The Accidental Correspondent : CJR
Few Western correspondents have a background as unique as Ghaith Abdul-Ahad’s. A native of Iraq at the time of the US invasion, he was working as an architect in Baghdad while dodging the draft. When American forces occupied the city, he went to work as a translator for The Guardian and later became a fixer for The New York Times. An amateur photographer, he also began taking photographs for Getty Images. (A selection appeared in the 2005 book Unembedded.) In 2004, he became a correspondent for The Guardian in Iraq, and in 2008, he received a British Press Award as foreign reporter of the year. As an Iraqi covering Iraq for a Western news organization, Abdul-Ahad was able both to gain access to sectors of Iraqi society that were off limits to most outsiders and to examine them with the detachment of a reporter. He made a particular point of getting to know Iraqi insurgents. He was in Fallujah before the US assault on that city in April 2004, and in Najaf when Shia militia battled US troops that summer. Later, in Afghanistan, he traveled with the Taliban and was twice detained by them. While covering the fighting in Libya earlier this year, he was detained and held incommunicado for two weeks. Now based in Beirut, Abdul-Ahad rejects the idea of distinguishing between Western and local journalists. “Good journalists can be local or Western, and bad journalists can be local or Western,” he says. The Western journalists who reported on Iraq, he adds, “deserve thousands of medals.” At the same time, he thinks that all journalists, Western and local, have missed—and continue to miss—key aspects of the Iraq story.