Asked to provide an assessment of life is for ordinary Iraqis on the third anniversary of the start of the war, on Monday's ABC's World News Tonight and NBC Nightly News, Dan Harris and Richard Engel provided different pictures. ABC's Harris conveyed more bad than good, but acknowledged some hope expressed by an Iraqi family. NBC's Engel, however, stuck exclusively to the negative. “Iraqis today show a range of complex, competing emotions,” Harris relayed as he profiled a family in which “the question of whether Iraq is better off three years later provokes debate” with the 15-year-old daughter pleased that “toppling the regime made Iraq free.” After relating how a man in a long gas line maintained such a line “never would have happened under Saddam,” Harris pressed him: “Would you really rather have Saddam back, or long gas lines? 'We don't want Saddam. But we need a better economy and more security.'” Harris concluded with how the family expresses “the same, seemingly contradictory emotions, so common in Iraq today. They sometimes miss the days of Saddam, but don't want him back. They want the Americans to get out, but just not yet.”
A more dire Engel began with how “since the U.S. invasion, there has not been a single day without mortar fire, car bombings, or IED attacks. This is not the world Afrah wanted to bring her daughter into.” Engel highlighted how callers to a radio show “complain about kidnapings, police death squads and murders between Sunnis and Shiites." He concluded with how one man told him that “when he leaves his house in the morning...he tells his family he might not see them again." Engel proceeded to tell anchor Campbell Brown about how “my closest Iraqi friend” thinks “his country is now lost." (Transcripts follow.)
ABC's World News Tonight devoted its entire air time to the third anniversary of the war, while CBS and ABC dedicated their first four stories to the subject.
Dan Harris began his March 20 World News Tonight piece, from Iraq, in which he narrated what Iraqi's told him:
“After invasion and elections, new freedoms and new terrors, Iraqis today show a range of complex, competing emotions. Three years ago, the Methboub family rode out the invasion in this small, spare apartment. Today, the question of whether Iraq is better off three years later provokes debate. Amal, who's 15, says toppling the regime made Iraq free. Her mother says 'I wish the war never happened.' We first met Karima Methboub before Iraq's elections. She told us then she would risk her life to vote. Now, with politicians still fighting over forming a government, she says she's disappointed. 'They haven't changed the situation at all.'
“The situation for many here has worsened. Since the war, millions of Iraqis no longer have drinkable water. In Baghdad, there's electricity for fewer than eight hours a day, compared to 18 before. And in a country with so much oil, today there are unfathomably long gas lines.
Harris to a man in gas line: “Why did you bring all your children? 'I thought the gas station workers would feel bad for me and put in the front of the line. But my plan failed.' Right here [Harris sitting on car hood] where we are, we're about a half mile, maybe a mile, away from the actual gas station. Sometimes, people wait on line for 4 hours, sometimes 12 hours. Sometimes they even camp out overnight. [Harris sitting in a car with a man] Do you think it was a good idea that the Americans came? 'No,' says Omar, a college student. 'And the best sign of that is this line, which never would have happened under Saddam.' Would you really rather have Saddam back, or long gas lines? 'We don't want Saddam. But we need a better economy and more security.'
“Security is the biggest issue for Iraqis, including the Methboub family. Amal only leaves the apartment to go to school. Days ago, a bomb killed three of Karima's friends. Before the war, fear in Iraq came from one source: Saddam Hussein. Iraqis wouldn't dare say anything critical to a reporter. Usually falling back on pro-Saddam chants [video]. Now, Iraqis are clamming up for a different reason -- fear of angering any number of violent groups. We recently met a woman who was there when Saddam's statue was pulled down. Three years later, she would only tell us how touching that moment was, if we covered her face.
Harris concluded: “Since the war, the Methboub family has known good times, including the marriage of a daughter. However, they express the same, seemingly contradictory emotions, so common in Iraq today. They sometimes miss the days of Saddam, but don't want him back. They want the Americans to get out, but just not yet. Dan Harris, ABC News, Baghdad.”
From Iraq, Richard Engel, over video of fires in the aftermath of explosions, opened his March 20 NBC Nightly News piece:
“Few Iraqis imagined that three years after the war began, Iraq would still look like this. Since the U.S. invasion, there has not been a single day without mortar fire, car bombings, or IED attacks. This is not the world Afrah wanted to bring her daughter into [video of mother with baby]. Miriam is only 20 minutes old. Yet already her mother is worried about her future. Afrah is a Shiite. Her husband Khalil, a Sunni. The couple was so optimistic after the fall of Baghdad, they married two months later. Today Khalil says he worries every car could have a bomb. And with a curfew in place from 8 till dawn, he doesn't know what he'll do if Miriam gets sick at night and needs a doctor. 'I don't want to have any more children,' Khalil says. 'Things are getting worse and worse.' Fears about the future is something Ahmed Rukabi hears about all the time. After Saddam fell, Rukabi returned from Europe to set up Radio Dijla, Iraq's first free radio station. Now his callers complain about kidnapings, police death squads and murders between Sunnis and Shiites.”
Rukabi: “Anyone could be a target. A hairdresser is a target in Iraq today. The garbage collector in the street is a target. The butchers are targets.”
Engel, over video of men dragging palm trees into the street: “Every day just before dark the palm trees come out in al-Amieriya and this Sunni neighborhood turns into a fortress. Residents have long been proud of their palms that for generations supplied them with dates. Now they're checkpoints, to keep out insurgents and rogue militias. Residents say they have no other choice. 'The Police don't come here,' he says. At 8pm across Baghdad, in a Shiite neighborhood, Ahmed Saadi is a one-man patrol. Armed, watching his house, signaling to neighbors if any unknown people are around. Inside, Ahmed has set up a hiding place. 'I've put blankets and ammunition in here,' he says. 'And I can escape with this ladder.'
[Over video of amusement rides] “This amusement park is almost the only place where children can escape. [video of smiling people] And even their parents seem to forget where they are. But only for a moment. One Iraqi man who had two young daughters with him at that amusement park told us that like many people here, when he leaves his house in the morning, Campbell, he tells his family he might not see them again. Campbell?”
Anchor Campbell Brown: “And Richard, you've been there a long time. You have a lot of Iraqi friends and colleagues. Are they telling you the same thing?”
Engel: “Unfortunately they are. I was struck by one particular story, I was told by perhaps my closest Iraqi friend. He was with me throughout the period of the war. We were there together, in the square, when the statue of Saddam was being pulled down. He just thought this was the greatest thing in the world. A young university student who thought he had an incredible future ahead of him. Last week in Sadr City he was standing on line waiting to donate blood when a stranger came in, someone from outside the neighborhood, and local militias who were patrolling the streets were suspicious of this person, wrestled him to the ground and realized he was wearing a suicide belt. Then they executed him right in front of him. He thinks his country is now lost.”