. Some of the problems that we’re still suffering from were already becoming evident at this stage: all of the rage and mismanagement, frustration and anger.
A perfect anecdote: I read it in a local newspaper and chased it down and it was a true story. In Basra there was a farmer and he had a small herd of cows — let’s say four or five cows. In the late nineties, this farmer had gone to the local office of the Ministry of Agriculture and had asked for some medicine because one of his cows had some sort of illness. And, you know, typical, disorganized, inefficient government — they said no, come back, go to a different office, they gave him a bit of a runaround, and all of his cows died, and his livelihood was destroyed. And these kinds of things happen. Right after the war, this farmer, we’re talking five years later, went back and found that local government official, and said, “You owe me four cows, plus interest, or I’m going to kill you.” The guy didn’t have the money, or said he didn’t have the money, and he was killed. There was a sense of euphoria and opportunity, but there was also the opportunity to get even.
The Washington Post
I was one of the first reporters into the Baghdad Museum. I saw rooms that had been stripped bare. I saw people with crowbars running in to pry open cases. But just walking through that museum and seeing it destroyed by looters was heart-wrenching. For the first time, I started to think — “We’ve come here without a plan. It would have taken one tank in front of this building to have protected it, yet we didn’t do a single thing to stop it. Did we really come into this with no postwar plan?”