Basically, I responded and said I happen to be that guy, and I will tell you exactly what happened, and of course [the report] has no truth because these things have no truth. And he apologized and said, “These things get garbled in transmission, sorry.” Now, does this incident matter in the big scheme of things? No. Did the guys on that patrol lie because they thought that maybe arresting Americans for using one naughty word isn’t the thing they should be doing? Maybe. Was what he was told by the soldiers in the field, who of course might have an incentive to lie, believed wholeheartedly by this general? Absolutely. Does it lead me to believe — given the source from the podium in the Green Zone and elsewhere over three years now — that these sorts of reports are far from the whole truth? Absolutely. Have there been military investigations that have proven the same? Absolutely. I think you get the point of the story.

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad
The Guardian, Getty Images

So it was a very weird experience [to report alongside the insurgents] but, again, I think I’m so privileged to have that weird experience because those people — call them what you want, call them insurgents, call them terrorists, call them nut cases, call them jihadis, anything. But you have to understand. If you want to know what’s happening, it’s not enough to brand them terrorists and then go and kill every one of them. It’s not enough. So I think that going to the other side, and writing about the other side is a very, very important thing.

And I told you, every time I see an American armored vehicle driving through a street, I think “Oh my God,” and I see this gun pointing at the people and I think, “Oh my God, he will kill me now, he will shoot me now.” And you are so scared; most of the time I’m scared. And every time I see an armored vehicle, even in 2003, even in April 2003, an armored vehicle, a machine gun is a big huge massive thing, and it’s a scary thing. And I’m scared, of course. And every time I see a big American gun, I’m scared.

But when I was inside the American camp, and when I was seeing the same street, I was seeing it through a black-and-white infrared screen, every moving being was black and every still building was white, and then you see these black things getting very close to your armored vehicle and you think, “My God, why are they getting so close, why isn’t he killing them? Why isn’t he shooting them, defending … .” Automatically you are switched, and you become on the other side. So I do understand why the American soldiers look at the insurgents as the enemy, and I do understand why the insurgents look at the U.S. soldiers as the enemy. But for us journalists, we have to do this amazing, very difficult mental exercise to try to keep ourselves in the middle.

Borzou Daragahi
Los Angeles Times

I used to go and hang out here [in Baghdad]. I used do kind of fun things once. We used to go to a hair salon and just hang out, or a barbershop. We used to go to restaurants. I still try to go to my favorite little DVD shop, but recently a friend of mine went and it was closed. It’s like our world is getting smaller and smaller. The opportunities for interacting with ordinary Iraqi people have gotten fewer and fewer.

The Editors