Life In Iraq Over Lunch

  • by October 12, 2007
Dexter Filkins, who covered the Iraq invasion from Day One for The New York Times, is the post-luncheon speaker and he is telling us tales of life in Iraq. His stories are at times amusing and also very sad, which is what he says life is like in that country. Most of his listeners aren't journalists and I do wonder if they understand the depth of the calling that Filkins has assumed.

One really crazy thing he told about, arriving in Baghdad in a rented Yukon, reminds me of the two weeks I spent in Beirut in 1983, one week of civil war and one week of ceasefire. Armed with a flak vest and a helmet, I joined a party of journalists in a taxi as we drove up in to the Shouf mountains to see the war. It's a very funny story -- after the fact. Otherwise, it's scary as hell.

Filkins is doing a good job at painting a picture of Iraqi life. He's telling several stories. Here's one: Most of the U.S. soldiers are 19 from some town in South Dakota, busting their butts over there. "I went in with the Marines in the attack on Falujah," he says. After a week, a quarter of the guys he was with were dead. "We had to run across the road, machine gun fire coming from both directions. We ran right into machine gun fire. By the time we got to the other side of the road, there were five guys lying in the street. The amazing thing was that the Marines ran right back into the gunfire to get their buddies." And there was this guy who'd been shot in the leg, bone sticking out, and I kind of wondered what would happen to him." Months pass and he got an invite to Jacksonville, N.C., for a memorial service for this company. It was in a gymnasium, few people were there. "I just remember nobody came," he said. "But I looked over and there was the soldier whose leg was shot. His leg was in an enormous brace."

So, Filkins says, that's Iraq. He'd wanted to end his speech on a happy note. He did tell a more amusing story about a broken rear mirror on the rented Yukon. But I think we might just leave it right there.

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