You know how they say a frog will let itself be boiled alive, sitting placidly in a pot of bubbling water, if you turn the heat up slowly enough?
That used to be what Iraq was like for journalists. Over the past two-and-a-half years, the danger increased incrementally, with kidnappings, killings and bombings first hitting Iraqis, then U.S. soldiers, then foreign contractors and missionaries and foreign aid workers, before finally hitting us.
It took us a while to admit/recognize we were targets, and slowly start changing the way we work — first adding bodyguards (who we initially resented, and tried to leave behind at the hotel), then armored vehicles (which we at first thought were a waste of cash), then blast walls outside our hotels (which many of us thought were the security people's way of justifying their existence, and would only draw attention to us) and on and on.
In each case, the worst fears of our pessimist bosses and security advisors were later realized. I remember one of our ex-military security advisors musing that it wouldn't be long until a commercial plane got hit by a missile at Baghdad's airport. "Uh-huh," we nodded over morning coffee, quietly saying to ourselves, "Does that man need a vacation from this place, or what?"
Then a DHL plane got hit, and just barely managed to land, and later, a UK military cargo plane got taken out, killing up to a dozen on board. Ahem.
So now going into Iraq is like being flung into a pot of water you can see boiling from a great height from far, far away. Inwardly, you're screaming, "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh," then stifle it with a mental, "Ulp."
Every time, every time, before I fly in — and like most of my colleagues, I've been coming here for two-and-a-half years now, so you'd think I'd be used to this — I sleep with one eyeball peeled, staring at the alarm clock, counting the minutes until the plane takes off from Amman, Jordan, and half-holding my breath until our plane corkscrews down and touches the tarmac in Baghdad. Then there's another slight breath-holding experience driving down the (admittedly now much safer, but still) Airport Road, before finally arriving, red-eyed and sleep-self-deprived, at our Baghdad hotel.
My mood instantly changes. I see all our Iraqi staff and some of the regular CBS "inmates," the translators make fun of how much my Arabic has deteriorated while I've been away, we knock back some seriously strong Arabic coffee, and I get to work. There are always a couple of startled moments, when a distant or nearby bomb makes me jump. But I quickly forget where I am (or rather, that it bothered me).
The water's toasty, verging on the scalding, but I'm just fine.
Out Of The Pot, Into The...
That is, until I get myself and a cameraman, soundman and perhaps a producer invited on an U.S. military embed, or any trip across town with a U.S. commander, just like our ABC colleagues Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt did.