Skip to main content

Jazz 2005: Kevin Whitehead's Top 10

For lovers of jazz music, the year 2005 brought a wealth of reissues by critical artists from Jelly Roll Morton to John Coltrane.

08:46

Other segments from the episode on December 21, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 21, 2005: Interview with Dexter Filkins; Review of best Jazz recordings of 2005.

Transcript

DATE December 21, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Dexter Filkins, Baghdad correspondent for The New
York Times, discusses the Iraqi elections and the political
situation in the country
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Dexter Filkins, is a Baghdad correspondent for The New York Times.
He's been covering Iraq since the start of the invasion in 2003. Earlier this
year, he won a George Polk Award for war reporting. Yesterday, I spoke with
Filkins just before he caught a plane that would begin his journey back to
Baghdad. It was the end of a two-day trip to the US that he made after
covering last Thursday's election. We asked him to talk with us about the
election and the impact it could have on the insurgency and the American
presence in Iraq. This was the first election for a full-term parliament
since the end of Saddam Hussein's rule.

Dexter Filkins, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

Where were you on election day and why did you choose that spot?

Mr. DEXTER FILKINS (The New York Times): I was in Baghdad where I'm based
and I was able to drive to various neighborhoods around the city. There was
basically no traffic allowed anywhere in the country for security reasons for
a couple days each side of the election, and you could drive if you had sort
of a special, you know, big decal that you put on your windshield so that when
you came to a checkpoint they wouldn't shoot at you.

What was really, really different was I went to Kadhamiya, which is a big
Sunni neighborhood sort of in the northern part of Baghdad, and ordinarily,
honestly, I can't go to a neighborhood like that. I'm not really sure that I
would live very long in a neighborhood like that. And I was able to go on
Thursday and it was peaceful, it was quiet, people were voting as opposed to
January in the first elections nobody voted. The streets were empty. It was
kind of spooky. There were death threats all over the place. There were
handbills saying, `If you vote, you die.' And this time around, it was, you
know, just like every other place in the city. So it was really encouraging.
People were waving. They were bringing their families with them, you know,
pushing wheelchairs. So it was quite something to see in that particular
neighborhood.

GROSS: Why were you safer in this Sunni city on election day than you would
be at any other time?

Mr. FILKINS: I don't know frankly. I think honestly the mood had changed
and it may only last for a day and it may be over now. But for that day,
there was a--the atmosphere was different. The people were different and it's
really hard to explain. And--I mean, the easy thing to say would be that
there were, you know, 400,000 American and Iraqi troops and police out on the
streets, you know, of the country and they locked it down and so things were
much safer. And that was definitely part of it, that the people felt secure
enough to go out and to vote. But I think that there was something more
intangible and probably more important going on which is people's outlook
changed and they wanted to vote and they saw that there was reason to vote and
that, you know, they might actually get something out of it. And so that's
what I think had changed. That's what I felt and that's what--it's certainly
what people on the streets told me, that it seemed different this time.

GROSS: Well, you write that a lot of Iraqi Shiites and a lot of Kurds believe
that the Sunnis elected to the parliament could end up serving as a kind of
political wing for the insurgency, kind of like what Sinn Fein was for the
IRA. So what leads people to believe that?

Mr. FILKINS: Well, there's just so much suspicion, you know, among all the
communities there and there really isn't any expectation among Iraqis or the
American military there that the insurgency is going to go away. And I think
there isn't really an expectation in the Sunni community that the insurgency
is going to go away. And so I think what people are seeing is kind of a
two-track thing and it just depends. I mean, it just depends on how it works
out in practice. When, say, you get a big bloc of Sunni Arabs in the
parliament, what are they going to do? Are they going to try to work
constructively and pass legislation that they want and try to help their
community and try to amend the constitution, which they don't like, or are
they simply going to obstruct and block and essentially be a political front
for the insurgency? And nobody really knows, you know, and we'll see when the
time comes. But that's certainly the fear on the part of a good deal of the
other Iraqis.

GROSS: So the fact that a lot of Sunnis showed up to vote is not necessarily
a sign that the insurgency is going to end.

