The Mouth of a Graveyard: A Review of Dahr Jamail’s Beyond the Green Zone

by Ron Jacobs; October 02, 2007
Original Posting of Review

Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq

by Dahr Jamail
(Haymarket, 2007)

As the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the accompanying war on its people heads into a fifth year, the New York Times and Washington Post continue to run articles presenting the situation in that country in much the same way that the politicians and generals in Washington want us to see it. In other words, the picture those papers present is one that not only considers Washington’s goals there to be worthwhile, but actually being reached. If one wants to find another side to the story, they must search a little deeper on the internet for reportage and analysis. This coverage not only begins with different assumptions regarding the occupation, it also presents a picture based on the perspectives of Iraqis and others whose fortunes are not tied to Washington’s plans for the region.

Although he is no longer in Iraq, Dahr Jamail was one of the first journalists to provide such a perspective. Soon after the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Jamail emptied his savings, bought a plane ticket to Iraq, and began writing about what he saw as an independent reporter from the war zone. His missives were sorely needed by those people looking for a side of the story not being told by the so-called embedded media and soon his stories were being published in multiple internet outlets, radio programs and even some newspapers.

This month, Haymarket Books of Chicago is publishing a book by Jamail that reprises his time in Iraq reporting the war and occupation. Titled Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq, the book is a riveting and clearly written piece of journalism that puts the pap most US residents consider as news to shame. Alternating between personal and up close stories of encounters with Iraqis from various walks of life in post-invasion Iraq and straight out reportage, Jamail succeeds in telling the story of a nation torn asunder by outside forces intent on destruction and theft. Woven into this page-turning narrative is Jamail’s own recitation of his emotions and sense of hopelessness born in the realization of just how cruel and murderous his government can be.

The stories Jamil tells of his travels with interpreters and other freelance journalists are reminiscent of other reports from Iraq by independent journalists like the Brit Patrick Cockburn and the Italian Giuliana Sgrena, yet they are uniquely his own. Perhaps this is because of his US citizenship and the feeling of responsibility he’s assumed for the tragedy he watches unfold–a tragedy brought on primarily by his government. On one page Jamail will be sharing a conversation with a US soldier at a checkpoint in Baghdad who misses his home and seems unsure of the role he’s been assigned. Then, just as the reader begins to feel sympathy for the GI’s plight, that moment is overshadowed by another of the interminable number of stories about Iraqi bloodshed, destruction and despair brought on by the very presence of the army those young Americans belong to. In Beyond the Green Zone, the best of these descriptions are those regarding Fallujah. Jamail provides what I consider to be the best reportage on that city, its resistance and the siege and slaughter undertaken by US forces within its borders.

With the exception of the afterword, Jamail’s book reports from the period immediately after the invasion up to early 2005. Although this limits the immediacy of the reportage, it does not diminish its usefulness or significance. Indeed, while reading the book, I found that the incidents and maneuverings of the period covered here helped me understand the current situation in Iraq even better. For example, one of Jamail’s contentions is that part of Washington’s plan all along was to design any Iraqi governing authority along sectarian lines so as to exacerbate existing tensions. A quick look at the Iraqi experience over the past twenty months or so would seem to validate Jamail’s position. For those Americans who believe the nonsense coming out of Washington from both sides of the aisle regarding so-called progress in Iraq, reading this book should make it clear that there really is no such thing. Furthermore, it should further clarify to those who believe that the only solution is for the US to withdraw all of its forces immediately and without conditions why their position is the rational one.

Beyond the Green Zone is not the story of an occupation gone wrong. It is the tale about the wrongness of an occupation and the consequences of that wrongness. It is about a lie of freedom and democracy told not only to the people of the U.S, but to the people of Iraq and the sufferings of those made to endure that freedom. It is about a citizen of the United States so angry and distraught over the heartless lies told by his government and the bloodshed those lies have wrought that he decides to find the truth and share it with as many as will listen.