It got worse. A year later, in October 2005, suicide bombers drove a cement mixer and two cars packed with TNT onto the grounds of the adjoining Sheraton and Palestine hotels and nearly destroyed them, failing only because the cement mixer got a piece of barbed wire tangled in its axle. A video released shortly afterward showed a man giving a presentation about attacking the two buildings. Toward the end, he noted that the Palestine was occupied “by foreign journalists and security companies.”
Today, most people assume that journalists live in the Green Zone. But in fact, very few of them do and most never have. Rather, they live in a few discrete—and heavily armed—compounds, generally in hotels or their immediate environs. “I wake up in this . . . thing,” says Time bureau chief Michael Ware, trying to describe his house in the Hamra Hotel complex. “The Ministry of the Interior has sealed off a four-block radius around it and put in nominal checkpoints, but we can’t rely on the Ministry of Interior, so our house has its own security perimeter, in case the compound is overrun. We have gun pits on our roof and snipers positioned up there on rotating shifts, plus other gunmen at various other points around the perimeter, and we have other checkpoints around our house . . . ” He trails off. “But to be honest,” he says, “if the insurgents decide they want you dead, they can kill you. They know exactly where we all live.”
When a large-enough pool of blood had gathered beneath him, Chris Kraul was shown from the hospital waiting room to a bed. About a dozen people, none of them doctors, gathered around, a few making a deceptive tsk-tsk sound, meant to convey pity rather than scorn. I’m so sorry, so sorry . . . they kept repeating.
Kraul could tell his right eye was leaking not just blood but viscous fluid, and the right side of his face had split open. One of his colleagues came over to check on him. “And I said to her, ‘Let’s get the hell out of here and go to the Green Zone,’ ” he says. “ ‘If Paul Bremer slips in the shower, someone’s gonna take care of him, right?’ ” One of their translators somehow got them an ambulance. They piled in.
Kraul spent seven hours on the operating table that night, in an Army hospital that had once been Saddam Hussein’s private clinic. The surgeons sewed up his face with 100 stitches; they stapled the broken metacarpal bone of his left hand. Luckily, an ophthalmological surgeon was on call that night. He cleaned out Kraul’s eye and stitched it up. The following morning, he handed Kraul a quarter-inch piece of glass that had sliced right through the center of his cornea.
Within a week, Kraul was back in Los Angeles. Over six months, he had four operations on his right eye. It’s still attached, still a part of him, but he can’t see out of it. Recently, he went to a specialist in Beverly Hills and got himself fitted for a fake one. But he’s back at work full time, still hiking on weekends, and still able to drive. “It’s a cliché to say, but you can pretty much do with one eye what you used to do with two,” he says. “Though it’s a bitch when you’re trying to parallel-park.”
Tim Page, the Vietnam War photographer who captured some of the most iconic images of the era, was once famously asked to write a book that would take the glamour out of war. “Take the glamour out of war!” he said. “How the bloody hell can you do that? . . . Can you take the glamour out of a Cobra or getting stoned on China Beach?”
Vietnam made the careers of Seymour Hersh, David Halberstam, and Peter Arnett, and a generation of New Journalists found their voices, writing in pens with opium tips. Covering Iraq has offered a certain gritty glamour, but the freewheeling, swashbuckling days are long over—it’s tough to be a cowboy when Baghdad has a curfew. Many reporters, especially those who’ve been there from the beginning, are numb from exhaustion, their excitement replaced by enervation and a grinding sense of duty. There’s a solemn camaraderie among these reporters, born largely of necessity. “There was a real recognition that we needed each other—not just for help if you missed a press conference, but borrowing each other’s armored cars in a pinch,” says Alissa Rubin, who spent more than two years in Iraq for the L.A. Times.
The best work to come out of Iraq hasn’t all followed one model. Rubin earned a reputation in Baghdad not just for writing with breadth and insight but for doing brave things, possibly insane things, like going up to Najaf when reporters were being kidnapped for trying to do so. (When Burns heard about her excursion, he asked one of his colleagues, “Goodness, do you think we’re a bunch of pantywaists?”) Time’s Michael Ware, an Aussie plucked straight from central casting (vainglorious, friendly, loonily intrepid), has similarly impressed colleagues with his connections to assorted insurgent groups, including Al Qaeda.