Mr. FILKINS: No, it's not. I mean, it's not--not immediately. I think that
there is a sense--and, again, these things are really, really intangible and
they're hard to measure, but there's certainly a sense in the American
military. And if you talk to the Sunnis themselves, and this is what's really
important, I got a sense that there is something of a gap between, say, the
mainstream civilian Sunni population and the insurgents. And
particularly--maybe not, you know, what they would refer to as the sort of
nationalist insurgency but with the gap between them and the Zarqawis and the
car bombers and the people who do suicide bombings in big areas populated by
civilians that there's kind of a distance that's growing between them. And it
might only be, you know, three inches but it might be six feet but that
there's a gap. And so I think that to the extent that there is a gap, whether
it's the Americans or the Iraqi government, they want to make the gap bigger.
They want to separate the insurgency even if it's only part of the insurgency
from the rest of the Sunni population to bring the Sunnis into the democratic
process.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Dexter Filkins. He's a Baghdad
correspondent for The New York Times and he's just been in the states a couple
of days and he's about to fly back to Iraq.

Well, so far, according to preliminary results, the main Shiite coalition is
in the lead as was expected. The Sunnis are demanding a new ballot for
Baghdad. They think there were too many irregularities in the vote. I know
you've been in the states for the past couple of days, but what have you heard
about this?

Mr. FILKINS: Well, immediately--I mean, I was there on election day and
there for a couple days after, and all through the day on election day and
afterwards there were a zillion allegations of fraud and, you know, ballot
stuffing and that sort of thing. And, you know, those things are impossible
to prove immediately, but, you know, there is a certain amount of discontent.
But I think that--I mean, this is a good time to mention but I think one of
the things that you notice or that you run into all the time, and I think it
underlies one of the biggest problems in Iraq right now, is that the Sunni
minority, which by virtually any kind of expert opinion is a minority, 15
percent or 20 percent of the population, but nonetheless they ran the country
for hundreds of years in one way or another. If you talk to a typical Sunni
person on the street, they will tell you and I think they firmly believe that
they're a majority of the population. And they don't think they're a
minority. They certainly don't act like a minority. And so I think that it's
going to be surprising and possibly embittering to them when they don't get a
majority of the seats in parliament. And so I think there may be some of that
at work at the moment.

GROSS: So the Shiite coalition that is in the lead so far in the
parliamentary elections in Iraq, what's its agenda?

Mr. FILKINS: That's a really big and important question. The answer is kind
of elusive. You know, if you ask them--if somebody like me asks them what
their agenda is, you know, they'll say it's a mostly secular state with kind
of an Islamic flavor with no outside interference and, you know, with civil
rights for all, including women and with, you know, participation from the
Sunnis and everybody else. But I think that there's a lot of suspicion and a
lot of doubts about those assertions. And I think that there's a lot of
different concerns depending on who you are. You know, the Americans I know
are concerned about Iranian influence. You know, the big Shiite parties are
thought to be and probably are, you know, funded by the Iranian government. A
lot of the militiamen have been trained there and get support from the
Iranians. And that's not viewed generally by anybody else in Iraq, except for
the Shiites, as a really positive influence. I mean, that's one thing.

And then the whole other question, of course, is how Islamic they want the
state to be. And nobody really knows. But if you go to a place like Basra or
some place in southern Iraq, places like that which are under control and have
been under local control of these parties, they're very heavily Islamic just
when you walk down the streets and you see all the women in abayas and just,
you know, with their head covered and most of their face. And so, you know, I
think the evidence makes some people nervous.

But if I could just say, I think the biggest concern about the Shiite
coalition is if they come into power what that's going to mean for the Sunnis
because, you know, goal number one, I think, of the Iraqi government now and
certainly the American government is to bring the Sunnis in and to give them a
stake in the system. And I think that there's a general concern that that's
going to be less likely to happen if these guys are in power, that the Sunnis
are not going to want to sit across the table from the Shiite coalition. And,
for that matter, the Shiite coalition doesn't want to sit across the table
from the Sunnis. You know, they don't like each other. They've got too much
history. There's too much--you know, it's an awful history. There was a lot
of death and that they just don't--you know, that they're not going to be able
to see eye to eye on things. And so that's the biggest concern about the
Shiite coalition.

GROSS: You say that, you know, the Shiites are considered to be aligned with
Iran, possibly backed by Iran. Recently police seized a tanker truck that was
headed from Iran to Iraq with thousands of forged ballots. So how do you
interpret that? Like how significant is that and have you learned anything
beneath the surface about that?

