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But a question had always nagged me: How could I truly endorse the war unless I actually went to Iraq? How did I know my assumptions were correct? And so last fall I traveled to the cradle of uncivilization, staying in Baghdad from mid-September to late October, with a four-day trip to the southern city of Basra. Although my experiences were by no means exhaustive, I feel confident that they were intense and profound enough to offer a valid perspective on the state of Iraq today. I spoke to cab drivers, Islamic clerics, waiters, Western journalists, American and British soldiers, anti-war activists, human rights activists, Iraqi housewives, employed and unemployed academics, children, U.S. government officials—as close to a full panoply of current Baghdad life as I could.
What I saw and heard surprised, delighted, and horrified me in ways I could never have predicted. I still support the war—even more so, in fact. But I'm less optimistic than I was on April 9, 2003, the day the statue of Saddam fell in downtown Baghdad, when, through my tears, I believed the good guys had won.
You don't have to agree with him to appreciate and admire the spirit behind his work. His death, like his work, transcends easy categorization or simple understanding. Precisely because he was at such risk—because he was far beyond the barricades of Baghdad's Green Zone and was not ensconced within the apparatus of a major news organization—he was bringing stories and perspectives that otherwise wouldn't have been told.
For journalists, his murder forces us to wonder what stories are worth dying for. His murder is somehow simultaneously an inspiration to us and a cautionary tale, a standing challenge and a tragic example to avoid. Will history vindicate his hopes for Iraq and the wider Middle East? The truthful answer is almost too horrific to admit: We won't know for a long time to come. In the meantime, we can only hope that his blood, and the blood of all the other innocent dead in Iraq, won't just disappear into the desert sand.