Freelance journalist Vincent first visited Iraq in September 2003. While other reporters sheltered in insulated compounds or heavily-fortified hotels of the "Green Zone," he lived and traveled in the "Red Zone," that is without security and among ordinary Iraqis. In all, Vincent has penned one of the best-written accounts of post-Saddam Iraq, one of the few that captures the debates, issues, and contradictory emotions that Iraqis are juggling.
In the Red Zone fills a void left by the many think-tank pundits, academics, and journalists who wrote books in the wake of Saddam's fall, where the Iraqi voice is often lost. Vincent's account has the advantage of bringing to light his encounters with ordinary Iraqis. Among other experiences, he was in Karbala when a series of bombs killed 140 in the city in March 2004; and while traveling in Basra, he was briefly interrogated by U.S. intelligence. He makes no attempt to cover the minutiae of daily Iraqi politics but instead takes a big-picture approach.
That said, In the Red Zone has its limitations. There is little discussion of the Kurdish issue and minor errors of fact pop up—for example, the date when Iran's Safavid dynasty began.
In contrast to the usual journalistic practice of adding color to an article by including an occasional man-on-the-street interview, usually conducted by an Iraqi assistant, Vincent provides a deeper insight into Iraqis. He introduces the reader to Qasim, a Baghdad art gallery owner who, because of a club foot, managed to avoid the carnage of the Iran-Iraq war; Assad al-Abady, deputy director of the Iraqi National Organization for Human Rights; a secular Sunni woman torn between her love of freedom and the "humiliation" of having it delivered by foreigners; a Fallujah policeman who swears blood lust against Americans after U.S. soldiers kill his son; a Shi'ite taxi driver still euphoric over liberation; and a Christian woman in Basra whom Vincent later learns had been raped in her youth by Saddam's police.
Vincent also spent time with foreigners. He details a long conversation with a Canadian antiwar activist who lectured him about U.S. "human rights violations" but would not condemn insurgent terrorist attacks on Iraqi civilians or visit Saddam's mass graves. Vincent also describes a surrealistic encounter with CodePink, an American peace group, during which one member doubted that Saddam really was that bad. He also notes the Iraqi reaction to Western peace groups. "How can people accept for so long the crimes of a dictator, then rise up to try and stop a war begun to remove that dictator from power?" one Iraqi lawyer asked. "Antiwar activists should examine their consciences."