Mr. FILKINS: Well, I mean, the context for it is just that there's a web of
contacts, you know, kind of a support network between the Iranian government
and the big Shiite parties. Dawa is one. There's another one, the Supreme
Council. Those are the two big Shiite parties and, you know, they've got a
history. The Supreme Council, all their leadership spent time in Iran. Same
with Dawa. The big armed militia, the Badr Brigade, was trained in Iran and
actually fought in Iran against the Iraqis in the Iran-Iraq War. So there's a
history there and there's a kind of web of connections.

Now, you know, how many ballots came in the country and how many were actually
used? I don't know but I think it's an illustration of the interest that the
Iranian government has in having their friends in charge.

GROSS: My guest is Dexter Filkins, a Baghdad correspondent for The New York
Times. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Dexter Filkins, a Baghdad correspondent for The New York
Times. We're talking about last Thursday's parliamentary election in Iraq
which Filkins covered.

It just is great that so many people turned out to vote, but the election,
depending on how it works out, can it actually have a divisive effect on Iraq
in the sense that--well, the Kurds want to have autonomy in the Kurdish area
and they want control, I think, of the oil in that area. So I'm sure the
Sunni and Shia do not approve of that. Are there various ways that the
election can turn out that would lead to further contention or splits or
possibly even civil war in Iraq?

Mr. FILKINS: Yeah. I mean, the short answer is yes. And, you know, when
you look back at their history, there's any number of civil wars that were
preceded by elections. And elections can--not necessarily--but they can
certainly have a way of sharpening the differences between communities. And
that's been happening in Iraq for--you know, ever since the invasion, for
better or for worse. You see that in so many different ways. I mean, the
most stark example of that, and probably the most troubling is, under the
current government, which is Shiite-dominated, there's been a growing number
of reports and really kind of the evidence for it is fairly overwhelming that
the armed Shiite militias have been incorporated into the security services
like the police and the Interior Ministry and that sort of thing and that
they've been going into Sunni neighborhoods and killing and kidnapping and
torturing and disappearing young Sunni men. Most of them are civilians--or
any number of whom are civilians. And that's really, really sharpened the
differences, you know, between those two communities. And that's the kind of
thing that's been happening. So I think after the votes are counted here and
everybody's got to sit down, yeah, there's just gigantic differences that have
to be overcome, some of which have been kind of sharpened and clarified by
this election.

GROSS: Do the different parties have their own militia?

Mr. FILKINS: Most of them do. Most of them do. I mean, for example, both
the big Kurdish parties have their militias, the peshmerga. The Badr Brigade
is the Iranian-trained militia of the Supreme Council. Moqtada al-Sadr, who
has, you know, any number of--will probably capture a lot of parliamentary
seats after the votes are counted. He has the Mahdi Army. And it's really
a--you know, in any kind of functioning modern state, the central government
has a monopoly on the use of force and that's not really true in Iraq. And
it's not true at all. And so it's a prescription potentially for, you know,
terrible, terrible troubles down the road. And so, yeah, they all do have
their militias is the short answer.

GROSS: And I guess groups don't like to give up their militias very easily?

Mr. FILKINS: No, they don't. They don't. There's been, you know, any
number of, you know, plans and programs that are kind of, you know, big thick
reports about how they're going to do it and it's never really happened. And
I think one of the things that has happened, which I alluded to a few minutes
ago, was that some of the militias have just gone straight into the police
departments and straight into the Interior Ministry and into the army. And so
the allegiances now are kind of blurred. So it's a question of: Who's, you
know, Akmed(ph), the police officer, taking orders from? Is he taking orders
from the police chief or is he still really taking orders from, you know, his
militia commander who he spent 15 years with and, you know, trained in Iran
and they've been fighting together in various ways and have a long history
together? Who's he taking orders from? And, you know, will he be loyal to
the state or will he be loyal to the party? And so that's how complicated and
troubling it is.

GROSS: What are some of the possible ways that the outcome of the election
might affect the future of America's presence in Iraq? I mean, do some of the
groups--like does the Shiite coalition want America out as soon as possible?

Mr. FILKINS: The Shiite coalition, no. I mean, they might sort of say it
occasionally and, you know, throw a bone to the crowd but no. The short
answer is no. I think that the Sunni minority and however many seats they end
up with in parliament--I don't know, you know, say 50 out of 275 seats--they
definitely do. And so, you know, maybe there would be a coalition government
where they would have to temper some of the language or that--there'd be some
kind of concession, but the short answer is there isn't among the leadership
in Iraq and among the political elites almost across the board much appetite
for ordering the Americans out. I think these days, at least in Iraq, what it
feels like is that the Americans want to leave and it's not really all that
clear that the Iraqis want them to--I mean, the Iraqi politicians. I mean,
you know, on the street, it's a different matter.

