John F. Burns of the New York Times and Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post, who stuck it out in Baghdad after the war began, have told consistently compelling stories about this conflict. Their reports on the fall of Baghdad and its immediate aftermath cover most human emotions: jubilation, anger, grief, optimism and perhaps most important, ambivalence.
As reporters will tell you, writing the lead -- the first paragraph of the story -- is one of the hardest tests they face. The best leads are often written when there is little time for reflection. You just do it. Burns' lead today captures the crescendo of emotions in Baghdad better than any I've seen, and I doubt he had much time to agonize over it. The rest of the story is great reading, too, summing up one of the climactic days of the war.
John F. Burns: Emotional torrent greets U.S. arrival in central Baghdad
Shadid's piece, which appears to have been massaged at the Post to give it broader scope, is less immediately involving, but very cleanly ties in a number of developments in Washington and elsewhere.
The trouble with invasions
One of the big -- no huge -- questions facing the coaltion is how to address the reality that invading armies almost always wear out their welcomes, sometimes very quickly.
Elsewhere in the Arab world, emotions are volatile
We've seen the Saddam statue topple ad nauseum on the tube, we've seen people dancing in the streets and enthusiastically greeting Americans. But in other Arab countries, emotions are volatile, and they suggest the U.S. has a very hard slog ahead.
One more time: Where's Saddam?
He may be regrouping. This is, for the U.S., the most problematic interpretation of the sudden disappearance of his government in Baghdad. The troubling part isn't that Saddam's government is breaking down, it is that it simply disappeared, suggesting that Saddam may yet have some central control over his most trusted government officials and military units. And, perhaps, that he is marshalling what forces he has left for a final stand.
But it seems that no one really knows where Saddam is, so that clears the way for us to explore all the current speculation.
One of my Seattle Times colleagues, David Haakenson, wonders how long it will be before supermarket tabloids sight Saddam pumping gas at a 7-Eleven with Elvis. That could happen any day now. But since Saddam was last heard about Monday, it’s time to recap the most common theories:
He’s been dead since the war started: This theory holds that Saddam died the first night of the war, March 19, when the U.S. bombed a complex in Baghdad where intelligence reports said he was meeting with other top Iraqis. However, a guy who looked like Saddam appeared on Iraqi TV last week and mentioned the March 24 downing of a U.S. Apache helicopter, so presumably he was alive at that time. And a guy who looked like Saddam was shown walking around somewhere in Baghdad last Friday. But there was no way of determining when the event actually occurred.
The crater: He’s in it. Monday night’s bombing of a bunker below a restaurant in Baghdad killed him and perhaps his sons as well. All that’s there now is a smoldering 60-foot-deep crater. So far, the dead at the site all appear to be civilians, about a dozen of them. But if Saddam was under a direct hit by four 2,000-pound bombs, it may be difficult to locate his remains. If they are located, Slate outlines the techniques that could be used to identify them.
No, he escaped again: This is the story according to British intelligence sources cited by the Times of London and the Guardian. "He was probably not in the building when it was bombed," an unnamed intelligence source told the Guardian. The Times quoted a source, also unidentified, who said: "We think he left the same way he arrived in the area, either by a tunnel system or by car, we're not sure."
He escaped and he’s still in Baghdad: This line of speculation holds that despite two narrow escapes from U.S. bombs, Saddam would never leave the capital. "He's somewhere in the outskirts of Baghdad in a normal house," said Entifadh Qanar, representative of the Iraqi National Congress in the United States, speaking from Qatar.
Some proponents of this view say that if Saddam survives the takeover of Baghdad by U.S. troops he may eventually try to reemerge as – are you ready? – a resistance leader!
He escaped and he’s hiding in the Russian Embassy: This rumor popped up today at some Arab and Western news sites, but there appeared to be nothing to substantiate it. In Moscow, Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said, "This type of statement is not in any way true.”
He escaped, but was badly hurt: Similar to the preceeding item, except that he had to leave Baghdad to get medical treatment. He may have gone to Tikrit, his hometown and power base, or to Syria. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said there were indications that Syria was helping high Iraqi government figures escape, but did not suggest Saddam was among them.
He and his sons left Baghdad last week: Those who hold this theory usually suggest he fled to Tikrit to prepare for a last stand there. Tikrit is about 100 miles up the Tigris River from Baghdad and is not in coalition hands. The U.S. did bomb an underground command bunker there, however.
He escaped and is in Baqubah, northeast of Baghdad: That’s the opinion of Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi exile who is a Pentagon favorite to become a leading figure in postwar Iraq. He also said that one of Saddam’s sons, Qusay “has survived and he is occupying some houses in the Diyala area.”
He’s in hiding with his family at a Syrian costal resort: This was the theory of the Israeli web site DEBKAfile, which reported that an entire 1,600-room resort was rented by the Iraqi government in late March.
We just don’t know: Bush, Rumsfeld and the CIA all say this. It probably means they really don’t know or that they suspect he escaped again but don’t want to give his remaining supporters any encouragement by saying so.
I’m partial to the 7-Eleven theory.
Let’s not forget the other unanswered questions
Where are the weapons of mass destruction? Where are U.S. POWs?
Blog readers offer some thoughts on the war
Wednesday morning I mused about what is happening to the “No Iraq War” signs that dot many Seattle neighborhoods. I have no statistics, but it seems to me that there are fewer of them than there were. Has the approaching end of the war changed any opinions?
“Do you really think that the fact America is winning this war makes it right?” asks Pawel Skudlarski, a research scientist at Yale University. “It took quite a while for media to create those images of Iraqis are parading through the streets of Baghdad waving American flags. Are you talking about the same people who are looting Baghdad?
“And all those chemical weapons … who cares if they were there, now that we won anyway?”
He raises a good question. If you believe the war was wrong, winning certainly doesn’t make it right.
Dr. Greg Fritzberg, an associate professor of graduate education at Seattle Pacific University, says he carried a “No Iraq War” sign because he favored giving inspections a little more time and eventually more support from the international community. As a result, he writes, “… I never felt the sign represented what I felt, which would have been better put as ‘Not yet, not alone’."
Fritzberg also expresses frustration with news coverage of the war, which has often been confusing and unenlightening – a sentiment I certainly can understand.
If you have thoughts on the war, send them along: firstname.lastname@example.org
What next for the peace movement?
In Seattle, there will be another anti-war demonstration, which organizers hope will be the largest since the conflict started. Local opponents of the war remained concern about its long-term effect and the possibility that it might encourage the U.S. to start other conflicts.
Here’s a piece from Common Dreams that outlines challenges that lie ahead for the peace movement and what opponents of the war can do to help meet them.
A companion piece from the site laments the “profound incivility and intolerance that is at the heart of contemporary American political culture.”