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At work in Iraq with Anthony Shadid

Naseer Mehdawi, Anthony Shadid's closest Iraqi friend and journalism colleague, recalls their friendship and how together they told the story of Iraq.

By Naseer MehdawiContributor / February 20, 2012

Anthony Shadid (left) and the author.

Courtesy of Naseer Mehdawi

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Reporters are cantankerous, competitive and frequently catty. Yet Anthony Shadid's sad and untimely death has brought forth nothing but praise and admiration from every corner. An old friend reminded me yesterday of a conversation in 2006 in which I told her that "Shadid, hands down, is the best reporter working in Iraq." I suspect all of us who covered the war there said that at one time or another. Like all of us, of course, he had help, particularly from Naseer Mehdawi, the Iraqi colleague who worked with him on the stories that landed Anthony the 2004 Pulitzer.

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 One of the reasons that Anthony inspired such love was his generosity of spirit and appreciation of others. He knew he wasn't out there alone. He wrote the following to Naseer in his copy of Anthony's 2006 book on Iraq, "Night Draws Near": "There is no better friend in this world, no colleague more loyal, no man who I admire more. This book should have your name on the cover! You are like my brother and always will be." Naseer has kindly shared his thoughts on Anthony and their collaboration below. - Dan Murphy

I remember the first time I met Anthony Shadid in February 2003. I had been working for The Washington Post in Baghdad with Rajiv Chandrasekaran and the photographer Michael Robinson Chavez. Anthony had joined Rajiv and me and Chavez. Rajiv introduced Anthony to me and told me that he was a great journalist. He had been working with another paper, but the Post hired him because he is the best. Then orders came from Phil Bennett, who was the Post’s assistant managing editor for foreign news at the time, that all the journalists of the Post should leave Iraq because the troops were gathering in the Gulf and the war would happen. But Anthony refused. He stayed and asked me if I would like to stay with him. I was very interested in journalism and looking at what might happen. Rajiv left with Chavez to wait in Kuwait. (They later returned after the war started.) It was only me and Anthony. Our driver was Karim Sadon. After that we were pretty much Anthony’s team, me and Karim. Everyone at the Post knew that we were Anthony’s guys.

I started my journey with Anthony looking for people expressing their feeling about what would happen. I had an instinct that the regime would collapse. I made up my mind to help him and support him. I took Anthony to Kadhamiya, a large Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad. All the people there hated Saddam because he was targeting them and killed many of their families during the uprising after the 1991 Gulf War. When I told Anthony about this, he was happy about the tip, and he started to get closer to me, to count on me. I had begun to think like Anthony, to know the kinds of stories he wanted, the people he wanted to meet. Anthony liked talking to people on the streets, the real people who were affected by Saddam and affected by the war. His confidence in me became stronger.

I remember that Saddam’s Information Ministry gave us an order to go to specific places. We refused. We went to forbidden places that no one dared to go except me and Anthony. At restaurants we’d talk about where to go next, all the places Saddam did not want us to see. We set out on daily trips with our brave driver, Karim, going to various parts of the country, meeting people, discussing issues, and making friends. We met workers at factories, farmers in the fields, government employees who were fed up with the restrictions of the regime, university students aspiring for an opportunity to be free and express their woes and dreams, clerics secluded inside their small mosques, and just simple, down-to-earth people. We listened to stories of women who had lost their husbands and sons in the many wars waged by the regime.

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