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The sights, sounds and threat of violence are a constant in Baghdad

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Matthew Schofield, Knight Ridder Newspaper's Berlin-based Europe correspondent, is beginning a six-week assignment in Knight Ridder's Baghdad Bureau—his third reporting trip to the Iraqi capital since he accompanied U.S. Marines during the initial U.S. push into Iraq in March 2003. The following account was written as a memo to his editors on how he'd spent his second day back in the country.)


BAGHDAD, Iraq—So, this was my Tuesday:

Woke up, 7 a.m., gunfire outside. Decided to read in the windowless bathroom, then take shower and brush teeth, using bottled water, of course.

9 a.m.—Kevin, a former British Royal Marine commando who's in charge of security for Knight Ridder, warns that things might be heating up, so be careful out there. He reads the daily reports of violence all over the country.

"Out where?" I ask. "I'm not leaving the building, am I?"

"Yes," I'm told, "You're on for the Green Zone"—the supposedly secure city center that is home to most of the Iraqi government and the U.S. Embassy.

10 a.m.—Go have breakfast. Kevin carries a blue backpack containing an AK-47. He says that I need some exercise and that he's willing to cover me if I go for a swim later. I think he's joking.

11 a.m.—We leave the 10-foot-high blast walls that surround the hotel complex in a two-car convoy. The rear car's job is to run interference in case "bad guys" try to intercept "the package" (that would be me).

Noon—Dropped off several blocks from the Green Zone and walk to Checkpoint 3 (the main entrance). Walking because on Monday Iraqi army soldiers pushed me back inside the car, while pointing a machine gun at my head and shouting. They fired at reporters—warning shots, the reporters think—from National Public Radio and The Wall Street Journal. The three incidents prompted a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman to start a briefing with journalists by saying, "OK, raise your hand if you were shot at today."

As I'm walking, phone rings. I answer. My Iraqi colleague Mohammed, who reports full time for Knight Ridder, takes the phone from my hand, whispering fiercely, "No English here. Be very, very afraid here."

I get inside and call the number back, reaching a very nice U.S. Army major who says we need to meet to discuss how to make the entrance to the Green Zone safer for journalists. "Can you meet in about an hour?" he asks. I agree, and he says he'll pick me up at the National Assembly building at 12:50 p.m., and we'll walk together to Checkpoint 3.

12:10 p.m.—Get inside National Assembly building. Someone steals my watch at the final security check.

12:30 p.m.—Talking to Saddam Hussein's old translator. He explains that democracy in the new Iraq is a fiasco. Bush's fault, and Bush will have to face the judgment of history for his mistakes. (All times from here are approximate; see above.)

12:50 p.m.—The major is late so I decide to head down to the checkpoint and wait for him. Mohammed says, "No, you're not. You're waiting for his call."

1 p.m.—On phone with the major, who's apologizing for being late when a car bomb explodes at Checkpoint 3 entrance. Gunfire ensues.

1-3 p.m.—Locked down in National Assembly building with legislators while bomb debris and bodies are cleared from the street.

3:15 p.m.—The major calls back. Come on out, he says. I join him walking to Checkpoint 3.

3:25 p.m.—We step around football-sized chunks of bomber hanging like gruesome Christmas ornaments from the razor wire. I point out the journalists' security fears, being forced to walk through a dangerous area to get to Iraqi government and U.S. Embassy briefings. He is concerned. "Wow, that's dangerous," he says, pushing aside a smoking piece of car interior with a booted toe. "I think the problem is, the guys here are nervous whenever cars come near, especially if they stop, like yours do, to drop you off."

"No kidding," I say, just avoiding treading on an eyeball.

4 p.m.—We work out a system, as the major agrees that it's not safe for us to walk the route we have been. He says he'll contact the U.S. Army guards, the Iraqi army guards, the private guards, the Georgian army guards, the Iraqi police and the Iraqi traffic cops, all of whom are on duty within 50 yards. I thank him and tiptoe back toward the National Assembly building.

4:30 p.m.—Walk a razor-wired path under gunpoint for several blocks to find waiting driver. He was 100 yards away and watching the entrance during the explosion, then hiding as bullets started raining down. He's happy to leave.

5:30 p.m.—Arrive back inside hotel blast walls, go to room and write story about Iraqi politics.

8:30 p.m.—Order dinner—hamburger with an egg and cheese-ish stuff on it. Kevin notes that it may not be the healthiest meal on Earth.

9 p.m.—The booms are now pretty constant in southern part of town. Kev says it's no big deal. Last night he said the same thing, "It's a gun battle across the street. No big deal." Tonight he notes, "The heavy stuff is a ways away." I look at a map. Three miles.

10 p.m.—And so to bed.


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ-1STPERSON


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