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The Fall of Baghdad

The Fall of Baghdad

5.0 1
by Jon Lee Anderson

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In the months leading up to the American invasion of Iraq, this New Yorker correspondent “embedded’ himself among the people of Baghdad and, along with a small number of other Western reporters, rode out the entire invasion and much of the subsequent occupation from inside the city. Jon Lee Anderson’s dispatches from Baghdad were immediately


In the months leading up to the American invasion of Iraq, this New Yorker correspondent “embedded’ himself among the people of Baghdad and, along with a small number of other Western reporters, rode out the entire invasion and much of the subsequent occupation from inside the city. Jon Lee Anderson’s dispatches from Baghdad were immediately and widely recognized as the most important writing anyone was doing on the war anywhere, for any publication. In recognition of its significance, The New Yorker routinely held the magazine open an extra day and set up a special production team to deal with the pieces; around the office, comparisons to John Hersey’s fabled article “Hiroshima” were flying.
The Fall of Baghdad is not a collection of New Yorker pieces, though; it is an original and organically cohesive narrative work that tells the story of what the people of Baghdad have endured at the hands of Saddam Hussein, during the war and during its aftermath. This is not a pro- or anti-war book; the point is to bear witness to what the people in this city have endured, to put a human face on a calamity of epic dimensions. The focus alternates among a small cast of characters, a group of disparate Iraqis who allow Anderson to bring to life different facets of the story he wants to tell; and he fills in the canvas around his figures with rich background that makes their significance sing, and helps bind the book together as the definitive reckoning with one of the most fateful stories of our time.