So I think what you're going to see is over the next--the next year is going
to be really, really interesting because as the Iraqi security services and
the army become more competent, there's obviously a growing political pressure
in the United States for the American soldiers to come home. And so I think
what you're going to see and what we have been seeing is the Americans kind of
pushing the Iraqis to the front and saying, `It's time for you to take over,
and if you don't take over, you know, we're going to sit down anyway. So you
better take over 'cause we're leaving.' And that's kind of what you're seeing
at the moment. Whether the Americans actually leave or not, that's what
they're trying to do at the moment.

GROSS: In American TV news coverage of the voting last Thursday in Iraq,
there were pictures of women wearing the abaya, the full body cover, going to
the polls to vote. And are more women covering themselves like that now? Are
things becoming more conservative for women and women's rights in Iraq?

Mr. FILKINS: Yes, they are. There's no question. I mean, I think if you're
a secular woman who--you know, a professional woman educated, I think you feel
like your life is a lot tougher than it's been, you know, over the last couple
of years because things are changing. And I think if--I think the general
trend and the atmosphere there is much more conservative vis-a-vis women. I
mean, if you look at the constitution that was just approved, there's some
language in there that I think again educated secular women find very, very
troubling stuff, for example, that appears to allow, you know, clerics to
decide matters of marriage and divorce and inheritance and adoption and those
sorts of things. Yeah, so I think it's--I think that, you know--and I know
some of them. You know, secular, educated women are feeling pretty embattled
these days.

GROSS: Do you think that some secular educated women are going to be leaving
Iraq because of this?

Mr. FILKINS: It's funny you say that. I--there's a--I can only call her a
friend because I've know her for so long--Raja Khuzai, who's an obstetrician,
a Shiite woman, practiced medicine in London from Diwaniah, which is an almost
entirely Shiite city in southern Iraq, and I've known her since the beginning
and she's a wonderful person. And she's very secular and very educated and
very articulate. And she--I interviewed her not long after the constitution
was, you know, fixed and agreed upon. And she said, `This is not what I've
fought for and this is not what I imagined in the new Iraq, and there really
isn't any reason for me to stay anymore.' And that was a couple months ago
and I haven't seen her around and I don't frankly know where she is. And so
I'll make it a point when I go back to look around for her but I think that's
a kind of measure of, I think, what women like that are feeling.

GROSS: And do you think if many secular women left Iraq that it would make it
easier for women's rights to be diminished 'cause there wouldn't be active
women fighting against it?

Mr. FILKINS: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, if you take somebody like
Raja Khuzai, she--you know, that's priority number one for her and she raises
her voice and she's not afraid to and she's not afraid to fight for what she
wants. And, yeah--and if every time you lose somebody like that, yeah, I
think, sure, their cause is diminished as well.

GROSS: Dexter Filkins is a Baghdad correspondent for The New York Times. Our
interview was recorded late yesterday afternoon just before he returned to
Iraq. We'll hear more of the interview in the second half of the show. I'm
Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

(Announcements)

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Coming up, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews several boxed sets
that he recommends as gifts, and we'll continue our conversation with New
York Times Baghdad correspondent Dexter Filkins.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Dexter Filkins, a
Baghdad correspondent for The New York Times.

He's been covering Iraq since the start of the invasion in March 2003. After
covering last Thursday's parliamentary election in Iraq, he came to the States
for a two-day trip. I spoke with him late yesterday afternoon just before he
started his trip back to Baghdad.

I think that many people assume that Iraq was a pretty secular country. Maybe
that was, in part, because Saddam Hussein was comparatively secular or not
terribly religious, although he seemed to get a kind of religious rebirth in
his last period in power. But is Iraq turning out to be more religious than a
lot of people thought?

Mr. FILKINS: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think--you know, as for Saddam, I
mean, the Baath Party was a product of, you know, this kind of--this movement
in the '50s and '60s that was basically Arab nationalist. It's secular.
It's--you know, it was anti-Communist then, secular nationalistic and not
terribly religious at all. But, you know, again, that was the Baath Party and
particularly Saddam; that was largely a Sunni Arab phenomenon. That's a small
percentage of the population.

And meanwhile, you've got, you know, probably 60 percent of the population,
which is very, very religious and repressed for many, many years--many
centuries really--and so--and of--being of the same sect, which is to say,
Shiite, as Iran next door. And so when the lid was taken off of that and it
was allowed to flourish, it did and I think that's what we're seeing.

