Book Review: Waiting for an Ordinary Day

I just finished the book:

Fassihi, Farnaz. 2008. Waiting for an ordinary day: the unraveling of life in Iraq. New York: PublicAffairs.

This book covers the period from October 2002 to December 2005, from the last few months before the invasion of Iraq through the early-to-mid days of the Occupation. There is a short epilogue which provides a 2008 review of the people Ms. Fassihi can still find.

The book covers a time period before and somewhat after Battleground Iraq : journal of a company commander, written by Major Todd S. Brown, which covered the period April 2003 to March 2004. I think it would be interesting to read them back to back. Not because one is right and the other is wrong, but because they are both valid views of a chaotic situation from very different walks of life. In some ways I think Ms. Fassihi (or at least some of her subjects) would sympathize with some aspects of Maj. Brown’s approach to security.

Fassihi’s book makes no apologies for Saddam Hussein. Her chapters on the Saddam period make it quite clear that Iraqis lived in fear of him and that many people, especially Shiites, hated him. But as several of Fassihi’s Iraqi friends and employees make clear, hatred and fear of Saddam did not automatically translate into love and support for the United States and its occupation.

Most of the book is focused on people, either Fassihi’s colleagues in the Baghdad Wall Street Journal office or the Iraqis she met in the course of her work. These included Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, Kurds, clerics and and ordinary people. The book is about their stories of surviving under Saddam, briefing entertaining hope during the invasion and then steady disillusionment and resentment toward the occupiers. The steady Islamicization of Iraqi society is also treated in some detail, along with its unexpected champions.

Fassihi also weaves headlines (capture of Saddam, prominent attacks, Iraqi elections, ethnic cleansings) into people’s reactions and lives. I think this book really humanizes everyone involved, Iraqis, Occupiers and journalists. Whatever your political persuasion, I think you’ll find this an interesting read.

While I doubt Ms. Fassihi will write more books on Iraq, I hope someone will come along and provide a similar type of account from January 2006 to the near present. Perhaps that will have to wait until we end the occupation in 2011 in accordance with the new Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq. If you know of books drawing on interview with Iraqi citizens in the time period since December 2005, please let me know in a comment. I’d also be interested in any thoughts you have from reading this book or “Battleground Iraq.”

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