• The Rush of a Low Profile: Correspondent Nicholas Blanford took a trip with Lieutenant General Petraeus to the Iraqi military training camps at Taji and Kirkush near the Iranian border. It involved low-level flights aboard Blackhawk helicopters.
"I have flown in military helicopters before, but never at roof-top level," says Nick. "The helicopters fly low and fast so that insurgents don't have time to fire antiaircraft missiles. The result is a thrill ride for the passengers. We skimmed the roofs of Baghdad and then the palm-tree plantations in the flat terrain of the Sunni triangle north of the capital."
Nick says that they were flying so low that the helicopter had to ascend to avoid electricity cables. "The trip to Kirkush crosses a large expanse of desert and we were flying about 30 feet off the ground," he says. "There are no side doors on Blackhawks so we could lean out and shoot photographs. Despite the blow-dryer heat, it was definitely the best way to travel in Iraq."
When Nick arrived at Taji military training camp, he was allowed to peel away from other reporters in his group and accompany General Petraeus while he toured the headquarters building and addressed his American trainers. "At one point, Petraeus sat in the office of a Kurdish colonel and they chatted about morale and their aspirations for the new Iraq," Nick says. "Unbeknown to the general, the television just behind him was tuned in to the Al-Manar channel of Lebanon's Hizbullah, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the US. The channel was showing footage of Hizbullah militants attacking Israeli outposts in south Lebanon and propaganda clips supporting the Palestinian intifada. I later asked the Kurdish colonel why he was watching Hizbullah TV. He said, 'It's important to know what your enemy is thinking.' "
Nick told Petraeus of the colonel's answer and says that he seemed pleased.
Deputy world editor