Naked in Baghdad: The Iraq War as Seen by National Public Radio's Correspondent

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As NPR's senior foreign correspondent, Anne Garrels has covered conflicts in Chechnya, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. She is renowned for the direct, down-to-earth reportage and her independent-minded insight into what she observes. One of only sixteen un-imbedded American journalists who stayed in the now-legendary Palestine Hotel in Baghdad throughout the American invasion, Garrels was uniquely placed to describe our latest war.

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Overview

As NPR's senior foreign correspondent, Anne Garrels has covered conflicts in Chechnya, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. She is renowned for the direct, down-to-earth reportage and her independent-minded insight into what she observes. One of only sixteen un-imbedded American journalists who stayed in the now-legendary Palestine Hotel in Baghdad throughout the American invasion, Garrels was uniquely placed to describe our latest war.

At the heart of Garrels' narrative is her evolving relationship with her Iraqi driver, Tahir, who becomes her friend and confidant, often serving as her eyes and ears among the populace and taking her where no other reporter was able to penetrate; Tahir's own opinions and poignant personal story provide a trenchant counterpoint to the headline news. The diary is also punctuated by e-mail bulletins sent by Garrels' husband, Vint Lawrence, to friends around the world, providing a private view of the rough-and-tumble, often dangerous life of a foreign correspondent, along with much-needed comic relief.

The result is an enthralling, deeply personal, utterly authentic picture of this war that no one else could have written. As Chicago Sun Times critic Lloyd Sachs wrote about Garrels' work from Baghdad, "a few choice words, honestly delivered, are worth more than a thousand pictures, in your mind's eye, they carry lasting truth."

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Editorial Reviews

USA Today
In Naked in Baghdad, an instructive and engaging diary, she describes her job as trying "to understand how Iraqis see themselves, their government, and the world around them." — Bob Minzesheimer
Publishers Weekly
It is hard not to admire Garrels. Enduring everything from bombing raids and artillery barrages to bad food, corrupt officials and aggressive border guards, this veteran war correspondent continued to report for NPR from her perch at the Palestine Hotel throughout the coalition drive toward Baghdad. After all the major television networks pulled out their staffs, Garrels stayed in the middle of it, painting with words the only picture available to most Americans of what was going on in the center of Iraqi power and in the hearts and minds of the frightened and confused residents. Though she writes in the same clear, straightforward prose familiar to radio listeners, the powerful stuff of her live broadcasts translates poorly to the written page in this day-by-day account of her experience. She admits her limited purview, restricted in what she could see by the Iraqi Information Ministry and later by the hazards of the battlefield, and with the manuscript completed only months after her return, the reader is left feeling that reflection is not Garrels's strong suit. There are some nice details, like an Information Ministry staffer asking Garrels for batteries for his shortwave radio so he can "find out what's really going on." But her off-the-cuff impressions of the response of ordinary Iraqis to the war, which rang so true at the time, come off now as obvious and overly simple. This account works well as a personal narrative of courage under fire, suffering and survival, but unfortunately, it lacks in insightful commentary and summing up of events. 15-city author tour. (Sept. 17) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Batten down the hatches: here comes a rising flood of memoirs, celebrity and otherwise, about the recent unpleasantness in Iraq. Thankfully, longtime NPR reporter Garrels’s account is much like her on-air persona: professional but personable, full of human touches and offhand wisdom. Arriving in Baghdad in the fall of 2002, she gives full notice of the humanity of those who would soon be falling under American bombs, though with no sympathy whatever for the monstrous Hussein regime—about which she offers some intriguing side notes. "Baghdad," she writes, "is not a charming place. The cement buildings are spare, solid, and utilitarian . . . and there is virtually nothing left to hint at the city’s exotic past." (And that was before the bombing.) Yet she finds the Baghdadi people to be, in the main, friendly and solicitous—especially the women, who, she notes, enjoyed far more freedom under Saddam’s rule than do their counterparts in most other Arab countries. "Being an older woman has its advantages," she writes. "I would never have been able to interview a mullah along the Pakistan-Afghan border were he not assured in advance that I was an ‘old woman.’ " Though of solid years, Garrels performs just fine during the days of shock and awe, a time of considerable worry to her husband, whose lengthy e-mails from home punctuate Garrels’s account. (Sometimes they are charming, but mostly they are annoying interruptions for readers eager to get on with the story.) Along the way, Garrels writes of the difficulty of reporting on what no one knows (the whereabouts of Saddam, the effectiveness of the bombing); gets off some nice zingers about rock-star reporter Geraldo Rivera, whose allegedhorse’s-ass qualities she richly affirms; gives a voice to Iraqi views that Saddam brought his woes on his own head; and roundly criticizes the Bush administration for its failure to win the peace—and apparent lack of interest in doing so. Highly readable, and most illuminating. Here’s looking forward to Geraldo’s retort. Author tour
From the Publisher
"Anne Garrels risked her life to bring the war in Iraq to her listeners, even after her network suggested she leave Baghdad for her own safety. She couldn't offer pictures, but she didn't need to - her extraordinary reporting skills and personal courage combined to create a powerful and compelling portrait of war."

