Notebook: A War That Can't Be Forgotten

This reporter's notebook was written by CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan.

About ten days into the U.S. invasion, the air above Baghdad was thick and dark with plumes of black smoke rising from oil fires lit by Iraqi fighters, to mask targets on the ground from U.S. warplanes.

But it seemed to make little difference. The earth thundered with deep, roaring explosions, one after another….and fires rose up from the ground around us.

The promised U.S. "shock and awe" campaign was well underway.

And we were heading directly into the chaos. The road swarming with human traffic that was coming towards us as we headed into Baghdad - the people going in the opposite direction: Iraqis desperately fleeing their city, afraid for their lives.

Fighting with them for space on the crowded road, was an impressive march of military hardware - Iraqi artillery on the move. Thousands and thousands of heavy artillery pieces being carried away….to disappear somewhere else or be destroyed.

I was forced out of the capital the day U.S. bombers made their way towards Baghdad. Now just as the sun dropped from the sky in a brilliant orange glow behind the black smoke, I was back with colleague Firas Ibrahim who had made the journey possible.

Like so many other Iraqis, he shared no love for Saddam Hussein. But he also shared a passion for his country, a fierce national pride - and a terrible fear of what or who would replace the Iraqi dictator.

In the months before the invasion began, that was the question most often heard on the streets - and most oft repeated - even from Iraqis who hated Saddam Hussein: Who will be next?

In the years that followed, that question would be posed again and again - but this time, with the answer:

"Look what we have now - a hundred Saddam's, a thousand of them or more," Firas said. "Who can save us from this?"

It was with great sadness, that I looked out of the window one day in the CBS bureau as my colleague Firas gestured towards the ancient Tigris River. It was during the time of increasing ethnic violence between Iraqi's majority Shiites and the Sunnis.

I had asked Firas what would happen if the U.S. pulled out, and that was when he pointed to the river.

"That water will run with our blood - with Sunni blood," he said quietly, his voice soft but firm with conviction.

A lot has changed since that moment. Many Sunnis - and many Shiites - have died, along with Kurds, Turkmen - even Iraqi's minority Christians. Tens of thousands - no one knows for sure how many because there is no reliable body count.

I have watched the war ebb and flow, giving most of the past four years to its gruesome battle rhythms', watching Iraqi society disintegrate before my eyes.

It starts with a family caught in a U.S. air raid during the initial invasion. I made it to the hospital to find the three children, all with more then 80 percent burns over their bodies. Their parents had been killed in the blast, they were all to follow. But it would be two agonizing weeks before the last of them - a little girl no more than eight years old - succumbed to her wounds.

That image is no less or more disturbing than looking into the eyes of a 19-year-old corpsman, (the navy word for medic), as he describes for me his first four hours on the ground in Ramadi, just west of Baghdad, three years later:

"We were hit by an IED and in the chaos, we shot up a vehicle coming towards us really fast. But when it stopped we found an Iraqi mother with four of her children inside. We couldn't save our guys because the humvee was on fire and we couldn't get to them so we just had to listen to them scream as they burned to death - and they just kept screaming," he told me.

"Then we realized we'd shot the mother and her children. I was doing mouth-to-mouth on an eight-month-old baby as its mother died in my lap. Then the two-year-old died, and then the baby died in my mouth. It was the worst four hours of my life."

I knew as I looked at that boy, that in spite of his uniform and his weapon and his soldierly smile, he was just a damaged young kid who would never look at the world the same way again.

It's a look that shadows many young faces here, both U.S. and Iraqi. The suffering has left no one untouched. You cannot walk down a street in Baghdad and find a home now that has not known death. And fear.

In our office the cleaner has lost a brother to a death squad, and another to kidnapping. One local producer has lost a brother - executed - and has two more brothers in prison. We lost another local producer when he was taken by a death squad and executed. We had to send another out of the country after he was taken hostage in the south of the country. Still another local producer left after his father was kidnapped and executed. Our drivers have all had family members murdered, many of them multiple losses - mothers, fathers, uncles, sisters, brothers.

The list goes on. And on.

It is a reason to keep coming back and covering the war. It is a reason to care even when it feels like the rest of the world has stopped caring.

And there is another reason. Around 150,000 U.S. soldiers, airmen and sailors. Not to mention tens of thousands of contractors doing jobs in the name of U.S. forces or the U.S. government or the U.S. cause.

It is unconscionable to me that any American, if faced with this reality, would honestly say they do not care to know about what their military is doing in Iraq. I cannot believe that if they saw even one soldier wounded, watched him drop right in front of them without even the whisper of a sound as blood spurted from his injury and the bullets kept coming, crackling through the air as others rush to his aid - I cannot believe they would say they do not care.

I want them to imagine what it looks like, when you walk past the chaplain's office in the main U.S. hospital in the Green Zone, not long after a unit has come under major attack.

I remember walking past such a line one day, after a unit I'd embedded with often in Baghdad suffered their worst single day of losses: nine soldiers killed and more injured, including three quadruple amputees.

First I walked past the emergency room where the survivors were crowded waiting for news. I walked past the operating theatre where blood was rushing under the door and into the sterile corridor, now trampled with dusty boots.

There is a look that soldiers get after they have survived a fight, swollen with the wounds of battle. And there is a look they get after losing their friends, after realizing the fight for life is over and nothing more can be done. Wearing the blood of their comrades, wearing the beaten look of the defeated, they slowly begin to mourn. Mourning that will be allowed only for a moment, before they head out back into battle and survival means you must move on.

But for the time they stood in line to see the chaplain, for that moment still in shock as the reality slowly set in, unable to hide the raw pain as they wept with faces buried in filthy sleeves, or staring straight ahead, dazed. Muffled cries escaping every now and then. Eyes hollow or swollen. Some holding back still. All broken.

You don't forget faces like that, grief that sears your soul. You lower your head as you pass, feeling unworthy.

Just like you don't forget the firm grasp of a young man, as he grabs hold of your hand from his hospital bed and stares you down, talking fast like any eager young kid. You can't explain why you expected his handshake to be weak, just because you're looking at the stump that used to be his leg. But you do. You'd never expect you could lose a leg and still be 19-years-old and still be so strong.

It makes no sense. It's just that way.

I have to believe that anyone who could see the suffering up close, would never say they'd lost interest in this war.

Anyone who could go to an Iraqi hospital, and see the terrible conditions or the families desperately trying to help a loved one in the mayhem after a blast. Or see the young girl who's lost her whole family and both her legs and isn't yet 14-years-old.

Five years on the truth is that Iraq's leaders have failed their people. Just as the U.S. has failed here - time and again.

But that doesn't mean the world has to fail the Iraqi people - again - by forgetting about this war.

And Americans cannot fail those fighting in their name. No matter what they feel about the war.

In fact it seems that those opposed to it have an even greater reason not to let the country forget.

  • Lara Logan

    Lara Logan's bold, award-winning reporting from war zones has earned her a prominent spot among the world's best foreign correspondents. Logan began contributing to 60 Minutes in 2005.