I’ve been reporting from Iraq since 2010, and for the past few months much of my coverage has focused on ISIS, as Sunni militants led by the group have seized territory across Syria and much of Iraq and declared a caliphate. See my latest stories on the ongoing conflict in Iraq here: Tim Arango.

Here’s my proof.

Most recently I reported on an ISIS massacre that took place in June, which left only one known survivor out of hundreds. See that story here: Surviving an ISIS Massacre [includes graphic images]. My colleague Adam Ellick will be available to answer any questions that specifically relate to the video. Ask me anything.

EDIT: Thanks so much for your questions, I'm here, answering them now.

EDIT: Thanks so much for your questions. They gave me a lot to reflect on. I’ll be on Charlie Rose and NPR’s Fresh Air this week if you’d like to hear more from me.

Here's some more of our coverage on ISIS: http://flip.it/CSSTk

Comments: 138 • Responses: 25  • Date: 

Frajer24 karma

do you think our influence in Iraq with the Iraq was negative ?

TimArango60 karma

Yes, there is no other way to see it. Everything that is occurring in Iraq today is related the American legacy there. The forerunner of ISIS was created to oppose the American occupation, and many of its leaders were in American detention facilities in Iraq. On the other side of the ledger, as it pertains to Iraqi politics, you see the American legacy. The U.S. basically chose Maliki, whose sectarian politics alienated many Sunnis, creating the fertile ground for ISIS to sweep in to these areas. And many of those Maliki policies that have pushed aside the Sunnis were started by the Americans. Excluding Sunnis from political life? that has its origins in the American De-Baathification policy. Maliki's security policy of conducting mass arrests of Sunni men in the name of fighting terrorism? the U.S. did that too. So at every turn in the Iraq story now you see the American legacy at play.

badbatteries23 karma

Could you describe the daily dynamic of the Times' Baghdad bureau? How many other Times' reporters are working alongside you. You spend more time in the office or out in the field?

TimArango24 karma

For most of the last two years -- until Mosul fell in June -- i was the last guy covering Iraq for us, and I would go there intermittently. Now there are others coming in, and it is great to have the company. We go out quite a bit, whenever we need to, or sometimes just to go antique shopping. The rhythm these days is we usually have someone watching the daily news, and others are working on enterprise stories. We try to make time for some ping pong and chess everyday, too.

limbodog20 karma

Hello. Can you give us a feel for what the general reaction is to ISIS among average Sunni and Shia Iraqi people?

TimArango35 karma

the shia are horrified. most sunnis, too, although initially, in places like mosul, sunnis were happy to see the iraqi army leave. but over time, ISIS is likely to alienate local communities with its harsh rule.

NorbitGorbit16 karma

which part of the country is the most untouched and relatively safe for locals + expats?

TimArango12 karma

there really is no expat community to speak of. foreigners mostly live in fortified compounds. but the safest parts of the country are the Shiite-dominated south, and the kurdish region, although not on the edges near ISIS territory.

journo1514 karma

As a reporter, do you think your safety in Iraq or how you cover the country has changed since 2010?

Also, do you have any advice for young journalists who want to become a foreign correspondent?

TimArango21 karma

It has changed a great deal. When I first arrived in 2010 the entire country was open to me. I could - and did - go to falluja for lunch, on a whim. Now most of the country is off limits. We can be in Baghdad, the south and the kurdish region in the north. Just about everything else is a no-go.

Snowden424214 karma

The deaths of Steven Sotloff and James Foley were truly tragic and barbaric. How have these events affected you personally and as a journalist? Did they make you question whether your job was worth the risk?

TimArango34 karma

they have terrified me. and yes, they certainly have made me question what i am doing. for sure. i didn't get in to journalism to find myself kneeling in an orange jumpsuit for some psychopath.

eragon3814 karma

How do you rate the Obama administration's actions in Iraq? What did they do right? What did they get wrong?

TimArango46 karma

it's not my job to rate the obama administrations actions in iraq. but i will tell you that after 2011 the administration basically ignored the country. and when officials spoke about what was happening there they were often ignorant of the reality. they did not want to see what was really happening because it conflicted with their narrative that they left iraq in reasonably good shape. In 2012 as violence was escalating i wrote a story, citing UN statistics, that showed how civilian deaths from attacks were rising. Tony Blinken, who was then Biden's national security guy and a top iraq official, pushed back, even wrote a letter to the editor, saying that violence was near historic lows. that was not true. even after falluja fell to ISIS at the end of last year, the administration would push back on stories about maliki's sectarian tendencies, saying they didn't see it that way. so there was a concerted effort by the administration to not acknowledge the obvious until it became so apparent -- with the fall of mosul -- that iraq was collapsing.

rebellicfish13 karma

Did you or Adam talk to Ali about the risks involved in showing his face in the video? How / why did he make the decision?

