Patrick Cockburn has been hailed by Sidney Blumenthal in Salon as "one of the most accurate and intrepid journalists in Iraq." And that’s hardly praise enough, given what the man has done. The Middle Eastern correspondent for the British newspaper The Independent, he’s been on the spot from the moment when, in February 2003, he secretly crossed the Tigris River into Iraq just before the Bush administration launched its invasion.
Here, for instance, is a typical striking passage of his, written in May 2003, just weeks after Baghdad fell. If you read it then, you hardly needed the massive retrospective volumes like Thomas Rick’s Fiasco that took years to come out:
"[T]he civilian leadership of the Pentagon… are uniquely reckless, arrogant and ill informed about Iraq. At the end of last year [Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul] Wolfowitz was happily saying that he thought the Iraqi reaction to the capture of Baghdad would be much like the entry of the U.S. Army into Paris in 1944. He also apparently believed that Ahmed Chalabi…, then as now one of the most unpopular men in Iraq, would be the Iraqi Charles de Gaulle.
"These past mistakes matter because the situation in Iraq could easily become much worse. Iraqis realize that Saddam may have gone but that the United States does not have real control of the country. Last week, just as a[n] emissary [from head of the U.S. occupation Paul Bremer] was telling academics at Mustansiriyah, the ancient university in the heart of Baghdad, who should be purged from their staff, several gunmen, never identified, drove up and calmly shot dead the deputy dean."
How much worse it’s become can be measured by the two suicide bombs that went off at the same university a month apart early in 2007, killing not a single deputy dean but more than 100 (mostly female) students.
Or it can be measured by this telling little tidbit written in October 2003: "The most amazing achievement of six months of American occupation has been that it has even provoked nostalgia in parts of Iraq for Saddam. In Baiji, protesters were holding up his picture and chanting: ‘With our blood and with our spirit we will die for you Saddam.’ Who would have believed this when his statue was toppled just six months ago?"