GROSS: In a recent article you quoted President Bush as having said we would,
quote, "settle for nothing less than complete victory," unquote. And then you
said `When the president promises nothing less than complete victory over the
Iraqi insurgency, the proliferation of militant groups offers perhaps the best
explanations as to why the insurgency has been so hard to destroy.' And in
this article you just kind of listed a whole bunch of different insurgency
groups and said that estimates are as high as a hundred different insurgent
groups. Why is it significant that there are so many different insurgent
groups?

Mr. FILKINS: Well, if you look at a--you know, if you imagine a typical
military structure--you know, if you had to draw it, it would be, you know, it
would be a triangle. It would be--there's the general at the top and then
there's all the troops at the bottom and then they kind of execute orders and
the job gets done. And that's not what this insurgency looks like at all.
It's a very flat, kind of horizontal thing and the effect of that is--I mean,
by flat and horizontal I mean that there's not much of a leadership. There's
not much of a hierarchy. It's a bunch of different more or less independent
cells or groups that more or less operate on their own. You know, they get
help and they get money and they get suicide bombers that come in from outside
the country and that sort of thing, but for the most part they operate on
their own.

And what that means is, if you're the American military, is if you attack a
group, you know, whether it's a--you know, the East Baqubah, you know, Jihadi
Lions or something and you find that group and you destroy that group, it
doesn't really mean all that much. It doesn't mean--beyond that group, it
doesn't mean anything at all, or it means very little because all these groups
operate more or less independently of one another. So you can't really take
the head off the thing because there isn't much of a head. And so it's just a
much more diffuse--it's a much more diffuse thing to attack. And it's almost
as if it was built with, you know, survivability in mind. But I think it's
just a much more--it's just a much more complicated kind of phenomenon that
they're fighting.

GROSS: What do they have in common?

Mr. FILKINS: Well, what they all really share is--first, is a desire to get
the Americans out of Iraq. I mean, after that I think there's not, you know,
there's much less agreement. I mean, some of them want to set up, you know,
an Islamic state and some of them would like to return, you know, Saddam
Hussein to power. Some of them would probably quit fighting if the Americans
left. That--those are the--so that's the main thing that unites them.

GROSS: In his speech on Sunday night, President Bush said, `My fellow
citizens, not only can we win the war in Iraq, we are winning the war in
Iraq.' And I'm wondering how much you've been speaking to military leaders in
Iraq and how what they tell you compares to what the president has been
telling the American public?

Mr. FILKINS: Well, they--when you talk to American officers there, by and
large, they're very, very realistic. You don't usually hear a lot of
high-flown rhetoric, you know, or high-flown remarks. But it's more--it's
much more sober and reasoned. But I'd say I think--I don't know what they
would say about we are winning the war. I would think--I think that they
would say we can win the war and the war is still winnable. And they--I think
most of them--most of the ones that I've talked to firmly and absolutely
believe that. I think they'd be probably a little bit more cautious about the
progress that's been made to date.

GROSS: The president also said `In this vote 6,000 miles away, in a vital
region of the world, means that America has an ally of growing strength in the
fight against terror.' Does this election ensure that the new government will
be an ally of the United States?

Mr. FILKINS: Yeah, I think it--this election will put a parliament--it'll
seat a parliament that--with a term of four years, and I think by pretty much
any combination you can imagine over the next four years--any government that
will come out of that parliament is going to want the Americans to stay. It
doesn't mean that they're going to agree on everything but first and foremost
they're going to want the Americans there helping them build their new state.
And so, in that sense, yeah, I think that's a fair thing to say.

GROSS: Dexter Filkins is my guest. He's a Baghdad correspondent for The New
York Times and he's been in the States a couple of days and is about to go
back to Iraq tonight.

The last time you were on the show, which was in September, you talked about
how each time you returned to Iraq it's changed and each time you go there
your experiences of the place is different than it was the time before. What
has characterized this past couple of months for you?

