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May 23, 2008

I Lost My Love in Baghdad

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While most couples spend their 20s bickering over whose turn it is to call for takeout, Newsweek reporter Michael Hastings and his girlfriend, nonprofit worker Andrea Parhamovich, were in Iraq, squeezing dinners in between his embeds and her briefings with local pols. Then, in January 2007, Parhamovich was killed when her convoy was ambushed in an unsecure area of Baghdad. In Hastings’s memoir, I Lost My Love in Baghdad, he describes two normal people trying for a happy life in a nightmare world. We talked to him about love and war — and the stubborn lack of fairness in either.

MC: You met Andi in New York, in between tours in Baghdad. How did your job affect the relationship?
MH: We were a typical story — people fall in love in their 20s, and they have careers, and they have to figure out how to balance it. But ours happened in an extreme situation. Everything was amplified. An unanswered text could mean something horrible had happened.

MC: And Andi followed you to Iraq?
MH: That I was there was a factor in her going. But believe me, Andi was gonna do what Andi was gonna do. She always dreamed of being center stage where history was happening, so she got a job with the National Democratic Institute [NDI], training Iraqi politicians in the concept of a free press.

MC: Human instinct is to run from danger, but you ran toward it. Why?
MH: I know. Tell most people you’re going to Baghdad, and they think, Why would you want to do that? Andi and I thought, Why wouldn’t you? Even when we were sitting in a restaurant with the mortars making the windows shake, it was hard for us to comprehend the danger. We had our little bubble.

MC: How did you learn she was dead?
MH: I was covering a press conference, and on the way back to the office, I remember thinking, I haven’t heard from Andi today. But I knew she had this big meeting with members of the Iraqi Islamic Party. I dozed off and awoke to my phone buzzing: three missed calls. I checked e-mail, and there was a message from Newsweek that I needed to call the NDI. I tried to call Andi, but got a recording. When I finally got through to the guy at NDI, he said, “Michael, I have terrible news. We lost Andi.” And I said, “What the fuck do you mean you lost Andi? Go find her!” He was scant on the details. At one point, I looked at the TV in the office and saw on the CNN news crawl that an American aid worker and three guards had been killed in a Baghdad ambush. From that moment, my life changed.

MC: Do you feel guilty about her death?
MH: I live “what if.” But this is what she wanted to do. Still, I left Baghdad. It didn’t feel right being there without her. And I wrote this book so the people who killed her don’t own her story.

To help support young women pursuing careers in politics and the media, visit theandifoundation.org.


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