Scott C.

Stories by Scott C. Johnson

  • Doctors in the Cross Hairs

    Abu Mohammed can't go near a hospital now. The Iraqi bone specialist, 37, has lived in fear since August, when his younger brother, also a doctor, was shot dead one night while walking home from his clinic in Baghdad. Abu Mohammed bought a pistol after that, but he still doesn't feel safe. Recently he was offered a managerial job at one of the city's biggest hospitals. He's scared to accept it. His wife owned a pharmacy; she sold it in November. A week or so ago a doctor friend of theirs was kidnapped from his clinic in the city's Mansour district--the latest of their friends to vanish. "My brother was killed when the terrorists started a campaign against doctors," says Abu Mohammed. "He was one of their victims."Iraq's troubles just keep getting crueler. The same American officials who used to promise imminent victory are now saying openly that the insurgency seems likely to continue indefinitely. The recent elections, rather than creating a sense of common ground, only emphasized...
  • The Job Ahead: 'They're Not Going Back'

    Gen. George Casey has been in charge of U.S. and Coalition forces in Iraq since June 2004. He spoke with NEWSWEEK's Scott Johnson before and after Election Day on hopes and concerns for the country's future. Excerpts: ...
  • The New Way Out

    Only a few months ago, the road from Baghdad International Airport to the Green Zone was a symbol of American futility in Iraq. When talking heads in Washington wanted to argue that the war was hopeless, they would simply point to "Ambush Alley."How is it possible, the critics would say, that two long years after U.S. troops took Baghdad, soldiers, contractors and diplomats still had to make a "Mad Max" dash through this five-mile corridor just to get to the heart of the capital? If the U.S. Army couldn't secure such a vital chokepoint, it would never be able to pacify the rest of the country. But since August, without much public notice, the Baghdad highway has been largely secured. In April 2005, when control of the route was primarily American, there were 37 casualties. By October 2005--when Iraqi Special Police checkpoints were in the forefront--there was only one person wounded. The number of attacks plummeted, too, from 27 to eight. November has also been fairly quiet, says Lt...
  • NO MORE ILLUSIONS

    For more than a decade, Abu Sajad's small convenience store was a fixture in Doura, an industrial neighborhood in south Baghdad. Customers came for friendly service and the ease of buying rice, tea or cigarettes a few blocks from home. Abu Sajad, a 44-year-old with salt-and-pepper hair, would even let regulars--Sunnis, Shiites or Christians--run up a tab. But not long ago, Abu Sajad was found in a pool of his own blood. Sunni insurgents had shot him 11 times with an AK-47. Shortly afterward, his widow and four children left for Karbala, a Shiite town in the south. His brother, Abu Naseer, decided to move to Al Kurayat, a predominantly Shiite neighborhood in eastern Baghdad. The Doura shop was closed, another debris-strewn relic of an Iraq that may no longer exist. "I have no reason or explanation why he was killed except that he was Shiite," says his brother.Across the country many Iraqis have begun to fear the worst: that their society is breaking apart from within. "The vast...
  • Terror On The Tigris

    As the procession crowded across the bridge toward Baghdad's Kadhimiya shrine, Hussein Abbas heard a murmur rising around him. Within seconds the whispers turned to panic. Someone said there was a suicide bomber. People began running. "I fell, and people fell over me, and others stepped over us," says Abbas, 33, a carpenter from Sadr City. He tried to get up and get away, but he was trapped. The bridge's metal railings buckled, and pilgrims began toppling into the Tigris. Abbas saw a small boy knocked to the pavement nearby. "He started crying, 'Uncle, please get off me, I'm choking!' I couldn't move [to help him]," recalls Abbas from a hospital bed. "I watched the little kid die."Nearly 1,000 Iraqi civilians were killed last Wednesday morning in what was by far the country's deadliest incident since the 2003 invasion. Most of the victims were women and children who fell in the stampede. The suicide bomber was imaginary--this time. But the day of the disaster began with a rocket and...
  • The Sunni Question