Mr. FILKINS: I think what's characterized the last couple of months for me
is just there's a greater sense of uncertainty about where it's going and how
fast. It's such an incredibly complicated place. I wrote in a story a couple
days ago that it's a kaleidoscope and the election--when the election happened
the kaleidoscope turned again and it's a different pattern. And that's kind
of the way Iraq has been. You think you have it and you focus on it and
there's a picture there and then suddenly the picture blurs and it becomes
something else. And that's the way it's been this whole--I've been there for,
I don't know, eight or 10 weeks this last time, and that's--it's--the
kaleidoscope just keeps turning. And you say, `Is it getting better, is it
getting worse? Are things improving? How's it going?' And every day you ask
yourself that question and just about every day you get a different answer.

GROSS: Do you feel any more or less safe reporting?

Mr. FILKINS: Yeah, it's been pretty safe there. I--there were some
kidnappings there a few weeks back, but it hasn't--you know, a year ago it was
really bad for reporters and particularly with the kidnappings and, you know,
people were getting beheaded and that sort of thing. That was pretty--that
was a pretty spooky time. There was a coup--I should say there was a couple
of incidents that were very, very troubling. One was the triple truck
bombing--I don't think I've ever used that phrase before--of the Palestine and
the Sheraton hotels and then right, about a week after that or so, there was a
big truck bombing of the Hamra hotel. And those hotels are basically--I mean,
practically, their only inhabitants are journalists, and so it was pretty
clear--it was made pretty clear to everybody, all the reporters there, that
they were coming after us, you know.

And actually in the case of the Palestine and the Sheraton, you know, they
were trying to bring both of those big tall hotels down and they had a truck
bomb that blew open a hole in the concrete walls big enough for two more
trucks to go through, you know, probably one for each, you know, hotel lobby
to bring those hotels down. It didn't happen and they got kind of hung up,
but I should say they just missed. And at the Hamra it was much the same
thing and they just missed. And they did a lot of damage. The New York Times
house happens not to be terribly far--it's just a couple hundred yards
away--from the Palestine and the Sheraton, and all of our windows were blown
out. There was actually a smoking car radiator that landed in our yard and
shrapnel came into the house and everything else. It was a pretty crazy time.

But after--a couple weeks after the attack on the Sheraton and the Palestine,
there was a videotape surfaced, I think on one of the jihadi Web sites, that
was made before the attack on the Palestine and the Sheraton hotel and it
was--there was, literally, a PowerPoint presentation that one of these
insurgent guys was giving. And there was a big photograph of the towers, and,
at one point, he points to, I don't know, the fourth or fifth floor, of the
Palestine Hotel, and he says, `This is where the foreign journalists are.'
And so, you know, that got our attention. And so it's--in that sense it's
kind of creepy because, you know, they haven't made an effort like that in
some time to come after the foreign journalists, but it looks like that's
changing.

GROSS: So are reporters moving out of those hotels which have become targets?

Mr. FILKINS: They are. They are. I think a number of offices were--a
couple of offices of, you know, American newspapers were destroyed in that--in
the Hamra attack and I'm not sure in the Palestine. But, yeah, people are
definitely moving.

GROSS: Where?

Mr. FILKINS: Well, some of them going--unfortunately, they feel like they
have to go to the Green Zone, which is--you know, if you're a journalist it's
just not ideal because it's so hard to get in and out of. It takes forever.
You know, you're really not in the real Iraq and so it's just not ideal. And,
you know, anybody who does it doesn't really want to do it. And so, I think,
they're only doing it because they feel like they have to.

GROSS: So when you have your windows blown out after, you know, a car
bombing, and everybody else in the neighborhood has their windows blown out,
too, is it hard to get the windows replaced?

Mr. FILKINS: Well, we actually had Mylar--what's called Mylar on our windows.
And so a lot--they were--I think we had--we counted I think it was 109 panes
of glass were blown out, in one way or another, or shattered in the bombing.
But a lot of the windows--like in my bedroom, for example, which is a good
thing because it was facing the hotel--we had this stuff called Mylar, which
kind of--the window breaks but it doesn't shatter in quite the same way and it
doesn't blow out. And so it kind of lessens--you know, it lessens the amount
of glass that's flying through the air when windows come undone. But, no, you
can actually--all of our windows have been replaced, and, hopefully, that
won't happen again.

GROSS: My guest is Dexter Filkins, a Baghdad correspondent for The New York
Times. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Dexter Filkins, a Baghdad correspondent for The New York
Times.

Last month the Los Angeles Times reported that the Pentagon was covertly
placing pro-American stories in Iraqi news outlets. And I'm wondering if you
had any clue about that, if you read any of these stories that were actually
planted by the Pentagon and if you could--if you knew that or if you were
surprised to find that out?

