Reporters think back about covering cultural divide in Iraq

Snip from the Columbia Journalism Review's compilation of first-hand observations from journalists who have covered the war in Iraq:

* Borzou Daragahi / Los Angeles Times

I know how religious the people in Iraq are, how traditional they are with regard to gender relations and stuff like that. I would see certain stuff and I would just cringe and want to say [to U.S. soldiers], "You guys are really, really making a bad name for yourself here by storming into this guy's house with your shoes on. This guy's done nothing and yet you're going to make an enemy out of him because he's gonna talk about you guys for the rest of his life, and that day when they came storming into my house with their shoes on – nobody walks into my house with their shoes on!"

* Elizabeth Palmer / CBS

I've been struck by how essentially humane a lot of the soliders are, with a very strong sense of right and wrong, which I think comes with growing up in America. And how ill-equipped they were to apply that to a situation like Iraq, without enough historical or geographical or cultural knowledge to actually – unless they were under the command of a very gifted officer, and there are some who are extremely well-equipped, but a lot of them are not – to apply that sort of fairness to Iraqi society. I feel that a huge majority of them are good men trapped in an impossible situation and have not really understood where they are historically, as well as culturally and physically. I think they're hostages of a terrible situation as well; it's given me enormous sympathy for them, and certainly a new appreciation for how ill-prepared they were for the mission, at least in the early days.

* Nir Rosen / Freelance Writer

The daily things the Iraqis endure – and those that I experienced just because I looked Iraqi and then because I was a male, and a so-called "male of fighting age." My [new Iraqi] friends would ask me, "Why do Americans say 'fuck' so much, what's this word 'fuck?'" I heard that a few times. "Why do Americans spit so much?" They didn't know about chewing dip – the tobacco thing. So they see Americans spitting all the time; they're going into a house on a raid, and in order to stay awake they chew dip and they're spitting constantly, spitting all over people's yards, things like that. Having to deal with the barbed wire everywhere, the tanks and Humvees blocking traffic in your roads, pointing their guns at you, firing into the air, shouting at you. It was constant humiliation and constant fear, because they control your life. They have these huge guns and you can't even communicate with them adequately.

Link to Columbia Journalism Review article, which is part of this series on covering the war in Iraq: Link to "Into the Abyss." Image: Christoph Bangert (CJR) (Thanks, Susannah Breslin)