The Freedom / Christian Parenti

The Freedom is The Nation writer Christian Parenti’s first-person account of his stints reporting on the war in Iraq from the frontlines during 2003 and the first half of 2004. It’s a moving account, and covers ground I haven’t read in newspapers or magazines. That’s not to say it hasn’t been written, but I haven’t seen it.

Cover of The Freedom

For its descriptions of the facts on the ground, I don’t think the book is very useful anymore. While the conflict is still bloody, and still similarly bleak, the people, alliances, and situations no longer exist. That’s the danger in a war such as this. The fronts are fluid. The opponent changes. The political situation morphs. It remains as a testament of the war as it existed in 2003 however.

However, I think some parts are probably still useful for informing Americans about how Iraq operates. I imagine that the requirements for being allowed to report from the insurgency remain the same: a referral from a sheikh influential in the local underground. I suppose as well that the current insurgency is still as disorganized as it was then. While some groups such as the Mahdi Army have some level of control (by Moktadr al-Sadr), most still only maintain loose connections with other groups, preventing the U.S. military from gaining any traction against them. But then, I’m not there. I’m just guessing that this key to their survival then remains why they still survive today. Parenti describes it very well in The Freedom with his interviews with multiple resistance cells.

I have one big criticism though. It’s clear that Parenti spent significant time embedded with a few U.S. military units. He writes a rich picture of the U.S. personnel he describes. But other than his translators, the Iraqis in his book are interviewees. There is only one group with whom he describes spending significant time. The rest are interviewed. Some obviously more than once. But the narratives of the Iraqis in the book are all related by them to Parenti to us. He is not embedded with them the way he was with the military. Not even with Iraqi government forces or apparatchiks. Consequently, those stories are less rich. And they suffer from hearsay doubts.

The other criticism is that the one group Parenti seems to spend any time with is an Iraqi Marxist group. His interpreter relays to him, Iraqis will never follow these people. I don’t know why you’re spending so much time with them. There is a certain old-school class of progressives in the U.S. that clings dearly to Marxism. Iraqis will not follow communists. Americans will not be much impressed with Marxist rhetoric and are not much interested in a failing Marxist ideology or those who espouse it. Maybe he was able to spend time with them simply because no one cared about them on any side in Iraq.

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