This was my eighth visit to Baghdad—in many ways, Baghdadfeels like a second home, which I’m not sure is a healthysentiment—my first being as the war wound down in 2003. Icringed a little when told the documentary would be called“Month of Mayhem.” It proved to be a more than apt title.The previous seven “tours” had allowed me to witness asteady deterioration in the level of security andservices—despite my hopes, it was always, always worse. AndI knew this trip would likely be no different. It reallybecomes a matter of how bad it’s going to be. Before leavingthe airport—before leaving home, for that matter—I knowthere will be bodies, and there will be bombs—it is only aquestion of who and how many.
A bloody time for Baghdad
As it turned out, this visit would see one of thebloodiest periods since the war began.
Within 10 minutes of reaching the bureau, I was live onair reporting on the battle for Haifa Street, as US andIraqi forces fought Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda elementsnot more than a mile or so from our office. All day, the airwas rent by the sounds of small arms fire, heavy calibermachine gun fire, and missiles fired from the Apachehelicopters that swooped low over our heads.
CNN’s Arwa Damon being in town ended up being a boon forme. She was embedded with a Stryker Unit and this allowed meto largely escape the routine of “liveshots” from the bureauand embed with the military for much longer than usuallypossible on a five-week assignment. Embedding with themilitary has become the safest way of reporting, not just onthe war, but on Iraqi civilians. It’s about the only way wecan safely meet with ordinary residents, talk to them on andoff camera and get first hand accounts of the awfultribulations they endure.
This was a month of massive bombs at universities andmarket places, of more and more bodies dumped in thestreets, hands bound and shot after being tortured in almostinconceivable ways, including the use of electric drills. Itwas a month when what the US called its “troop surge” began,when the “Baghdad Security Plan” got underway, when thefirst Joint Security Stations were being set up.
The severity of the security situation is well illustratedby the embed in Adhamiya, an area about six miles from ourbureau, but considered by our security advisors toodangerous to drive. Roadside bombs and ambushes arecommon.
Each time I return, there seems to be a new “worry” amongthe troops. This time it was the increased sniper activityand the growing threat of EFPs, or explosively formedprojectiles. These are savage weapons—“shaped” charges thatfire out a ball of molten copper, or similar metal. RegularIEDs were described to me by one soldier as “like a shotgunblast.”
“EFPs are like an armor piercing bullet aimed at your head,”he said.
A month of laughter and tears
I met another soldier who’d been “blown up” as he put it,four times, by IEDs, and wounded three. It was his firstday back after his latest medical leave, and he was thedriver in my humvee. Another soldier told me about an EFPthat hit a humvee he was driving. It went through the rightrear window of the vehicle, decapitated the soldier sittingthere, took the legs off the gunner in the middle, took thehead off the soldier in the left rear seat and continued outthe window.
And this happened to an “up-armored” humvee.
During that month, we laughed in our bureau—you have tolaugh—we had a party or two with our competitors inside ourcompound, we flew in helicopters, drove in Strykers andhumvees and Bradleys. And we saw incredible suffering andloss. I left feeling that some positive things were beingput into effect. And a stronger feeling that most of thosethings were about two or three years too late.
I’ll go back, later this year. Because I need to. BecauseI feel honored in many ways to, as a journalist, have theopportunity to cover this story up close. Because, likemost of us who come—many for much longer periods than I do—Icare.