    If Haditha isn't exactly no man's land, it is certainly no voter's land. When Iraqi election officials tried to open voter-registration centers in the predominantly Sunni city on the desert road from Baghdad to Syria in early August, they were intimidated away from entering town. Finally, they gave up on their plans to sign up voters for a future constitutional referendum and turned back. Last week some of NEWSWEEK's Iraq reporters found out why. A cabal of foreign fighters--mostly Syrian, Saudi and Algerian--rule the city. They issue death sentences in Taliban-style courts to those convicted of spying for the Americans or the government in Baghdad--seven in the past week, according to locals. The insurgents have closed the city's courts and municipal offices, banned a divorce-court judge from working and imposed strict Sharia across the city. Insurgent spies roam the streets. "The mujahedin completely control the city, which has absolutely no government representation," says...
  • OUR MR. FIX-IT IN IRAQ

    Zalmay Khalilzad, Washington's new envoy to Iraq, is on his way to a meeting when an unidentified car pulls in front of his convoy. Bad idea. One of the ambassador's armored escorts quickly rams the vehicle off the road, leaving a dazed and bloodied Iraqi driver yelling for help. A barrel-chested security guard riding shotgun in Khalilzad's car turns to explain: an errant vehicle in Iraq, he says, can easily be a suicide bomber. "This is not the place to pull out in front of a convoy."The ambassador doesn't stop for much. Minutes later, wearing pinstripes and a flak vest, Khalilzad greets several robed clerics from Iraq's largest political organization, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI. With the deadline for a final draft of the Iraqi constitution just days away, Khalilzad is hoping to break a deadlock that has arisen over the critical issue of federalism. But he needs Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, SCIRI's leader, to agree.Bantering with the cleric in Farsi, the...
  • THE ENEMY SPIES

    No one challenged the bomber as he approached his target. Iraqi sentries waved him through the gate, into a high-security compound that protects some of the most vital government offices in Baghdad. His uniform and badge identified him as a member of the Wolf Brigade, the elite police unit he had joined three months before. His shirt looked strangely baggy--"billowy," an investigator would say later. It covered a vest packed with explosives. The bomber walked unhindered through the gate and past the Interior Ministry. He passed through another checkpoint at the entrance to Wolf Brigade headquarters, 15 minutes by foot from the compound's gate. In the courtyard, members of the brigade were assembling for their 8:30 a.m. roll call. The young recruit had been AWOL for weeks, but no one asked him where he had been. Then he detonated himself. The only identifiable trace that remained of the bomber was his severed head and feet, according to Iraq's Interior minister, Bayan Jabr.The...
  • SOLDIER RAP, THE PULSE OF WAR

    It took only a few ambushes, roadside bombs and corpses for Neal Saunders to know what he had to do: turn the streets of Baghdad into rap music. So the First Cavalry sergeant, then newly arrived for a year of duty in Sadr City, began hoarding his monthly paychecks and seeking out a U.S. supplier willing to ship a keyboard, digital mixer, cable, microphones and headphones to an overseas military address. He hammered together a plywood shack, tacked up some cheap mattress pads for soundproofing and invited other Task Force 112 members to join him in his jerry-built studio. They call themselves "4th25" --pronounced fourth quarter, like the final do-or-die minutes of a game--and their album is "Live From Iraq." The sound may be raw, even by rap standards, but it expresses things that soldiers usually keep bottled up. "You can't call home and tell your mom your door got blown off by an IED," says Saunders. "No one talks about what we're going through. Sure, there are generals on the TV,...
  • FANTASTIC VOYAGES

    Want to rent an island for your honeymoon? How about flying around the world on your own jet, stopping only for the best meals along the way? Or perhaps a three-day stay at a hotel where a round of golf with Jack Nicklaus is included in the $8.4 million bill? They're all real possibilities. "Luxury is the most overused word in the travel business," says Teddie Chapman, a.k.a. "The Travel Goddess" (thetravelgoddess.com), a California-based travel agent who specializes in ultraluxury trips starting at $10,000 per person. Some of the over-the-top holidays we fantasize about:The hottest ticket in super-luxury travel is a round-the-world trip on a 757. TCS Expeditions (tcs-expeditions.com) and Starquest Expeditions (starquestexpeditions.com) offer a jet equipped with doctors, expedition guides and expert lecturers. TCS's Seven Seas Odyssey, for example--a $38,950, three-week jaunt across the globe--stops in the great Roman city of Laptis Magna and at the ruins of Sabratha in Libya, open...
  • THE PLACES YOU'LL GO

