From Iraq and back - Page 4

Omar Fekeiki's work with the Washington Post in his native country brought him death threats and a rare ticket to UC Berkeley. So why does he want to return?
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He hid in the Post office for four days until he could catch a flight to Amman, Jordan, where he waited two more weeks for his ticket to the States.

LOOKING BACK

Just three months after he left Iraq for Berkeley, he received a phone call from his aunt, telling him that a recent raid of an insurgent house had turned up a "to kill" list for assassins. Fekeiki's name was near the top.

It's incomprehensible to many that he'd want to be back in Baghdad, but to a seasoned war correspondent, it's not entirely unbelievable. Chris Hedges spent 15 years as a foreign bureau chief for the New York Times covering conflicts around the world and is the author of the 2002 book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. He describes the typical war reporter as an "adrenaline junkie," hooked on a certain kind of bravado. "They're people who don't have a good capacity to remember their own fear," he told the Guardian.

"The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living," Hedges wrote in the introduction to his book.

"I never felt safe, but I always felt productive," Fekeiki said. "If I wanted productive or safe, I chose productive. I never thought about being safe or not. That's why I was the only Iraqi in the Washington Post to embed with the military and Marines, because the others feared for their lives. I did fear for my life. I just didn't let it stop me. If I fear for my life, I shouldn't be a journalist in Iraq."

In one sense the war was a blessing for Fekeiki. Before the war began in 2003, he says, "I didn't have a future."

Although he had a college degree in English language and literature from Al-Turath University College, he was denied admission to grad school at Baghdad University. "He doesn't meet the security requirements," Fekeiki quotes wryly from the code language of the blacklist, for his family doesn't play nice with Hussein's.

Fekeiki supported the American invasion, and once the war began he had no intention of leaving. After Hussein's regime was eradicated, he knew that smart young people with local knowledge and solid English skills would be in high demand from American businesses, reconstruction contractors, and government workers.

"My last thought was to leave Iraq after the invasion, because here's a country that needs to be rebuilt. We'll have all the foreign companies working in Iraq. I'll use the language I studied for four years, English, and I'll have the best job in Iraq," he recalled.

And eventually, he did. Offers came in from the New York Times for double his Post salary and from Fox News for triple, but he admired the ethics of the Post, which made a point of encouraging its Iraqi writers and crediting their work, so he stuck with that paper.

Fekeiki found more than money and a ticket out of the crippled country. He found his calling. His enthusiasm for his job at the Post sounds like that of a classic American workaholic.

"I miss my office," he said, remembering his desk at the center of the newsroom. "I called it the throne. I spent at least 14 hours a day there, for two years, nonstop. Not one single day off. After two years, in theory, I had a chance to take a day off every week. I spent it in the office, not working but in the office with people."

"My only motivation now is that desk," he says. He hopes to return to it after school. "I'm going to help journalists in Iraq and the future of Iraq."

Without this thought, he says, "I don't think I'd be able to endure what I'm going through now. It's just dull. The boredom is hard. In Baghdad I had fun not knowing what was going to happen every day.