Reporters on the Job

A Changing Baghdad: Correspondent Jill Carroll (story, page 1) first set foot in Baghdad four days after the city fell to US forces. "The big danger then was at night when gunfire would break out between US soldiers and looters, or among gangs," she says. Iraqis, she recalls, wanted to get hold of a satellite phone, which most journalists had, to tell relatives they were alive. I remember one enterprising guy standing in the famous Ferdos Square with a satellite phone charging a dollar a minute - and a long line of people waiting. I could wade into the crowds in front of the Palestine and Sheraton hotels, interviewing anyone without fear, openly telling them I was an American reporter."

Jill eventually left Baghdad, and returned for a stint three months later in July. "I remember the day we heard the shocking news that an US convoy had been hit by a bomb on a highway. One reporter threw on his flak jacket and raced out to cover something that is so routine now that it's hard to remember it was once big news."

After another absence, Jill moved to Baghdad to freelance fulltime in fall 2004. "I was surprised the electricity was still not fixed and struck by the traffic. A few days after I arrived, a massive boom shook me out of bed. It was the first day of Ramadan and five car bombs went off across Baghdad."

Jill says it was the beginning of what would become a tragic routine. "But still, I would often go to impoverished Sadr City, even the to thieves' market, and feel safe interviewing anyone," she says. "That ended April 4, when a Marine siege of Fallujah and a Shiite uprising made it dangerous for foreigners. Suddenly I had to wear a hijab in the car."

After another trip away, Jill returned this January. "After a terrifying fall when kidnapping and beheading became common, many journalists and freelancers had left," she says. "There are only a few of the old stalwart freelancers around now. I can't walk in the streets anymore or drop into a shop to talk to average Iraqis."

The starkest difference is in Omar. Jill has gauged her time in Iraq partly by the sentiments of a 23-year-old friend who initially was excited about his country's future. She says he called US soldiers "my brothers" and collected anything with a US flag on it. "He felt real sadness at news of growing attacks on US troops," she says.

Today, Omar openly says his generation is lost. "He doesn't feel anger at the US, just deep disappointment," says Jill. "He jokes all the time now and tells old stories to avoid talk of the future or the current news."

Amelia Newcomb
Deputy world editor

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