If you read Shadid's story, it's a very real, and sad post about the death of an Iraqi bookseller, and the effect of war on culture, an old story, not least in Baghdad. Shadid is distinguished by his ability to speak Arabic and to venture outside the Green Zone and talk to interesting people. The death of his friend Mohammed Hayawi is poignantly mourned in the story:
I really love newspaper stories that let you know, right away, that you are about to read pure blather. Today's example comes from the always faithful fountain of blather, the Washington Post:"It was a summer day in 2003, when Iraq was still filled with the half-truths of occupation and liberation, before its nihilistic descent into carnage." ( Anthony Shadid, "Washington Post Foreign Service")
On shelves eight rows high rested books by communist poets and martyred clerics, translations of Shakespeare, predictions by Lebanese astrologers, a 44-volume tome by a revered ayatollah and a tract by the austere medieval thinker Ibn Taimiyyah. Dusty stacks spilled across the cream-color tile floor, swept but stained with age. In those cramped quarters, Hayawi tried to cool himself with a fan, as perspiration poured down his jowly face and soaked his blue shirt.RIP, Mr. Hayawi.
We had met before the American invasion, and nearly a year later, he almost immediately recognized me.
"Abu Laila," he said, using the Arabic nickname taken from the name of a person's child.
He then delivered a line he would repeat almost every time we saw each other over the next few years. "I challenge anyone, Abu Laila, to say what has happened, what's happening now, and what will happen in the future." And, over a thin-waisted cup of tea, scalding even on this hot day, he shook his head.
A car bomb detonated last week on Mutanabi Street, leaving a scene that has grown familiar in Baghdad, a collage of chaotic images, disturbing in their brutality, grotesque in their repetition. At least 26 people were killed. Hayawi the bookseller was one of them.
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When the Mongols sacked Baghdad in 1258, it was said that the Tigris River ran red one day, black another. The red came from the blood of nameless victims, massacred by ferocious horsemen. The black came from the ink of countless books from libraries and universities. Last Monday, the bomb on Mutanabi Street detonated at 11:40 a.m. The pavement was smeared with blood. Fires that ensued sent up columns of dark smoke, fed by the plethora of paper.
A colleague told me that near Hayawi's shop, a little ways from the now-gutted Shahbandar Cafe, a black banner hangs today. In the graceful slope of yellow Arabic script, it mourns the loss of Hayawi and his nephew, "who were assassinated by the cowardly bombing."
Anthony Shahid is a fine writer, who conveys a very real sense of what's going on in the real lives (and deaths) of Iraqis.
Perhaps Shadid's mistaken about the war, and Gen. Petraeus can somehow turn it around. He's nevertheless a fine reporteer.