—William Cohen, former Secretary of Defense

"Anne Garrels is an extraordinary person and a rare kind of journalist. Blessed with a razor-sharp intelligence and bravery in equal measures, she is also knowledgeable, fair-minded and unerringly honest. As a uniquely trustworthy American voice from the far-flung battlefields of today’s new world, Garrels deserves the attention of as many of her fellow citizens as possible."

—Jon Lee Anderson, author of The Lion's Grave: Dispatches from Afghanistan

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374529031
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 9/1/2003
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.74 (w) x 8.54 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

Since 1988, Anne Garrels has been a distinguished foreign correspondent for National Public Radio, where she is regularly heard by more than 17 million listeners weekly. When she is not covering the world's hot spots, she lives in Connecticut with her husband, three dogs, and three cats.

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Read an Excerpt

Naked in Baghdad

The Iraq war as seen by NPR's correspondent
By Anne Garrels

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2003 Anne Garrels
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0374529035


Excerpts

Brenda Bulletin: October 19, 2002

Well hello again,

Just when we were all getting used to the idea that our Annie was going to be more or less gainfully employed organizing the linen closet or darning socks by the fire, the damsel is off again - this time to Iraq. You might be forgiven for thinking that after Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Israel in the last year, NPR could come up with, say, an in-depth series on beach erosion between Bordeaux and Biarritz, but the straws in this outfit all appear to be short.

Remember that intrepid comic book character of our youth, Brenda Starr, who was always getting into and out of impossible scrapes? Well, someone the other day dubbed Annie "Brenda of the Berkshires," a reference to our remote abode up here in the hills of northwest Connecticut. It fits, and it has a certain ring, so I have appropriated it. For those of you who have tolerated my scribblings since 9/11 when she headed off to Tajikistan and points south, these letters will no longer be just Annie Updates but Brenda Bulletins . . .

Brenda, in her packing mode, is curious to observe. Well over a week before she actually leaves, many too many suitcases are dragged out, only to lie opened but untouched for days on the bed in the spare bedroom. Something Zen-like goes on as she circles and stares at the empty cases. Then one morning, in a flurry, there suddenly appears a great pile of brightly colored, neatly folded frocks and form-fitting pants and snappy shirts and fitted jackets - gorgeous oranges, lime greens, bright blues, and pinks predominate. These are the things Brenda would like to take, the things that are in her nature. But inevitably these treasures go back in the closet, replaced by long, loose, formless things that cover everything and button all the way down - the cheerful pile morphs to monotonous blues and blacks. And by the end there are not very many of these, either, because so much technical gear has yet to go in. The old stand-by Sony cassette tape recorder that has been her mainstay all over the world with three dozen cassettes, the new still-unproven mini-recorder that's no bigger than a cigarette box, the satellite phone, the laptop, and an odd assortment of technical gear that makes her pieces sound as if they originated in a nearby mall, not halfway around the world. Stuffed in at the end is a huge wad of un-read research, the unfinished expense-accounting from her last trip, a staggering number of pairs of reading glasses, and her one surviving hearing aid, a new one, made by an old Russian friend who is now an audiologist in Jerusalem. This tiny device has fifteen minuscule computers in it instead of four, enabling her to eavesdrop virtually on thoughts. That is, if she remembers to wear it.

Last-minute exotically wrapped cartons of new sophisticated equipment from NPR arrive. Miniature satellite-phone antennae blossom briefly amid the dahlias. An hour before the taxi is due, she is still downloading a complicated NPR program with a cool competence that may keep her safe until she returns.

She left here with a weighty array of journalistic weaponry that is lean, mean, and all business. All but the technical gear was checked-in luggage at JFK, where security pawed through everything; what was neatly packed upon leaving certainly will not be upon arrival. In the end she didn't even carry a change of clothes onto the plane; Brenda, as she will modestly admit, knows - if she knows nothing else - how to SHOP.

So, our Brenda arrived safely in Baghdad from Jordan on Sunday. She spent the three days in Amman waiting for the promised Iraqi visa that never came. It was a quick lesson in how things work over there. She was finally able to reach Ahmed, the Iraqi "fixer" in Baghdad with whom she has been talking for weeks and who had promised to have the visa waiting for her. Ahmed - now follow me on this - said to her, "No problem, all you have to do is contact Nabil in Amman." Well, Nabil wasn't much help but he turned her over to Amjad, who is a fellow big-time fixer in Amman. Amjad told her that he couldn't really help but that Ibrahim could. Ibrahim, in turn, passed her on to Mohammed, who said that for $200 he could set up a breakfast with the Iraqi ambassador. Well, that is how Brenda got her visa. Cheap at the price, it seems, as another news organization had bought the Iraqi ambassador his new car. In the fraying atmosphere of Amman, with everyone squirreling dollars, just about anything is for sale. She also found time in all this to do a yet-to-be-aired piece on how the Jordanians find themselves once again between Iraq and a hard place.

