Finally finished reading Anthony Shadid's "Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War." It's a valuable book in several respects, perhaps most as a counterpoint to Thomas Ricks' "Fiasco." "Fiasco" is essentially a military history of the war; Shadid focuses exclusively on the sentiments of the Iraqi people themselves.
In one memorable scene, Ricks is walking at the front of a military patrol shortly after the fall of Saddam, interviewing soldiers who tell him that 85 percent of the Iraqi people fully support the U.S. invasion. At the back of the patrol, Shadid, who speaks Arabic, is interviewing Iraqis who present a far more skeptical picture -- even at that early date, Shadid says, no more than half of those he interviewed expressed support for the invasion.
Shadid also thoroughly outlines the history of Iraqi misery and repression, especially over the last 35 years. The Iran-Iraq War, a vague footnote in most Americans' memories, looms huge in the reactions and fears of Iraqis. The utter chaos of the post-war occupation, Iraqi skepticism over U.S. intentions, and the competing factions within Iraq all get thorough coverage.
The most useful thing the book does is this: It reminds us that the war isn't just about the troops. It's about a lot of suffering people, doing their best to scrape together some kind of order out of years of chaos. Sadly, it is this aspect of the war that often seems to be totally forgotten in this country, both by the anti-war left and the pro-war neocons. Shadid reminds us that when we say it's better to fight terrorists over there than here, that has real, and deadly, consequences for a lot of people who deserve better.