    Want to rent an island for your honeymoon? How about flying around the world on your own private jet, stopping only for the best restaurants along the way? Or what about a three-day stay at a hotel where a round of golf with Jack Nicklaus is included in the bill--the $8.4 million bill, that is? Those are all real possibilities. "Luxury is the most overused word in the travel business," says Teddie Chapman, a.k.a. "The Travel Goddess" (thetravelgoddess.com), a California-based travel agent who specializes in ultraluxury trips starting at $10,000 per person. "But I can do anything, as long as you've got the money." Some of the over-the-top holidays we fantasize about:The hottest ticket in superluxury travel is a round-the-world trip aboard your own private jetliner. Two companies, TCS Expeditions (tcs-expeditions.com) and Starquest Expeditions (starquestexpeditions.com), offer voyages aboard their own 757s, equipped with private doctors, expedition guides and expert lecturers. TCS's ...
  • The Border War

    Immigration was supposed to be one of the top issues on the agenda when the leaders of the United States, Canada and Mexico gathered for a summit in the city of Waco, Texas, last week. Conservative TV broadcasters in the United States deliver rants about America's "broken borders" on an almost nightly basis, and hundreds of vigilantes are poised to descend on the arid scrubland of southern Arizona this week to launch a manhunt for some of the thousands of Mexican workers crossing into the United States each day. Yet while U.S. President George W. Bush vowed to redouble efforts to secure congressional approval of a guest-worker program he unveiled more than a year ago, he hedged his bets about its passage. "I will continue to push our Congress to come up with rational, common-sense immigration policy," Bush said in remarks addressed to Mexican President Vicente Fox. But, he added, "you don't have my pledge that Congress will act, because I'm not a member of the legislative branch....
  • A Tough Line On Fraud

    Mexico, along with most other countries in Latin America, is integrating rapidly with the global economy. The country's GDP grew by nearly 5 percent last quarter, and its investment climate is generally considered favorable. Yet that same integration, along with heightened concerns about terrorist funding, has led to more scrutiny of the region's business and regulatory practices. In particular, new U.S. corporate-governance laws like Sarbanes-Oxley, and certain provisions of the U.S. Patriot Act, are pressuring Latin American regulators and corporations to do more to find and eliminate fraud.One Sarbanes-Oxley provision requires foreign companies listed on American stock exchanges to tighten up their internal fraud controls or face potential legal action by U.S. authorities. The laws are also aimed at curtailing money laundering, and mandate that U.S. companies perform tougher "due diligence" investigations of foreign firms and individuals with whom they do business. David...
  • Mexico: Ready For Prime Time?

    Mexico's Guerrero state, which abuts the Pacific coast, has long been characterized by the gaudy luxury of Acapulco--a wealthy tourist town that caters to thousands of American vacationers each year. For just as long Guerrero has been a bastion of backroom political dealmaking; indeed, until last week, it had always been governed by a politician from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. In what may portend another signal political shift in Mexico, voters swept the PRI incumbent out of office, electing instead a former mayor of Acapulco, Zeferino Torreblanca, who ran on a left-wing ticket sponsored by the Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD. Torreblanca won with a comfortable 55 percent of the vote. A buoyant Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador--the mayor of Mexico City and standard-bearer for the PRD--spent days after the election cooing about his party's unexpectedly easy Guerrero victory. "Authoritarian structures last until people say they're over," he told reporters at one...
  • PICKING UP THE PIECES

    Mark Twain once wrote that "heaven was copied after Mauritius." It's easy to see why. Lush sugar-cane fields spread across this Indian Ocean island--mercifully spared casualties from last week's tsunami. Jagged volcanic mountains rise out of the sea mist like peaks of meringue; wide tranquil bays of vibrant turquoise meet beaches of fine white sand and swaying palms. Colonized over the centuries by the Dutch, British and the French, Mauritius remains a favorite winter holiday destination for Europeans.It has also been for the past 30 years one of the world's key centers for textile manufacturing. Hundreds of factories dot the inland hills, where workers, most of them female, produce sweaters, cashmere blankets and T shirts for everyone from discount retailers like JCPenney to luxury names such as Giorgio Armani and Burberry. But it's a purely contrived industry; Mauritius produces none of the raw materials used in its textiles. It has to import everything from the yarn to the...
  • VIGILANTE JUSTICE

