SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And what’s happening right now in Iraq? There’s been a long stalemate following the parliamentary elections in March. You were in Iraq many times since 2003, and you documented very closely, for example, Muqtada al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army. Where does he fit into all of this, and where does the Iraqi government fit into the picture today?
NIR ROSEN: Well, Iraq today, and in the future, I think, will look more and more like Mexico or Pakistan, in that you’re going to have a strong central regime—a little bit authoritarian, certainly corrupt, brutal security forces, but strong. Nobody can overthrow it. Nobody is threatening to overthrow it. No more real militia activity. And terrible violence, which just becomes normal, much as it is in Mexico or Pakistan, a violence which doesn’t threaten the new order, but certainly threatens the lives of many civilians on a regular basis, and people have to adjust to that and live their lives accordingly.
Prime Minister Maliki is going to remain. He was always going to remain. There was never any question. When you’re in power, why would you give up power? And the Americans have been backing him since at least August. And indeed, he’s probably the least worst candidate, in that he has at least the support of some countries in the region and of the majority of the Iraqi people, to some extent. He does have a certain amount of legitimacy. He’s credited, rightly or wrongly, with the reduction of violence that began in 2008, when he went after Shia militias.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Nir, we have to go, but I wanted to ask you a last question. You write about, in the book, how you started reporting. You were working here in New York as a bouncer, and you decided to go to Iraq, and you’ve been one of the premier independent journalists, unembedded in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, across the Middle East. Why did you become—decide to become a journalist? And you end the book with a punchy critique of the U.S. media. Your assessment, as well, of that?
NIR ROSEN: I was a bouncer in Washington, yeah, but that wasn’t like it was a career without a promise. It was just something temporary. My aspiration had been to be a journalist for quite a long time. And I was increasingly frustrated with the reporting of the buildup to the war in Iraq, where it seemed obvious to me, and to friends who were academics and students who knew the region, that it was just impossible that there were weapons of mass destruction. And we knew that the war was going to go horribly wrong. We could see that the media was very much parroting the American line and was very subservient to the American establishment. And I felt very passionate about it. I had some basic knowledge of the language. I had missed my opportunity in Afghanistan, but I knew Iraq would be my opportunity. And indeed, that proved to be the case.
I remain deeply emotionally involved in the country. Friends I’ve made there in 2003 are the ones who help me now, although every time I go back, I have to erase a few names from my cell phone because they’ve been killed. And that happened just this last trip a few weeks ago.
But I also remain frustrated with the American media, at least the establishment, with few exceptions. You have some very brave and independent journalists. But too often, they seem to return to sort of being the handmaids of power, instead of challenging power, instead of having this adversarial relationship with people in power, realizing that people in power lie. And I think that’s been the fundamental principle guiding my work, is anybody in power is going to lie to maintain their power. It should be obvious, whether they’re a leader of a militia in Baghdad, whether they’re the leader of the free world. And our job is to undermine that power and undermine those lies.