Dexter Filkins is the greatest war correspondent of my generation, and I would say this even if we weren't friends. We've reported together on occasion; Dexter knows better than anyone how to work your way into bad places, and work your way out again. He's also the author of a great new book, coming out imminently from Knopf, called "The Forever War." I e-mailed him some questions about his Times story today, and here are his answers:
Jeffrey Goldberg: In a review in the Times today, Michiko Kakutani quotes Farnaz Fassihi writing in 2004: "The genie of terrorism, chaos, and mayhem has been unleashed onto this country as a result of American mistakes, and it can't be put back into a bottle." The question is, is the genie back in the bottle?
Dexter Filkins: Yes, it is, for now. The progress here is remarkable. I came back to Iraq after
being away for nearly two years, and honestly, parts of it are difficult for me
to recognize. The park out in front of the house where I live--on the Tigris
River--was a dead, dying, spooky place. It's now filled with people--families
with children, women walking alone, even at night. That was inconceivable in
2006. The Iraqis who are out there walking in the parks were making their own
judgments that it is safe enough for them to go out for a walk. They're voting
with their feet. It's a wonderful thing to see.
Having said that, it's pretty clear that the calm is very fragile. The calm is built on a series of arrangements that are not self-sustaining; indeed, some of which, like the Sunni Awakening, are showing signs of coming apart. So the genie is back in the bottle, but I'm not sure for how long.