Notebook: Where Would We Be Without Them?

Iraqi National Guardsman Narrowly Misses Killing CBS News Team's Local Driver At A Haifa Street Checkpoint CBS

Veteran producer and CBS News Baghdad Bureau Chief Larry Doyle has covered the Iraq war since the invasion in March 2003.



Sunday here, the equivalent to Tuesday in the Western work week, started quietly enough.

A read through the overnight e-mails, a browse through the Iraq-related stories from the big U.S. and British papers, and the daily chat over steaming tea with our staff of local reporters.

Our quiet conversation was rudely terminated when a phone shrilled in the newsroom and a police contact told one of our "locals" about a suicide bomb attack on Haifa Street, the scene of pitched battles earlier in the year, but now supposedly cleaned up and cleared of insurgents.

In fact, we had just been there with an Iraqi doctor returning home after being rescued during the fighting and were going to use him in a story about internal refugees. Normally we don't go running after
every explosion in the city, but since this was Haifa Street and we were pursuing a story there, an Iraqi cameraman, reporter and driver were dispatched.

Despite better security in town, we Western staffers still must measure our travel very carefully. Criminal gangs and rogue militias dressed as Iraqi security forces have perfected the art of the false checkpoint and they see big bucks in ransom for our kind.

When the CBS team reached Haifa Street they found the explosion actually occurred on the other side of the Tigris river so they hustled over the al-Ahrar bridge heading to the "old city" part of town.

Sure enough a checkpoint had been established outside the area of the explosion. Here's where their luck ran hot and then very cold.

It was a legitimate checkpoint set up by Iraqi national guardsmen. They were told to park the car and the cameraman and reporter stepped out and began the laborious process of getting permission to enter the affected area. Within minutes they succeeded.

They returned to their vehicle, still sitting where it was directed and being watched benignly by two guardsmen. The driver sat relaxed behind the wheel, listening to the radio playing Baghdad's top hits. Excellent work and good luck so far.

Precisely as the CBS reporters approached the car a third guardsman appeared from behind and slightly to the side of his buddies. The new arrival stopped, raised his AK-47 to his shoulder, sighted at the vehicle and matter-of-factly squeezed off two rounds.

The first put a dime-sized hole in the front window. The second, as the gun barrel raised up from the first shot's recoil, skimmed the top of the glass and skipped over the roof leaving a narrow indented trail.

The first shot, upon exiting the car, blew out the entire rear window. It was evident, given the position of the shooter and the entry point of the 7.62 round that the driver was miraculously missed by no more than an inch or two. No shooter is good enough to put a bullet over a target's ear at 10 yards. A deliberate head shot was taken.

Fortunately for our driver, the first two guards shouted that the car belonged to journalists and ordered the shooter to stop firing. He did, then laughed, and offered a lame apology.

Unfortunately, while this was a dramatic event, it was a not an uncommon one and is illustrative of how treacherous and perilous even routine newsgathering is here.

As often as we Westerners get out, the locals do far more trolling for news. They are courageous, resourceful and loyal. They are our eyes and our ears. At great risk they ferret, follow and dig for news. They are professionals.

Despite paying an unreasonable and too often deadly price for their work, they remain determined to help us sort through the complexities of this place and story.

I'd like to identify them by name, but won't. They understand if we complained about Sunday's event they would be placed at an even greater risk. Any association with us would paint a target on their chests and endanger their families.

Still they come to work everyday, work tireless and thankless hours and stand by us.

Where would we, and you, be without them?
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