John Burns back from Iraq

john_burnsWe are catching the New York Times’ ace war correspondent John F. Burns on his way back for his umpteenth tour in Baghdad. Burns was there with his eyes wide open, his ears tuned to “listen to whispers,??? under Saddam Hussein’s republic of fear. Burns filed every day from Baghdad during the US assault in March 2003. And he’s been an unblinking witness ever since to the crumbling of official US expectations. In a Sunday “Week in Review??? analysis this past July, John Burns marked indelibly for me a turning point:

From the moment American troops crossed the border 28 months ago the specter hanging over the American enterprise here has been that Iraq, freed from Mr. Hussein’s tyranny, might prove to be so fractured—by politics and religion, by culture and geography, and by the suspicion and enmity sown by Mr. Hussein’s years of repression—that it would spiral inexorably into civil war… Now, events are pointing more than ever to the possibility that the nightmare could come true.

I am riffling through the electronic file of John Burns’ dispatches with awe at his range: he has stared into the eyes of Saddam Hussein in the dock, and eaten with the regulars at the favorite diner in Tikrit—(not to mention that Burns has been kidnapped in Iraq, as he was also imprisoned and charged with espionage in another reporting incarnation in China). But I’m also struck by some persistent threads in John Burns’ last year of Iraq stories—the stuff of tonight’s conversation: the daily carnage, the oceanic depth of the insurgency, the multiplicity of roadblocks to a constitution, the steep decline of American hopes in Baghdad, and (weirdly!) the persistence of the unsinkable badboy in the epic: the now Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi.

John Burns made his name the first time as the Toronto Globe and Mail‘s reporter in Beijing–before American correspondents could go there. He is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for his reporting from Afghanistan and Sarajevo under siege. He is one of those reporters out of the Harrison Salisbury tree who’s been to every awful place in the world and written exquisitely about it–one of those legends of whom you’d say: “they don’t make them like that anymore,” except that “they,” and especially the Times, keeps making them.

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  • Nikos

    I’ve recently read postulations that the Bush administration has deliberately encouraged the weakness of the proposed federal constitution. The purported motivation is that it’s preferable to have two mini-client oil-selling partners (one Shia, the other Kurd) instead of a single strong Iraqi government that might make multi-national corporate oil exploitation more difficult, and more regulated. Could Chris please ask John his opinion of this? Has he heard, sniffed, or seen any signs of such tampering?

  • loki

    Why not send Dick Cheney to Bagdhad-permanently. With his epertise in Oil and Halibuirton he might be able to get the country going again.

  • Potter

    Oh Goody!– John Burns you are simply extraordinary. And I love that wild man look!

    Yes, I am a JB groupie.

  • Thie was a very informative program one of the better efforts at Radio Open Source to illuminate an issue. In fact it was an excellent exposition of what’s really going on in Iraq beyond the ranting and raving that’s dominated recent shows. .

    I may not agree with all of Mr. Burns’s analysis but I think he’s a termperd reporter with ears to the ground. His greatest strength is that he listens to the Iraqi people and knows enough about the entire context that is the puzzle of Iraq going back to the first gulf war.

    Let’s have more him in the future.

  • Potter

    John Burns did not disappoint. He is wise enough to take breaks. Not only does he write intelligently and with wisdom at times when he interjects his opinion, but he is an articulate speaker. This seems to be coming in a straight flow enhanced by his years of experience and eyes that are wide open.

    The image of subterranean cracks rising to the surface of Iraq will stay with me. When a pot cracks, there is nothing you can really do to fix it so that it is usable. I am afraid all the repairing and glaziing over will not hide these cracks. John Burns did say in one of his recent reports that civil war is here already. They may repair with the gold of oil, but still the question will be does this make a good, strong pot? Is oil enough to hold things together? Do these people really want to stay together as one country?

  • zeke

    Apologies for asking this here, but I don’t know if there is a “general” email box. I wondered if there will be an MP3 feed posted for this show? It looks very interesting and I’d like to catch up on it. Thanks.

  • buddha48

    I recently had the astounding, utterly unexpectable pleasure of encountering John Burns in a bookstore in downtown Denver, where he was simply looking at the books in the current events section. I approached him, told him how much I admired him and valued his reporting. He responded humbly and graciously, and I left him to enjoy his privacy. What an extraordinariy courageous and talented individual. I still thrill from the memory of meeting him.