    Two weeks ago an enraged mob swarmed three federal police officers in the Mexico City suburb of San Juan Ixtayopan, beat them nearly lifeless then burned two of them alive while thousands watched live on national television. The locals who committed the crimes thought the victims were kidnappers. The incident, which received global press coverage, was deeply embarrassing to Mexican government officials, who were still in damage-control mode last week. Mexicans themselves continued to grapple with the social implications of the crime. Authorities moved quickly to arrest 29 people, some of whom had been caught by the TV cameras pouring gasoline on the police officers or, in one case, apparently touching a lighter to the gasoline-soaked victims. President Vicente Fox fired Mexico City's chief of security, Marcelo Ebrard, for mishandling the crisis, but not before tersely announcing a "zero tolerance" policy toward what many fear is a rising tide of vigilantism in the country. "My...
  • NO MORE SECRETS

    Arturo Fernandez Lopez, a midlevel accountant in a division of Mexico's Interior Ministry, got a lump in his stomach two years ago as he was crunching numbers. The 55-year-old bureaucrat began to notice what he calls "irregularities" in the office accounts--overly expensive purchases and what appeared to be evidence of no-bid contracts. Disaster-relief material and money destined for the coasts had somehow wound up in Mexico's interior without sufficient explanation. On July 2, 2002, Fernandez presented an official complaint to his office comptroller. But 17 days later, when he showed up for work, armed policemen outside the office stopped him at the door. "The police told me they had an order from my boss not to let me in," says Fernandez. Not long after, his paychecks simply stopped arriving.But the accountant would persevere and help uncover what may be a massive scandal. Shortly after being fired, Fernandez sought help from the Federal Institute for Access to Information (IFAI),...
  • CARLOS FUENTES

    Carlos Fuentes is an accomplished Mexican novelist, journalist and essayist. He has spent many years in Europe, serving as Mexico's ambassador to France from 1974 to 1977. He's also been a teacher and fellow at various universities in the United States, including Columbia, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania. NEWSWEEK's Scott Johnson spoke with Fuentes about the impact of the American presidential election. Excerpts:JOHNSON: Given the violence and turmoil in Iraq, the military option doesn't look like a feasible way to reform the Middle East. What should the United States and Europe do to promote reform?FUENTES: Go back to the Clinton priorities. Clinton had a very clear priority--first, the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Go to the heart of that problem because that is the biggest problem in the Middle East. The second priority [must be] terrorism and Al Qaeda. Bush shunned the real priorities and went to a nonissue, which was Saddam, Iraq, overthrowing a dictatorship, weapons...
  • THE MEXICAN PARADOX

    Spirits have been high and coffers full in commodity-rich developing nations from West Africa to East Asia recently, thanks to record-high oil prices. Countries like Nigeria, Venezuela, East Timor and, of course, the Middle Eastern oil states are seeing record inflows as prices continue to spiral upward. Net exporter Mexico is growing fat, too--oil has yielded an extra $12 billion in revenues so far this year. But far from being gleeful about the boom, officials there are fretting about the impact of high oil prices on the country.The paradox is a result of Mexico's unique place in the global economy. Unlike many oil states, Mexico has a relatively diversified economy--only 10 percent of its exports come from oil. The problem is that the other 90 percent, including things like electronics, textiles and medical supplies, go almost wholly to the United States. And there, high oil prices are beginning to have a dampening effect on the economy. What's more, non-oil exports are facing...
  • IT'S WORSE THAN YOU THINK

    Iraqis don't shock easily these days, but eyewitnesses could only blink in disbelief as they recounted last Tuesday's broad-daylight kidnappings in central Baghdad. At about 5 in the afternoon, on a quiet side street outside the Ibn Haitham hospital, a gang armed with pistols, AK-47s and pump-action shotguns raided a small house used by three Italian aid groups. The gunmen, none of them wearing masks, took orders from a smooth-shaven man in a gray suit; they called him "sir." When they drove off, the gunmen had four hostages: two local NGO employees--one of them a woman who was dragged out of the house by her headscarf--and two 29-year-old Italians, Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, both members of the antiwar group A Bridge to Baghdad. The whole job took less than 10 minutes. Not a shot was fired. About 15 minutes afterward, an American Humvee convoy passed hardly a block away--headed in the opposite direction.Sixteen months after the war's supposed end, Iraq's insurgency is...
  • Lost In The Green Zone