Edit: thanks to you both for doing this.

TimArango14 karma

Ali wanted to tell his story because he wanted the world to hear what happened to him, and more importantly what happened to his fellow soldiers. By the time we spoke to him, he had already appeared on a local television channel, so his decision had been made.

tklapheke11 karma

Hi, thanks for doing this! Can you tell us more about how you found the lone survivor of the ISIS massacre?

TimArango9 karma

We have a network of stringers around the country that we keep in touch with on a daily basis, and this came from one of our guys in southern Iraq.

niqdisaster11 karma

What is ISIS' relation to the rebellion in Syria? I thought ISIS was created in the wake of that rebellion against the Assad regime but according to your answer below it is in the wake of the American occupation. Thanks.

TimArango11 karma

the forerunner of ISIS was Al Qaeda in Iraq, but was severely diminished after the American troop surge of 2007 and the Awakening, which was an American-led program in which insurgents were paid off to switch sides. After the Americans left Iraq the group continued to target Iraqi Shia with almost daily car bomb attacks. And then, it saw an opportunity in the chaos of the civil war in Syria. That is what allowed the group to flourish and sweep back in to Iraq in such a dramatic way this summer

FLaty10 karma

What will it actually take to restore Iraq to a suitable state again? It seems so far down the tunnel now!

TimArango14 karma

that is going to be a long project. it's going to take peace in syria, and within iraq the first step is for sunnis to push out ISIS from their communities. But more importantly, Iraq, if it is ever to achieve peace and prosperity, will need a serious reconciliation effort. There may be no more traumatized society in the world than Iraq, and it goes back decades. Iraqis will need to learn to forgive one another for the past if they are ever to move on.

queinjusticia10 karma

Hi Tim, do you have any advice for a university student aspiring to work as a reporter in the middle east?

TimArango30 karma

don't go to Syria as a freelancer

rebellicfish8 karma

More of a journalism question -- are you and your NYT colleagues in Iraq thinking more about print or digital when you do your reporting and writing? Is there a difference?

TimArango9 karma

the answer is both, but mostly we are trying to do the best and most thorough reporting on whatever story we are working on, regardless of platform. But during the day, if there is a breaking news story, we try to be fast to get something for the Web. And later in the day we often rewrite, with a more analytical approach, for the next day's paper and to supplant what we had written, usually in quick fashion, for the Web earlier in the day.

dumbiedikes8 karma

Hi, Tim. What has been their actual reaction to losing men, equipment, and territory due to the recent USAF airstrikes and ground attacks carried out by ISF, PKK and Peshmerga fighters? Is there a sense of decline in morale?

TimArango11 karma

the reaction was they beheaded two American journalists.

matt_bp8 karma

Tim, thanks for doing this. How has the current crisis affected American influence in Iraq? Is there a greater willingness now by the major Shiite parties to work with the US, compared to the time of the US withdrawal? Is the US seen as anything other than an expedient tool in a crisis (if that)?

TimArango13 karma

The influence of the United States declined dramatically after the American troops left in 2011. The Iraqis were largely happy to see us go -- even as they worried about what might happen without US troops in the country -- and the Obama administration turned its attention away from Iraq. Now, US influence is stronger, because the Shia leaders see ISIS as an existential threat and they want US military support. But there has always been a huge undercurrent of mistrust among the Shia toward the Americans, even though the invasion upended the old social order and put the Shia in power. This stems from the 1991 Shiite uprising after the first Gulf War, when the Americans encouraged the Iraqi shia to rise up against Saddam and then stood by as they were slaughtered. The Shia still talk about this, and still blame the Americans.

erickhill7 karma

Are you under protection of armed guards? If so, are they 1) paid locals 2) US army/military, 3) US hired guns, 4) none of the above?

