(Below is a copy of the April 29, 2003 email I sent to my friends, detailing my fears, thoughts and experiences covering the 2003 Iraq War.)
Well… made it safely into Baghdad a few days ago. We departed Umm Qasar for what we thought would be a five hour drive, it ended up taking over two days! About 200 km’s out of the port, the road turned into a dirt and gravel track. We hooked in with an American fuel supply convoy for the next 100 km’s, but the trucks threw out so much dust that it was impossible to see 10 meters in front of the car. So Mush and I are doing about 60 km’s yelling at each other – ‘can you see anything out your side?’ ‘No – well keep going then, we must be still on the road!’ We were about 200 km’s as it started to get dark, so we found a platoon of Marines who were manning a check point and camped with them. In return for the security they offered we gave them free reign on the satellite phone. You really have to feel for those guys – average age was about 20, they were dusty and dirty, looking more like hobo’s than soldiers. One young Marine stuck out. After using our phone I asked him how was his ‘Chick’ – he said: ‘I couldn’t get on to her .. she’s at Spring Break! .. but I had a good chat with her sister’ – poor bastard I thought to myself.
In the morning we continued on the dirt track which eventually became a four lane hwy again and within two hours we were on the outskirts of Baghdad. It must have been looting hour! Everyone had a trolly piled high with everything and anything from inside the buildings. The currency of choice seemed to be office chairs. Things were going fine so we made our way into the City. We’d see the odd US tank on the road which indicated that it was safe, so on we went. Then all of a sudden out of no where appeared a group of Arab fighters with RPG’s and AK-47’s… we shit ourselves! They all looked cool and confident just strolling across the road in front of our car… all I remember is looking at the RPG on one guys shoulder, with an AK-47 in his right hand and thinking about how shinny the weapon looked… then fuck! Lets get the hell out of here. We then made our way to the airport to try and hop a military convoy into the City.
So… we got onto a convoy that afternoon which was supposed to take us eventually into town, it ended up dropping us off in the NE tip of the City where most of the fighting is still taking place. Once again we ventured off on our own with Channel Seven in another car towards the City. 2 km’s down the road we hit a US road block, the soldiers were freaking out as we approached, pointing their weapons at us and yelling to stop. As it turns out, a ‘human incendiary device’ had detonated at the check point an hour earlier so you could see why they were ready to fire upon us at any moment. The greatest danger in Baghdad is actually the American troops – they are very edgy about suicide bombers in cars and assume everyone is a threat. We headed back to the last check point and a young Army Captain allowed us to camp inside their perimeter. His name was Captain Brian Meian, about 27, a nice young kid from Ft. Benning, Georgia. His APC had taken a hit from a RPG earlier in the day, luckily for him and his guys it bounced off. He explained that basically the Arabs and Militia had now donned civilian clothing and they walk around the streets with white flags saying Hello and thank you to the US troops, pretending to be friendly. When the tanks pass they pick up RPG’s that are hidden in door ways, fire them at the troops and then pick up their white flags again. Basically he said it was getting bad and going to get a lot worse. Mush, myself and the Seven guys parked our cars at an angle for protection and slept between them under the stars. You could hear gun fire all night, but some how we all know things would be OK. In the morning Captain Meian came over for a chat, tears started to well up in his eyes as he told me about his best mate who had been shot in the shoulder – he then handed me a shell from his APC, saying it was ‘one of ours’ – we shook hands, said take care and off he walked. I hope he makes it home. He is in a front line infantry unit who’s job it is to drive around Baghdad looking for bad guys.
Anyway… finally make it to the hotel and we got a room on the 15th floor which is great – only problem, the elevators don’t work! There was running water… although you would describe it as more of a trickle, but atleast we could have a wash. We’ve hired a great driver named Tariq – he got shot in the hand on the first day of the War. An Iraqi gunman took a pop shot at him while driving, the bullet went thru the driver’s door, hit Tariq and went out the front passenger door. The hand is bandaged up, so I sit in the front and change gears for him as we drive around town. Things were going well until we had a car crash this afternoon – totally wrote the car front end of the car off. There is no power in the City which means no traffic lights. Some guy traveling to fast t-boned us at an intersection, luckily crashing into the front passenger wheel panel – otherwise I would have been stuffed. Just another day at the office really!
After the car was sorted out, I went to the bomb site where the American’s say they almost killed Saddam. The crater in the ground was about 50 feet deep where 4 houses had once stood and every window was shattered in a 500 meter radius. I tried to interview a guy who kept tell me that babies had been killed here – 14 people, but when I put the camera on him he said ‘No Comment’ in well mannered English. I think he was a Bath party official trying to see if I would buy his story, he had actually laid out a rag doll and put in on a pile of rubble to make his point. It don’t feel cool… so I got out of there.
Looks like we are pulling out Friday. We have to drive back to Kuwait to fix and return the hire car. It has been an amazing, great, frightening, fun and exciting time – an opportunity I’ll never forget. But I’m looking forward to getting home and seeing what happens next.
Looking forward to chatting with ya soon. Take care… Jay.