    President George W. Bush and his advisers like to say that sovereignty has been returned to the Iraqis. But the heart of the Iraqi capital, where the symbols of power are most concentrated, belongs to America. Enclosed inside a maze of blast walls, protected by Abrams tanks and Apache helicopters, the 10 square kilometers of the Green Zone contain some of Baghdad's finest real estate--the local equivalent of the White House, the Washington Monument and other prime sites in downtown Washington. Many Iraqis, including senior ministers and the mayor of Baghdad, want the Americans to move out of town. But the Americans won't budge, and don't have to.Far from being dismantled, the Green Zone is expanding. NEWSWEEK has learned that at least five U.S. security and construction companies are planning to build compounds on the zone's perimeter, eventually to be incorporated into the rest of the area. That's because the fight for space inside the zone is intense. A small U.N. team lives in...
  • EYEWITNESS TO A SIEGE

    A portrait of an angry Moqtada al-Sadr greeted visitors to the Imam Ali Mosque in the holy city of Najaf. The militant Shiite cleric and hundreds of armed followers were effectively holding the gold-domed shrine--and the city around it--hostage last week. U.S. forces didn't dare get too close for fear of damaging one of Iraq's most sacred sites. The area inside the American cordon, nearly a mile across, was a virtual no man's land. One of the few Western journalists to venture there was photographer Laurent Van der Stockt, on assignment for NEWSWEEK. He filed this report:Most of the inhabitants have fled. The few remaining civilians take to the streets when the shelling pauses, sometimes for two or three hours at a stretch, although snipers make the open areas unsafe. Some people here are friendly; others curse me as a Westerner. Occasionally they get into screaming arguments about me.My driver/fixer and I came to no man's land on Sunday. We left the Coalition sector of Najaf in a...
  • IRAQ'S NEW LEADER GETS TOUGH--BY UNLEASHING THE U

    Ayad Allawi wants respect, and for as long as anyone can remember in Iraq, that means showing that you're the toughest s.o.b. around. So when radical Shiite militiamen attacked a police station in Najaf, the new prime minister called on U.S. Marines to crush the rebellion. Planes bombed and strafed, and infantrymen blasted their way across a vast cemetery last week, flushing out enemies who hid amid tombs and catacombs. Before long, soldiers battled militiamen in a half-dozen cities across the south. By the time truce talks collapsed on Saturday, several hundred Iraqis and six Americans were already dead.Allawi struck on other fronts, too. He banned reporting by the Arabic news channel Al Jazeera for a month, saying that it was fomenting violence. Then one of his judges issued an arrest warrant for Ahmad Chalabi, a key political rival, for counterfeiting Iraqi dinars. (Denying the charge, Chalabi spokesman Haidar al-Musawi said, "This is the dirtiest, ugliest, stupidest conspiracy I...
  • 'We Pray the Insurgents Will Achieve Victory'

    The kidnapping and beheading of foreign workers has become the latest and most effective weapon in the arsenal of Iraq's growing insurgency. Since April, dozens of foreigners have been kidnapped, including a growing number of truck drivers working for companies providing services to the U.S - led coalition. This week, four Lebanese truck drivers disappeared. (In an odd twist on the phenomenon, a video aired on the Internet that purportedly showed an American being decapitated in Iraq was revealed to be a hoax.)United States military commanders believe the kidnapping rings are operating largely out of the restive town of Fallujah in Iraq's troubled Sunni Triangle where suspected Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi also may be hiding. The grisly nature of the beheadings, and the disastrous effect of the kidnappings on Iraq's economy have led many Iraqis to insist that the presence of foreign jihadi fighters in their midst is creating internal divisions within the insurgency...
  • WORST LADY?

    Soft music and idle chatter fill the air in the small but classy restaurant in an upscale Mexico City neighborhood. Suddenly, the music stops and the room falls silent. A policeman appears, bugle in hand. Blasting a painfully atonal fanfare, he announces the arrival of the First Lady of Mexico. As the audience breaks into applause, a petite, sharply dressed woman enters the room... he-e-e-e-e-r-e's Marta! She walks to center stage to address the crowd, but her triumphal entrance is marred by a critical miscalculation: she cannot see over the podium. So begins the stand-up comedy routine of Raquel Pankowsky, impersonator extraordinaire of Marta Sahagun de Fox.With over-the-top haughtiness and a faintly ludicrous lisp that muddles half her words, Marta Segun, the First Lady's satirical alter ego, launches into a whirlwind monologue, stopping to examine every point of her melodramatic life. In between musical interludes and lofty allusions to her patriotism, "Marta" delves into her...
  • LATIN AMERICA LAGS BEHIND

