The great New York Times foreign correspondent and two-time Pulitzer winner Anthony Shadid died in Syria yesterday. He was among the best. Here’s just one incredible piece we re-read last night, a dispatch from Baghdad in March, 2003, just a day or two before the American invasion:
His friend, Salman Radi, joined the conversation. “We all expect war is coming,” he said.
Radi said he feared it would be like 1991, when bridges, buildings and, most painfully, a civilian shelter were destroyed. He remembered the stench of rotting bodies. “And now,” he said, “they come again.”
Radi lit a cigarette. He said he had quit for two years, but started again three days ago.
“We don’t know the truth, we don’t know what will happen,” he said, after taking a long drag. “There’s fear inside me, for a long time. What will happen? All I can say is that I don’t know. Tragedies, I’m sure. But I don’t know.”
That uncertainty pervades the city, where streets began emptying and stores were shuttered today in anticipation of an attack.
Some of the artists groped for symbols of resilience, in a gesture, it seemed, to reassure themselves. One spoke of the palm trees that remain a dominant motif in Iraqi art. The desert winds bend them, push them to the ground, but they never break. Another spoke of the Tigris as a measure of national character. Whereas the Nile provided life to Egypt with its floods, he said, the surging Tigris wreaked destruction. Resisting its torrents made Iraqis that much stronger, giving them a well-deserved reputation for toughness.
“It’s like slavery,” Samarai said. “We can’t stand foreigners to run our country. It is horrible for us. What makes me really nervous is that when I was listening to Bush’s speech, he talked and I couldn’t smell any truth.”