Mr. FILKINS: No. I mean, I didn't but the--in terms of reading them, no, I
mean, these are things that go in, you know, Arabic newspapers. And I think,
you know, for the most part, they were pretty benign. I mean, it was, you
know, Captain Jones is putting the finishing touches on, you know, the school
he's just painted in, you know, eastern Baghdad. And, you know, that--I think
it was kind of more of that nature. And I don't know, maybe I have a slightly
different view about all of this, but, you know, the reality in Iraq is so
overwhelming for anyone who's there, and it sure is in Baghdad. It's so
utterly overwhelming that I kind of feel like you could set up or they--you
know, the American government could have set up a hundred-mile-long, you know,
movie screen and broadcast any kind of propaganda they wanted to and it
wouldn't have changed anybody's mind about anything. I mean, they're just too
immersed in the reality of the situation, you know, for that kind of thing to
make any kind of difference.

GROSS: Does a story like that--you know, the fact the Pentagon was placing
articles--pro-American articles--in newspapers and other news outlets in Iraq,
does that have an impact on you as an American journalist in Iraq? Do other
Iraqis look at you and think, `Well, maybe he's a plant, too. Maybe he's
getting paid by the government to say positive things'?

Mr. FILKINS: Not really. I mean, they kind of already think that anyway. I
mean, the typical...

GROSS: Well, that's great.

Mr. FILKINS: ...Iraqi doesn't make much of a distinction between, you know,
an American who looks like me and an American who is wearing a military
uniform or, you know, is a diplomat or a spy, for that matter. They kind
of--it's just one big thing. And it's one of the reasons, frankly, why we
reporters are in danger because those kinds of very basic distinctions that
anybody would appreciate here aren't made in that--and, you know, aren't made
in that country. So in that sense, no, it hasn't really affected what we do,
but it's for--you know, for reasons which are less obvious.

GROSS: You've been back in the States for basically a couple of days and
you're heading back tonight. Is that an odd position to be in? Because, you
know, if you're back in the States for a while, you can kind of get into a
different mind-set. But if you're back for a couple of days, maybe you can't
afford to really do that because you have to jump right back into the Iraq
mind-set right away. So have you been in a kind of like mental limbo in a
way?

Mr. FILKINS: Yeah. Well, I'm just trying to pretend like I'm not here, you
know. I'm just trying--I'm trying to stay in Iraq and I'm trying to--you
know, because it's usually, in addition to everything else it is, when you go
back to Iraq it's kind of depressing because it's very, very hard and it's
very cut off from the rest of the world and, you know, it's violent and you
have to be very, very careful. And so it's just kind of--you know, it's not
like a day at the beach. And so, you know, I've been kind of cranked up in
that mode for several weeks now, and so, right, I don't want to step out of
that just yet. So I'm--if you saw me walking down the street today maybe you
would have noticed but I'm just trying to stay in Iraq, like mentally, until I
get back and then, you know, a few more weeks and then I'll be out.

GROSS: Dexter Filkins, thank you very much and I wish you a safe trip back to
Baghdad. Thank you.

Mr. FILKINS: Thank you.

GROSS: Dexter Filkins is a Baghdad correspondent for The New York Times. I
spoke with him late yesterday afternoon at the end of a two-day trip to the
US.

Coming up, our jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews several boxed sets that he
recommends as gifts. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Jazz records of 2005
TERRY GROSS, host:

It's that time of year and, as usual, our jazz critic, Kevin Whitehead,
suggests some gifts to give jazz lovers. Some suggestions pricey, others not
so much.

(Soundbite of music)

KEVIN WHITEHEAD:

Looking back at the year's jazz records, 2005's major figure would have to be
you, the American taxpayer, who supports the Library of Congress. It had a
hand in two of the year's blockbusters. Rounder lavishly reissued Morton's
voluminous 1938 Library of Congress recordings, an oral history with music
that's catnip to anyone curious about jazz's early days. And a 1957 concert
recording by Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane discovered at the library last
winter became a runaway hit for Blue Note in the fall.

The alternative gift for Coltrane fans this year is another elusive live
recording from 1965. "One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note" on two CDs
from Verve. It catches his classic quartet in its late phase storming through
20-minute jams that made some folks fear Coltrane was tearing the music apart
from within. But his rhythm section still swings like mad propelled by Elvin
Jones' pushy cymbals. And Coltrane's marathon sax solos are always orderly.
In this bit, he keeps answering his own phrases, especially when he works in a
two-note screech like a shout from the choir. What are the holidays without
some religious fervor?