    Early one Sunday morning last month, the residents of Jiutepec, Mexico, were rocked from their slumber by the ongoing siege against capitalist democracy in Latin America. Bombs exploded simultaneously at three large, foreign-controlled banks in the small city. A fourth was later discovered in the local offices of HSBC, Europe's largest bank. The next day a left-wing revolutionary group claimed responsibility and issued a warning to President Vicente Fox. "Our commander detonated four explosives in banks with foreign capital," it read. "Fox has tried to turn the nation into a private business."Mounting anger has so far only foiled Fox's plans for economic reform. But four of the 18 democratically elected governments in Latin America have fallen to protests fueled by economic discontent since 2000, one every year for the last four years. The tumult began with the surprise victory of a self-styled heir to Simon Bolivar, Hugo Chavez, whose reign in Venezuela has turned politics into a...
  • LETTER FROM MEXICO

    I walked around the main square of San Juan Chamula several times before noticing something odd. The little town is plastered with the signature curlicues of the world's most recognized brand: Coca-Cola. But it wasn't the ads themselves that startled me; you see those in every far-flung, war-torn corner of the globe. Rather, it was the way Coke has been absorbed into a weird social ritual.Mexico is the world's largest consumer of soft drinks, by a factor of about three to one. (The United States is No. 2.) But here in the southern province of Chiapas, Coca-Cola is more than just a fizzy drink. Around the square in San Juan Chamula, groups of indigenous Indian men, wearing the traditional black wool vests of the Tzotziles, sit around white plastic tables, talking quietly. Each has in front of him a 12-ounce glass bottle of "agua negra," as they often call it, which they drink slowly and earnestly, holding in the other hand the long wooden sticks, known as toletes, that in Chiapas...
  • ONLY WAY TO COMMUNICATE

    Twenty-two-year-old Hasanen Nawfal studies computer science at a private college in Baghdad, but he may be learning more on the streets. He and his buddies honed their computer skills looking for ways to circumvent the censorship of Saddam Hussein. When most Web services were banned, they accessed the Internet by hacking into the government network. Now they've picked up a new hobby: "war driving," or stealing other people's wireless bandwidth while driving past with a laptop. The practice has become popular among Baghdad's increasingly high-tech denizens. "Hijacking wireless networks has become a bad habit for us," says Nawfal. "All you need is to be about 100 meters away from the target access point," he says. "Then you sniff and decode the packets."Baghdad's worsening security has crippled efforts to reconstruct fixed-line telephone networks--only about a third of the million or so lines have been restored--to say nothing of complicated fiber and cable systems. Cell phones and to...
  • Carlos Fuentes

    On May 1, Cuba's Fidel Castro alienated most of the last few allies he has left. After being condemned at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva last month, the irascible dictator blasted the European Union as "a mafia" and even the Mexicans as "hypocrites." The outburst produced a backlash of its own: Mexico (as well as Peru) recalled its ambassador, further isolating the Caribbean island and prompting fresh speculation about Castro's future. Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes suffered his own break with Castro four decades ago, though he disagreed with the U.N. censure. He spoke of the Cuban leader's deepening isolation last week with NEWSWEEK's Scott Johnson. Excerpts:Johnson: You've spoken out against Castro for decades.Fuentes: Since 1966, when Pablo Neruda and I went to a PEN Writers Conference in New York. Arthur Miller had obtained visas for writers and intellectuals from the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc. Neruda and I celebrated this as a triumph. Immediately the Cuban...
  • THE DARK ROAD AHEAD

    The video sells for less than $1 at any market in Baghdad. On the soundtrack of the amateurishly edited disk, a raw, wailing male voice sings to a Sufi melody often heard at Iraqi funerals, with new words grafted to the old tune: "We salute the brave people of Fallujah, who dared to stand up to the Americans... Our country has fallen into the hands of the Americans, and we need brave men to slaughter the occupiers." The paean--about a showdown between Iraqi protesters and U.S. soldiers during the early days of the occupation--is accompanied by grainy footage pirated from a copy of "Black Hawk Down," director Ridley Scott's retelling of the disastrous 1993 U.S. intervention in Somalia. As the video nears its end, the singer's words grow steadily more excited: "They [the Americans] were left on the ground. No one came to help them... All Arabs are talking of our bravery!" The helicopter of the movie's title is hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. Debris flies everywhere, and the bloody,...