The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace

From The New Republic:Iraq

You go to war with the press you have. This was certainly not war in the Jimi Hendrix era. Iraq was lethal, and no outsider could get around. The women, available everywhere in Vietnam, were off-limits here. There would be no romance, no high war writing. Instead it was all alien and remote. In these books, Iraq is hunkered down and hidden, its people and ways and language inaccessible to the writer-adventurers. (France had left its language behind in Vietnam, which provided Western writers with a kind of entry into the culture.) In Iraq the outsiders were on their own, captives of the Green Zone, of the “minders” and the interpreters.

It was hard, practically impossible, to bond with the place. Shiism was not waiting to be deciphered or understood; Moqtada Al Sadr had no time, and no desire, to explain the origins of his worldview, his noble pedigree, the high clerical tradition of his family, to the American journalists in the bubble of the Republican Palace. It was enough for him that his devoted followers knew the magic of his lineage. The reclusive Ali Al Sistani, in his modest home on a lane in Najaf’s souk, kept the invading power — and the press that came with it — at bay. In one of my favorite anecdotes of Iraq, an American diplomat of considerable sway asked an Iraqi interlocutor what the term hawza meant — the word for a Shia study group and academic circle. “It’s amazing,” the Iraqi academic answered. “You send a huge army to this country, but you don’t know the most rudimentary thing about its life.”

We had made our way into a land that had been hermetically sealed to outsiders.

More here.