Brenda's claim that she has absolutely no idea how she got her visa strikes some who know her as slightly disingenuous. When her switch is OFF here at home, many make the mistake of assuming that she carries with her overseas that slightly muddled, directionally challenged, technologically inept persona that is so pleasurable and delightful. Don't be fooled. About three weeks ago there was an audible click when the switch went ON. Annie became Brenda in an instant. "Wake me at five" meant wake her at five. Carefully crafted exquisite dinners slid into hamburgers with frozen limas or even "fend for yourself" affairs. Research e-mails poured in. Books were ordered and devoured. The phone was constantly in use to far-flung places at odd hours. Her voice took on a different timbre. Brenda knows very well how to work the system, even if Annie doesn't.

Stay tuned. . .

V

October 20, 2002

Vint and I took our usual farewell walk with the dogs just before the taxi came. It was a spectacular autumn day and we talked about all the garden projects we want to do next spring. We talked about everything but Iraq. But when we said good-bye we knew this wasn't just another assignment. If there is to be war, this is the beginning of a long odyssey.

I've never been to Iraq before and have all the fears I always have embarking on any new assignment. I need to hit the ground running, but I need the right people to help me do it.

After finally getting a visa, I arrived in Baghdad from Amman late at night to be met by the 250-pound Ahmed. I've inherited him from other NPR colleagues who have made use of his services in the past. Though he works for an American television network, he moonlights (literally, in this case) for other organizations. His brother is an official with the Information Ministry, so he has the connections necessary to arrange visas, drivers, and hotels - all, needless to say, for hefty fees. He leads me on a mysterious dance through the airport, where endless officials cut in. I try to follow the best I can. Innumerable forms are filled out and stamped with orders not to lose them or I will never get out of the country. What's most important, though, is knowing how to dish out money. The black case containing my satellite phone is sealed with a sticky white label, and I am told very sternly not to open it until I have checked in at the Information Ministry. Given that it's well past midnight, that will have to wait until daylight.

It's an inauspicious beginning. I have just missed probably one of the biggest stories in Iraq in years. While I was traveling, President Saddam Hussein announced a "full, complete, and final amnesty" for tens of thousands of prisoners, opening the doors to Iraq's notorious jails and releasing everyone from pick-pockets to political prisoners into the arms of jubilant crowds.

The decree read throughout the day on Iraqi radio and television marks the first time Saddam's government has acknowledged imprisoning opponents of the regime, despite years of scathing reports from human-rights groups. This appears to be another attempt to rally public support for war with the United States, which looks increasingly inevitable.

As I check into the Al-Rashid Hotel, reporters describe the scene at Abu Ghreib prison, the country's largest. As word of the decree spread, thousands of family members raced to this fortress, which is situated on the outskirts of the city. Chaos broke out. Iraqi officials had announced that five hundred prisoners would be released every hour, but guards stood by as families broke through the gates into the prison courtyard to find their loved ones. Prisoners meanwhile pushed their way out. Several were killed in the stampede. As night fell, some family members were still searching in vain for prisoners, calling out for them in the dark or holding up handwritten signs with their names.

The amnesty comes just days after Saddam received a preposterous 100-percent approval in a referendum. The government claimed he got every single vote with every eligible Iraqi participating, and officials say the prisoner release was to thank the people for their support, but the underlying message is clear. In Saddam's Iraq, life, death, and freedom are in the hands of the man who has ruled Iraq since 1979.



Excerpted from Naked in Baghdad by Anne Garrels Copyright © 2003 by Anne Garrels
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2004

    Outstanding insight!

    Anne Garrels has written a book that is both straight to the point about the war in Iraq, and at the same time a wonderful personal journey. I appreciated her personal reflections on things that had little to do about the political situation in Iraq and everthing to do witht the people and 'the real' Iraq. An enormously gratifiying read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2003

    Naked in Baghdad

    Anne Garrel¿s writing voice is every bit as wise, ironic, and penetrating as her extraordinary radio voice that allowed us to comprehend the real impact of the American invasion of Iraq. Above all she evokes compassion for the ordinary people whose lives get turned on end in war. Naked in Baghdad is an incredible adventure story with two moving love stories entwined around it. It¿s also an amazing inside look at what¿s involved in reporting on war ¿ the risks, the emotional toll, the moral maze, and a gallows humor view of what it looks like when the media descends. Naked in Baghdad reminded me how much we need people like Anne Garrels, and made me want to stand up and cheer for the journalists around the world (many of whom Garrels individually honors) whose work is dedicated to the belief that truth can save us.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2003

    Naked in Baghdad

    Anne Garrel¿s writing voice is every bit as wise, ironic, and penetrating as her extraordinary radio voice. Above all she evokes compassion for the people whose lives get turned on end in war. Naked in Baghdad is an incredible adventure story with two moving love stories entwined around it. It¿s also an amazing inside look at what¿s involved in reporting on war ¿ the risks, the emotional toll, the moral maze, and a gallows humor view of what it looks like when the media descends. Naked in Baghdad made me want to stand up and cheer for Anne Garrels and the journalists like her whose work is dedicated to the belief that truth can save us.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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