TimArango10 karma

we have a great local staff, who are like family to me.

bzjaffe7 karma

Is the US in danger of "losing" the Kurds? Do they feel abandoned or frustrated by the US? Barzani held a press conference with the Iranian foreign minister. Could Kurdistan become an Iranian ally instead of a US ally?

TimArango13 karma

Not all. the US remains a strong partner with the Kurds. It was partly the threat by ISIS to the Kurdish capital of Erbil that got the American airstrikes started. And we have been funneling weapons to the Kurds, and it looks like the strategy going forward will be to provide more training to the Kurds. So the US-Kurdish relationship seems intact to me.

Watermelon_Salesman7 karma


TimArango19 karma

No. Every religion has its extremists. Nearly every Iraqi I have ever met has been welcoming and hospitable to me, they are appalled by what is happening in their country.

Imagineallthepeeps6 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA i have several question if you would be so kind as to answer some. The Sunni Islamist uprising from 1976 to 1982 against the regime of Hafez al-Assad and the more recent Islamist uprising against Bashar al-Assad should have left no illusions in the minds of western strategists as to the religious nature of both conflicts; knowing this why did western powers along with regional allies provide support to the Syrian opposition with full knowledge of what was already happening in Sunni Iraq? Did they not foresee the same influx of jihadi elements that would flood the Syrian war-zone when just a decade earlier the U. S witnessed the jihadi infestation of Iraq as it struggled to maintain security? And can you dismiss the strategic opportunity that has opened for U.S Military re-engagement in Iraq that was provided by the recent ISIS incursion? Also finally is it plausible that ISIS Fighters had crossed the Syrian border to take Mosul in large convoys without being detected by western intelligence in the region?

TimArango10 karma

I will only answer the last part: in the days before Mosul fell there was plenty of intelligence that suggested an imminent ISIS assault on the city. It was passed on by the Americans and the Kurds to the Iraqi government, but was largely ignored until it was too late.

BeerHug5 karma

Specifically for the region you're in, is there anything you and your guys do to prepare, both mentally and physically, before going out into the field? I know you're ready to walk into the face of danger for the sake of the truth but if things take a turn for the worst, what do you do?

TimArango9 karma

we're required to take a "hostile environment" training course before we go to a place like iraq.

grace10764 karma


TimArango12 karma

probably things to do with everyday life, and the wonderful nature of most iraqis. this doesn't come across much. these places, when you are there, are never how you imagine them. in baghdad, for instance, everyone gets up and goes to work, lives their lives. and despite the horrendous level of violence, life still largely goes on. i have been covering the place for five years, have gone everywhere, multiple times, and have never seen a dead body, have never once, not once, felt threatened. i am always amazed how wonderful iraqis treat me. i am from vermont, and if a bunch of iraqis invaded vermont (even if i hated my governor), destroyed the infrastructure, killed many innocent civilians, tortured detainees, and then after eight years the iraqi army left, but there were a couple iraqi journalists left behind to ask me questions, i don't know that i would be very friendly to them.

compuhyperglobalmega4 karma

Do you think preserving the "nation" of Iraq is possible in the near-medium term, or should the West plan for a breakup?

TimArango5 karma

Iraq is already essentially been broken in to three parts: one for the kurds, one for the sunnis and one for the shia. so yes, the West should keep in mind that the breakup of the country may be impossible to prevent.

LicensedFaptician2 karma


TimArango8 karma

I don't know if its a good thing, but it is certainly bringing together countries that have long had antagonistic relationships to confront the common threat of ISIS. The US and Iran is the best example. While they say they are not coordinating, the US has been bombing from above while Iranian-backed Shia militias, which a few years were killing American soldiers, have been doing the fighting on the ground, for the same cause.

DeliberateConfusion1 karma

Do you believe that ISIS's actions are justified and motivated because of their belief in Islam?

TimArango6 karma

they are a bunch of serial killers and psychopaths marauding around the region. no religion justifies that.

naruni_enterprises1 karma

While Iraq gov was just formed today, do you feel given new leadership and the nature of Iraq gov institutions that elites will be capable of legitimating their authority vis-a-vis sunni populations? if so, what are the broad strokes of how such an effort would successfully proceed? are there any immediate challenges to watch?

TimArango3 karma

a new government with the right sectarian and ethnic mix isn't the real answer. maliki had that. the thing to watch is the behavior of the new prime minister going forward, and if there will be meaningful concessions to sunnis, such as reigning in debaathification and releasing detainees who have been held with our charges.