Elevate Difference

Friendly Fire: The Remarkable Story of a Journalist Kidnapped in Iraq, Rescued by an Italian Secret Service Agent, and Shot by U.S. Forces

In the United States, Giuliana Sgrena is known as the Italian journalist who was kidnapped in Iraq, held for a month, and then, on the day of her release, shot at by American troops on her way to the airport; the Italian secret service man escorting her was killed and Sgrena herself was severely injured. In the weeks following, while the U.S. military insisted that Sgrena’s car had failed to stop at a checkpoint, Sgrena claimed that the shots had come without warning. In Italy, where Sgrena is known for her long career of courageous reporting, she became a national hero. Hundreds of thousands marched in the streets to demand her release, and her kidnapping brought together a national movement to demand the withdrawal of Italian troops from Iraq.

In Friendly Fire, Sgrena tells of her experience of being confined to a single room for four weeks by two gun-touting men who call themselves “Abbas” and “Hussein.” Left mostly in the dark with the barest of necessities, Sgrena cautiously engaged her captors in conversation, demonstrating great intelligence and acumen—qualities that have no doubt served her well in her career. But in her book she does not shy away from revealing her own fears and vulnerabilities, keenly showing what it was like to have her life in the hands of these two strangers and the organization to which they belonged.

This would make a fascinating story in itself, but Sgrena gives us so much more, interweaving her personal experience with keen observation and analysis of Iraq under American occupation and the sectarian violence that is pulling the country asunder. She describes the political and religious dynamics behind this apparent chaos while imbuing her writing with a pervasive sympathy for the ordinary Iraqis caught up in what has become a living nightmare.

Her chapter on women is particularly instructive, describing the deterioration of conditions for women generally in Iraq and how, with some parts of the country now effectively ruled by extremists and under Islamic law, women have become the conflict’s most unseen (literally—forced to wear the veil and leave public life) victims. A compelling read, her book makes real the enormous risks taken by reporters to tell the story of Iraq and other war-torn parts of the world and leaves the reader with an enormous admiration for this journalist in particular.

Written by: Elaine Beale, May 30th 2007