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: It's true there's no shortage of fiery 1965 Coltrane, but the
sound quality is better than on old bootleg editions. It's still a bit
scruffy. And if it takes a ballyhooed new release for folks to hear the power
of this once-controversial style, OK, then, consumers, do your duty.

For something equally classic but quieter there's a three-CD minibox
collecting pianist Bill Evans' celebrated recordings made at the Village
Vanguard one summer Sunday in 1961. The telepathy and subtlety of Evans' trio
with drummer Paul Motian and bassist Scott La Faro remade the jazz piano combo
and make for good holiday listening. Slip it on for dinner music and you can
zone in on that while zoning out small talk over the sweet potatoes.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: The selection for Columbia's four-CD set, "Progressions: 100
Years of Jazz Guitar," is wildly uneven. You get masters like Django
Reinhardt, Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery and Bill Frisell alongside a few
too many jazz rock time wasters. But the anthology evokes very well the fluid
boundaries of early jazz with Hawaiian and hillbilly guitarists contributing
to or drawing from the mix. And there's plenty of streamlined mainline jazz
guitar.

The second half skips willy-nilly over the last 35 years, making no more sense
of the period than Ken Burns did, but I like the idea that young pickers drawn
to John Scofield or Marc Ribot might discover Hank Garland or Derek Bailey. I
found one new favorite myself, the unclassifiable country, blues, Hawaiian,
jazz artist Casey Bill Weldon. Here he is in 1937.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. CASEY BILL WELDON (Singer): (Singing) Swing.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Right on.

Mr. WELDON: (Singing) Come on, let's swing.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Right on.

Mr. WELDON: (Singing) When they play...

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Right on.

Mr. WELDON: (Singing) ...that guitar swing. Yes, yeah. (Unintelligible),
Grandpa. Oh, yeah. ...(Unintelligible). Yes, yes. Yes, yes. Get out of
here. Yes, give me that, boy. Come on, Grandpa, and let's swing.

WHITEHEAD: Speaking of unclassifiable, one of the year's big pop boxes has a
substantial jazz angle: Ray Charles' "Pure Genius: The Complete Atlantic
Recordings 1952 to 1959." That's on eight CDs that come in the year's cutest
box, tricked up to look like a portable record player. Of course, Ray
brilliantly combined blues and gospel strengths like Bessie Smith three
decades earlier. But in the '50s, Charles also made an assortment of big and
small band jazz records, some much better than I knew. He had a good ear for
bebop piano, and on 1956's "Joyride" it sounds like he'd been checking out
blues and gospel-tinged Horace Silver.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: The jazz content in the Ray Charles box also includes meaty solos
by saxophonist Fathead Newman and vibrophonist Milt Jackson, arrangements by
Quincy Jones, tunes by Horace Silver, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington and Max
Roach and many echoes of Count Basie. But it ain't cheap.

If you just want a solid single disc to give some hipster, yet another newly
unearthed recording of giants live in New York came out on the Uptown label.
Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker at Town Hall, June 1945, with Max Roach on
drums. There they announce to the world the weird style called bebop that
would change jazz forever and which still crackles 60 years later. Give a
jazz fan that present, save a little money, get yourself something nice. You
deserve it. You pay your taxes.

(Soundbite of "Salt Peanuts")

Unidentified Announcer: Here's Dizzy Gillespie and his group again with his
masterpiece that jumps like mad, "Salt Peanuts."

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead teaches American studies and English at the University
of Kansas and he's a jazz columnist for eMusic.com.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of "Salt Peanuts")

Mr. DIZZY GILLESPIE (Musician): Salt peanuts. Salt peanuts. Salt peanuts.
Salt peanuts. Salt peanuts. Salt peanuts. Salt peanuts. Salt peanuts.
Salt peanuts. Salt peanuts. Salt peanuts. Salt peanuts.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

42:29

Lee Isaac Chung Jotted Down Some Family Memories – They Became 'Minari'

Director Lee Isaac Chung's inspiration for Minari, his semi-autobiographical film about a Korean American father who moves his family to a farm in rural Arkansas, began with a list.

41:51

How Bellingcat's Online Sleuths Solve Global Crimes Using Open Source Info

Eliot Higgins is the founder of an online collective that picks apart conspiracy theories and investigates war crimes and hate crimes using clues from the Internet. His new book is We Are Bellingcat.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue