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May 04, 2005

This Sunday

I seem to remember that Dexter Filkins of the Times wrote some good stories from Iraq - this kind of babble makes me doubt that:

MR. RUSSERT: Dexter Filkins, you spent the better part of two years in Iraq. What's your sense of how things are going?

MR. DEXTER FILKINS: I think it's better. It feels better. I mean, you know, in the last four or five months, you've had two pretty significant events. One was the recapture of Fallujah, which had become a safe haven for the insurgents, and the other was the election, which I think gave a lot of Iraqis a sense that they were going to get their country back and they were going to be able to control its destiny. And I--just being on the streets there you can feel some of the anger having been drained away. And it's clearly not as violent as it was, you know, six months ago, five months ago when there were--I remember the month of August, there were 45 car bombs. Now, the level of violence, the number of attacks against American soldiers and Iraqi soldiers is down. The number of Iraqi recruits into the security services is way up. So at the moment, things are feeling a little better.

So things are a little better. That is followed by this:

MR. RUSSERT: Dexter Filkins, your dispatches are so rich with detail and understanding of what you're seeing and observing. Tell us about your life in Iraq. What do you do? Where do you live? How do you get up? How do you function as a reporter?

MR. FILKINS: Well, The New York Times has a huge operation there. It's very expensive. But it's...

MR. RUSSERT: Heavily guard?

MR. FILKINS: Very heavily guarded. We've got a couple of houses, we've got 20-foot-high concrete blast walls topped with barbed wire. There's armed guards, there's armored cars, searchlights, the whole thing.

MR. RUSSERT: How do you move around the city?

MR. FILKINS: You just try to do the best you can, you know. The--you go...

MR. RUSSERT: With guards?

MR. FILKINS: Usually with guards. I mean, you know, none of that's desirable. You want to be--as a reporter, you want to be as unintrusive as possible. You want to put people at ease. And--but that's not really possible anymore. So you can--things have gotten a little better. I mean, Baghdad is not as tense and as angry as it was even six months ago. But doing something like getting out of your car and walking around a neighborhood and just talking to people on the street, you can't really go that anymore. I mean you can do it for 20 minutes, you know, 25 minutes, and then get in your car and get out, because if you linger too long, you're putting yourself in danger.

MR. RUSSERT: Have you had any close calls?

MR. FILKINS: More than I can count, yeah.

So things are better - but - going out without armed guards or being in the same spot for 20 minutes can't be done anymore... so - when could those things be done? If things are better now - what - you could do those things when things were... worse? I mean WTF is Filkins talking about? The whole country is a disaster. We have no control. We are not patrolling. We are reacting to the shit storm as it happens and Iraq's are being killed by the scores. But hey, things are better. Like driving to the airport:

MR. RUSSERT: There is a road, a highway from the airport to downtown Baghdad that's called the Road of Death by many. I understand there's a taxi service on that road to take someone from downtown to the airport.

MR. FILKINS: Yeah. There's actually a company in Baghdad that does nothing except offer rides to the airport and back. They've got an armored cars and some guards. And they charge $35,000 for...

MR. RUSSERT: Thirty-five thousand dollars?

MR. FILKINS: ...for a ride to the airport. And I think you know, if you miss your plane and you have to come back, it's another $35,000. But...

MR. RUSSERT: How long--is it six miles?

MR. FILKINS: I think it's about six miles, yeah. It's not a happy six miles. So, you know, they earn their money.

MR. RUSSERT: Why have we been unable--or the Iraqis unable to protect that road, that stretch?

MR. FILKINS: That's a real mystery.

Tell Donald Rumsfeld to get Agatha Christie on the phone...