Editorial Reviews

John Whiteclay Chambers II
The Fall of Baghdad demonstrates -- like Anderson's incisive books on the war in Afghanistan, contemporary guerrilla movements and Che Guevara -- his knack for interviews, observations and finely crafted, powerful narratives. The great value of this book is that Anderson takes us beyond sound bites or official statements to hear the authentic voices of thoughtful, educated Iraqi civilians in interviews and vignettes that capture the chaos of wartime and its aftermath.
— The Washington Post
Janet Maslin
In this measured, keenly descriptive account, hindsight gives way to horror as the early rumblings of war become reality and the city of Baghdad is changed beyond recognition. Every Arab in Mr. Anderson's account, from Saddam Hussein's personal physician to a cheesemaker on the street, reflects the dread, fury and frustration of feeling helpless in the face of this nightmare.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
New Yorker writer Anderson's eyewitness account of the invasion of Baghdad is a thoughtful document of war, written with stunning precision. Anderson arrived in Baghdad during the eerie calm before air strikes began in March 2003. While questioning ordinary Iraqis about their country's future, he also traveled to Iran, where he interviewed war-weary Shiite Iraqi refugees. Back in Iraq, Anderson sought out members of Saddam's Baath Party and probed the ambiguous nature of their relationship with their dictator: Ala Bashir, a plastic surgeon and artist who was close to Saddam, provides Anderson with a character study rich in contradiction. Equally compelling is a poet named Farouk, whose accounts of cocktail parties under Saddam have, in Anderson's recounting, a tension and irony reminiscent of Cold War Hitchcock thrillers. Anderson also makes his openly anti-Saddam driver, Sabeh, a key character and a link to Iraqi quotidian culture. In a voice refreshingly free of machismo, Anderson proffers an inside view of war reporters' scramble to cover events and of life at the Rasheed and Palestine hotels, where most journalists stayed. In this original narrative (not a collection of his New Yorker pieces), Anderson's unobtrusive voice mediates the voices of others faithfully and with humanizing integrity, resisting any impulse to convert what he observes into political argument. Instead, he collects grimly cinematic snapshots of Iraqi casualties that will haunt readers even after the invasion has receded into history. Agent, The Wylie Agency. (On sale Sept. 23) Forecast: Anderson's visibility via the New Yorker will mean major reviews and healthy sales. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
To live on a knife's edge for nearly 400 pages is exhausting. This is the impact of reading Anderson's (The Lion's Grave) memoirs of residing in Saddam Hussein's Iraq from 2000 and experiencing both the approach of war in March 2003 and the country's continuing chaos and violence in April 2004. The terror of the Iraqi regime, the emotional intensity of the buildup to war, the horrific devastation wrought by American arms, and the sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims envelop Anderson's life and descriptions, nearly overwhelming the text. Yet the narrative avoids a personal polemic tone; only once does Anderson break his dispassionate journalistic code to weep over the bodies of two dead children. Hatred of Saddam, suspicion of U.S. policy and tactics, and views regarding the internecine religious strife emanate clearly enough from the Iraqis interviewed. Rendered in compelling and lucid prose, this story of deceit, terror, death, and searing religious hatred evokes a great sense of despair and a deep sadness. Highly recommended.-John F. Riddick, Central Michigan Univ. Lib., Mt. Pleasant Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A reporter's notebook documents life in Iraq before and during the current war. It seems telling, if strange, that Saddam Hussein's so-called Triumph Leader Museum-devoted to himself, naturally-contained trophy cases full of gifts from foreign leaders: "a pair of decorative riding spurs which, according to the museum labels, were a 1986 gift from Ronald Reagan; a collection of guabayera shirts from Fidel Castro . . . ceremonial swords from Jacques Chirac and Vladimir Zhirinovsky." Hussein's hold on Iraq, suggests New Yorker correspondent Anderson (The Lion's Grave, 2002, etc.), owed much to such legitimating kindness, enabling the dictator to lord it over his people with astonishing comprehensiveness. And with considerable leeway: on receiving 100 percent of the vote in the last election, Anderson writes, Hussein freed all but a few inmates from the now doubly notorious Abu Ghraib prison, saying that they were no threat to anyone; explained prime minister Tariq Aziz, "We are like Jesus Christ, who pardoned the people who crucified him." Hussein was anything but Christlike, though, says Anderson, who suggests that Iraq did indeed have the WMDs that have so far eluded Western investigators-and, moreover, sheds no tears for the fall of the tyrant. Still, and interestingly, his pages are full of veiled warnings from Iraqis about what lies in store for any would-be occupier-"If you do anything in Iraq, do it quickly," says one-and, ominously, about what lies in store for the world should Islamic fundamentalism replace secular government. Anderson's descriptions of the American "shock and awe" attacks on Baghdad are stunning ("Saddam's palace complex was littered with the smoking hulks ofbombed buildings. I noticed that Iraqis did not gather to stare at the damage, but cast fleeting, sidelong looks at it"), though his account of events subsequent to the invasion will disquiet anyone who supports a continued American presence there: as he suggests at the close, "a year after the fall of Baghdad, it seemed as if the city had not really fallen at all. Or, perhaps it was still falling. "First-rate frontline reportage, full of luminous and eye-opening details."

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Penguin Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt

The Fall of Baghdad

By Jon Lee Anderson

The Penguin Press

ISBN: 1-59420-034-3

Chapter One

On the ninth day of the war, there was some bombing, but it was desultory, mostly on the fringes of the city. People came out to shop, and a few businesses opened their doors. In the late afternoon, I went out for a drive with a couple of friends. On Sadoun Street, sidewalk vendors were selling kerosene lamps and plastic jerricans for storing water and fuel. A few men were buying bread and eggs and vegetables for their families from the stallholders around Tahrir Square. In a dusty strip of park, a group of boys played soccer, and a man was shining shoes. We stopped for tea in an ancient coffeehouse on Rashid Street, in the former Jewish quarter. It was filled with old men playing dominoes and smoking narghila waterpipes. Some watched the television set, which was showing scenes of Iraqi civilians and soldiers around the country dancing and waving weapons, singing odes to Saddam Hussein and chanting slogans against George W. Bush. The atmosphere in the cafe was calm and meditative. Except for the television images, it felt almost as if there were no war.

