Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
August 8, 2003
WAR: More From Michael Kelly
It's a rare treat to hear more from a writer you thought you'd heard the last of. I just stumbled across this fascinating pre-war interview with the late Michael Kelly in The Atlantic Online. Chills-inducing line: "I don't think it will be that dangerous for me." Prediction: "I do think that you will see an honest-to-God picture of people in Iraq and Baghdad cheering America." Read the whole thing; there's more on the East Germans' role in Saddam's Iraq, the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq war, and Kelly's exploits in Gulf 1. A classic story, from his broadside against CNN's corrupt relationship with Saddam:
[An Australian reporter] and I had gone up to CNN's suite [in the Al-Rashid hotel] at dawn and knocked on the door. They had locked the door so nobody could get into their suite, because they had the only working phone line and they wanted to protect it, of course. I knocked on the door and slipped them a note asking them if they would, not file our stories for us, but if we could give them a list of phone numbers of wives and others that they would call and tell everybody we were okay. They pushed the note back under the door and said, "Haven't you ever heard of competition?" So a lot of people who were there have never forgiven them for that.
More choice quotes:
When you have the feeling that if you get an eensy bit too drunk the Mukhabarat are going to come and remove your fingernails for making a little Saddam joke at the bar, it puts a stifling effect on an evening out with the boys. Iraqis are big bar-goers. There's a lot of drinking in Iraq. But it's the grimmest drinking environment you could ever imagine. They could give lessons to the Scots on grimness in drinking. . . . It's just grim drinking to relieve the misery of life there. They drink until they've had enough, which is when they slip silently under the table and have to be carted out by the Mukhabarat.
What do you say when you're drinking in Iraq?
Nothing. That's the thing. Everything's too dangerous. You never know what might be taken the wrong way. . . It's a bad place, and when you get in trouble, it's real trouble. Here it's like, oh, you're in trouble, you're on John Ashcroft's not nice list for a week. There, they remove your tongue. It's hard to get your tongue back. You might get the wrong tongue or none at all.