NYT correspondent discusses instability in the "paradox of Iraq"


    Former New York Times Bagdhad correspondent Dexter Filkins described how he found out a Sunni sheikh wanted to kidnap him.

    “I went to interview a Sunni sheikh one day and brought my favorite translator,” he said. “I wanted to talk about the insurgency or something, but [the sheikh] and [my translator] started to have this long, heated conversation in Arabic.”

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    Filkins was eventually able to interview the sheikh and then asked his translator what the long conversation was about.

    “And he said, ‘well, he wanted to kidnap you, and [the sheikh said]…if we kidnap that guy, you get that money, I get half the money,’” Filkins said.

    Fortuantely, Filkins said, the translator’s father led a tribe that would “kick the [sheik’s] tribe’s whatever.”

    Now a Nieman fellow at Harvard, Filkins discussed his experiences in Iraq during a question and answer session at the McCormick Tribune Center Monday night. He talked about the the difficulties a language barrier presents, media coverage of Iraq and opinions on the current situation. He won the George Polk Award for war reporting in 2004 and was a Pulitizer Prize finalist for international reporting in 2002 for his work in Afghanistan for The New York Times.

    While many questions brought up current political dilemmas and opinions, Filkins focused what he called “paradox of Iraq.” Previously having been The New York Times Afghanistan correspondent, Filkins said he “was sort of waiting for the cheering crowds.”

    “I remember that day there were people just standing there and it was as if we had pried the doors off a mental institution,” he said. “There were people weeping, some people were cheering, people were yelling, they were talking to themselves.”

    Now, he said, he thinks American presence stabilizes things in Iraq more than it destabilizes them, but it is a real dilemma.

    “We can’t stay, because they hate us, but we can’t leave because if we leave the place it will disintegrate,” he said.

    One audience member wanted to know what his definition of success in Iraq would mean, noting that no country has ever won in an insurgency situation.

    “I think if you asked General Petraeus, at this point, in 2007, he’d say stability,” Filkins said. “Just get people to stop killing each other.”

    Filkins did acknowledge how hard it was to say for certain what the future of Iraq is.

    “I don’t like to predict the future,” he said. “It’s hard enough to report what happened yesterday.”


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