For me, a great advantage in covering, in understanding, in communicating what I understood about the wars of the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s was the almost complete absence of American troops. This allowed me to report on the real story of the warfare in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and eventually Kosovo, its impact on the people living there.
In 2003 and 2004, when I reported on the war in Iraq, there were Americans all over the place, running the post-Saddam government under the Coalition Provisional Authority, which, frankly, didn’t know what it was doing, designing in detail an American-style constitution for Iraq where Iraqis kept reminding me and them, the world’s first true legal system, the Code of Hammurabi had already been written in exquisite detail 1750 years before the birth of Christ. And of course, there was the American military, trying to reestablish order across the country, and still taking “post-war” casualties from a variety of so-called “dead-enders” and insurgents.
For an American audience, even one as sophisticated as the folks who watched Nightline, they were the story — the Americans, whatever they were doing.
What the war and the so-called post-war was doing to Iraqis was a subject of lesser interest than American strategies and tactics and policies and pronouncements and triumphs and losses. But for all the journalistic energy that went into describing and evaluating all that stuff for the folks back home, a dozen years after America effectively pulled its fighting forces out of Iraq, these are almost all dead letters.
What remains alive? Iraq. And the Iraqis and their society, which is still the real story of the war.
They and it provide the context for our guest Margaret Coker’s fine new book The Spymaster of Baghdad. Iraqi reality and Iraqi people who have lived through the nightmare of Saddam Hussein’s tyranny, the destructive war to oust him, and then the terrifying chaos and violence of Sunni-Shi’ite conflict that came next, are as important to Coker’s book as its hero, the Iraqi intelligence super-star Abu Ali al-Basri, commander and creator of the Falcons, an intelligence unit dedicated to fighting Al-Qaida and later ISIS.
Margaret Coker is the author of The Spymaster of Baghdad and editor-in-chief of The Current, an investigative news platform covering coastal Georgia. She started her two-decade career in journalism at Cox Newspapers before going to work at The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. In that time she covered stories from 32 countries on four continents.Margaret has won numerous national journalism prizes for investigative, business and diplomatic reporting as well as feature writing. She led a team of Wall Street Journal reporters named as finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting in 2017.
Margaret’s journalism has led to criminal trials and regulatory investigations of global banks and financiers, the dismissal of 14 corrupt police officers, and freedom for three people wrongly convicted and incarcerated.She came home to Savannah in 2019 to launch The Current, to revive an investigative news culture in Coastal Georgia, and to mentor a new generation of journalists in our region.