At about nine o'clock, after having dinner at one of Baghdad's two restaurants still open for business, we heard that there had been a bombing in which many civilians had been killed. We raced out to the place, which was on the northern outskirts of Baghdad. About twenty minutes later, we arrived at the Al-Nur General Hospital in the Shia suburb of Al Shualla. There, the hospital director, Dr. Haqqui Razuki, told us that a warplane had struck a marketplace just a few hundred yards away. Razuki was polite but angry; he believed the attack had been deliberate. The bombing had occurred a couple of hours earlier, at dusk, when the market was crowded with people. Thirty-five dead and forty-seven injured people had been brought into his hospital, but some of the casualties had been taken elsewhere. (The final death tally was sixty-two.) Wordlessly, Razuki's assistant led us through hallways thronged with soldiers, doctors, relatives of the wounded-into a rear garden. There, we passed a man who had his face turned to the wall. He was sobbing in a loud, grief-stricken way into his folded arms. We walked on. A few moments later, still sobbing, he came up behind us fast and then, breaking into a run, he overtook us.

We arrived at an aluminum hut. The sobbing man was standing there with some other men next to a young hospital attendant wearing a filthy smock. The attendant opened the door, and a blast of cold air came out. Inside, I could see four dead men lying in contorted poses. The weeping man dove wildly inside, crying disconsolately, but another man, a friend of his, pulled him back out and away from the doorway. The dead men's bodies were torn up and bloody, and their clothes were ragged and dirty. There was a lot of blood on the floor. Some nurses appeared, older women wearing white head scarves, and began keening quietly.

One of the dead men was placed on a metal stretcher and brought outside. Other men arrived carrying a plain wood coffin and placed the dead man inside it. Several of the men broke down in tears and held their heads with their hands as this took place, calling out the dead man's name, "Haidar," over and over again. They placed the lid on the coffin and hoisted it onto their shoulders. As they set off, they repeatedly chanted the Koranic verse "There is only one God." As they went by, the morgue attendant came and stood very close to me. I gagged at his stench, which was of dead bodies.

In the local mosque, where the dead were being taken to be washed and prayed over, people stood around quietly. A stream of coffins came and went through the front door. Men smoked cigarettes or simply stared. A black banner across one wall was illustrated with an image of the decapitated head, gushing blood, of Imam Ali Hussein, the martyr of Shia devotion. I followed one of the coffins as it was taken outside, the bearers singing their praise to God, as before in the hospital. On a vacant lot just outside, they set down the coffin and knelt in prayer. Red tracer fire from an antiaircraft gun floated into the sky above us.

I walked down the lane to the scrubby little marketplace where the bomb had hit. It had left a tiny crater, just a meter in diameter and very shallow, at the edge of a little plaza surrounded on two sides with modest market stalls. The stalls were ravaged looking, their tin roofs torn up, and a large pool of water had formed in front of a burst waterpipe, which still gushed torrentially. From one of the houses across the street, I heard the sound of a woman crying. Soon, other people began weeping too, and as they did, the woman's cries became screams.


Excerpted from The Fall of Baghdad by Jon Lee Anderson Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

Jon Lee Anderson is the author of Guerrillas, Che Guevara, The Lion's Grave, and, with his brother, Scott Anderson, War Zones and Inside the League. A staff writer for the New Yorker, Jon Lee Anderson lives in Dorset, England, with his wife and three children.

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Fall of Baghdad 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had read the author's biography of Che Guevara and became a fan of his writing style. But this one is definitely the best for me so far, with his on-site experience in covering Iraq. His descriptions of the events leading up to the war from inside Baghdad to the locals he became acquainted with, will make you feel not just you were there, but also make you feel you're one of them or the protagonist wanting to lead them from false beliefs.