Anthony Shadid, foreign correspondent for the Washington Post, has reported from the Middle East for a decade. He has been the Cairo correspondent for the Associated Press and reported from the West Bank and elsewhere for the Boston Globe. For his reporting in Iraq, he has received the Overseas Press Club Award (his second), the Michael Kelly Award, and the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting. His book, Night Draws Near: Iraq’s People in the Shadow of America’s War was released in September. He spoke to CJR Daily from the Washington Post’s bureau in Baghdad.
Paul McLeary: Your book traces the lives of several ordinary families in Baghdad just before the war in 2003 and after the city fell, and closes with the January 2005 elections. There is another set of national elections coming up on December 15. Being back in Baghdad for these elections, what differences do you see in the attitude of Iraqi people?
Anthony Shadid: I was actually thinking about that very question the other day. It strikes me, looking back at the January election — I guess I was most struck by what the vote represented. I think to a lot of people, it was exercising rights they’ve long been denied. The voting was the point in itself … they were able to go to the polling stations and they were able to take matters into their own hands. I think that’s why in some ways the moment was so remarkable, because it was such a dramatic show of that. When I was here in October covering the constitution, in talking to people, what stayed with me from those conversations was this idea that the constitution was somehow going to be a means to end this uncertainty. …
I spent the day yesterday riding these mini buses that ferry people across the city — and what struck me was that there is a certain sense of despair now, even desperation, and an element of unease over what this election is going to mark. To give you just a couple examples, I was in Karada, which is a commercial district, and one person told me he was only going to vote for the most hard-line Sunni candidate because he wanted to bring balance. In other words, he thought there were hard-line Shiites already in power and he was going to vote for the most hard line Sunni possible to upset what the religious Shiite candidates were doing. Next to him was a Kurdish merchant who put the odds of civil war at 90 percent. Riding around with these passengers yesterday, there was just a certain sense of anger and desperation that the government hasn’t done all that much since January, that there hasn’t been improvement in people lives. There’s real conviction that this election is going to change things, but I think a lot of people are hoping that things will be different.
PM: You speak fluent Arabic and are intimate with Arab culture. Obviously, this gives your reporting a different flavor and perspective than many other Western journalists. Do you think you’re able to gauge the mood of a situation better than other journalists because of this?
AS: Oh, I don’t know. To be honest, I think to me it’s more the approach to the journalism — it’s what kind of reporting you want to do or what kind of journalism you want to do. I’ve always found this kind of reporting most interesting to me. I think we can read a lot into a story about the sentiments that are actually out there — what people are saying in the street.
PM: In March 2002 you were shot in the shoulder while on assignment for the Boston Globe in Ramallah, in the West Bank, and you wrote about it for CJR at the time. How has that effected your war reporting, and did you consider not going into danger zones after that?