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CNN PRESENTS: Iraq Votes
Aired January 27, 2005 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. Live from Baghdad, I'm Anderson Cooper. Welcome back to our special coverage IRAQ VOTES.
A special edition of CNN PRESENTS will take place in just a moment but first these headlines from Iraq.
It is Friday morning here, a few hours before dawn, some 48 hours before the polls open here for Iraq's historic election. Officially campaigning ends in one hour. The (UNINTELLIGIBLE) television commercial by Iraqi candidates ends in one hour as well but, as we said, some 48 hours until the polls open.
Yesterday for the first time, Iraqi local newspapers printed a complete list of all the candidates, previously they had not all been named because of security considerations.
Voting has already begun, however in countries around the world. In Australia, for instance, the voting has already begun. It is underway there, Iraqi expatriates casting ballots. More than 280,000 expats in 14 countries will be able to vote in Iraq's elections over the next three days. Iran has the largest voting block, 50,000 expats there expected to vote.
Back here, at least a dozen people were killed, insurgents stepping up attacks on polling stations and elsewhere throughout the country. In Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, a suicide car bomb outside the governor's office killed an Iraqi police lieutenant, wounded four other people. The bomb exploded as a convoy of Iraqi police was passing by. Across the country, three other Iraqi policemen killed in separate attacks.
In Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown, a bystander killed by a roadside bomb that was targeting a U.S. convoy and attacks in at least seven provinces and American forces have stepped up their operations.
The casualty list has stepped up as well. Two more Americans died here on Thursday, a soldier and a Marine. Of course a helicopter crashed, an accident, killed 31 Americans in a crash.
We will have more coverage all evening long. I'll be back in about half an hour.
Right now, here's Aaron Brown with a special edition of CNN PRESENTS.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ANNOUNCER: Bullets and ballots, elections and insurgents.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Many police stations now are just shells. Many of them have walls blown out, the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) have been set on fire.
ANNOUNCER: Throughout the new Iraq hope is often overshadowed by inconsolable grief.
JANE ARRAF, CNN BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF: One of the things that will haunt me is the sight of a man carrying a child in his arms.
ANNOUNCER: Death, uncertainty, the daily facts of life in the danger zone.
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He was firing pretty much from that position just bang, bang, bang. Windows started exploding in the vehicle.
ANNOUNCER: These are the stories of the new Iraq, firsthand accounts from the reporters who have witnessed this war-torn nation struggle to overcome, to rebuild, to survive.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At every milestone that we've witnessed the hope has been that this will somehow change the direction of the violence in Iraq.
AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: In Iraq, the stakes couldn't be higher than right now, right now when the prospects for peace, let alone democracy, are uncertain at best.
Welcome to this special edition of CNN PRESENTS. I'm Aaron Brown.
Faced with an untamed insurgency and an imperfect election, Iraq remains poised on the brink. Over the next hour we'll zoom in from the big picture to focus on the detail, a rare street level view of the way it really is in what really is a war zone.
These are first person accounts from CNN correspondents on the ground. They are stories of mayhem and miracles, stories of life and of loss, stories of a nation under fire.
We begin with CNN's Nic Robertson in the north of Iraq, the city of Mosul, where the hunt is on for suspected insurgent hideouts.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got two males, two kids.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got some magazines.
ROBERTSON: With an election date now set the stakes for eradicating intimidation have been raised making the success of raids like this even more critical.
I was assigned to Mosul in mid-November and I'd been covering the offensive in Falluja but it appeared when that offensive began that trouble began to start in Mosul. The vast majority of the city is about a 4,000 police force had deserted their posts. Many police stations now are just shells. Many of them have walls blown out. Their vehicles have been set on fire.
Mosul was a place that the Ba'ath Party drew quite a lot of its senior members from. They did very well under Saddam Hussein and they live in some of the more prosperous parts of Mosul.
(voice-over): These are the places that the troops are going in to target.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell me where the hidden stuff is.
ROBERTSON: You have these sort of richer former Ba'ath Party members who they believe are sort of behind the inspiration and funding for the insurgency. The first thing that I witnessed what's known as a rock drill and this is where there's an operation planned and the streets are marked out on the ground with while tape and little wooden replica houses are put out there with the target house clearly marked and the soldiers walk through it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We go over all of the types of risk that we might see out on any objective.
ROBERTSON (on camera): Captain Robert Lackey (ph) was the commander of the unit that I was embedded with.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On top of building 20...
ROBERTSON: Task Force Olympia, which is a striker brigade.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, are we clear?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go ahead and start moving out.
ROBERTSON: It was very impressive to watch him going through the briefings checking, checking, checking but all the men under his command understood what they had to do, not just out of professionalism getting the job done but out of the personal concern to make sure that everyone comes back alive from every operation, that everybody is safe.
The idea of the rock drill is to prepare the soldiers for what's going to happen but it was raining. The rain was coming down. It was the beginning of winter. It was really beginning to feel cold and, you know, it was clear that this was going to be an uncomfortable operation for the troops.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. You need to tell your guys suck it up and (expletive) do your job. They're going to be cold. They're going to be wet but coming back to a warm bed.
ROBERTSON: They were only at that stage only two months into a 12-month tour, ten months to go, you know, just before Christmas.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to get their hands, get their hands down when you set them up.
ROBERTSON (voice-over): As we went through on the first few raids it became apparent literally the first house we went into after about 15 minutes it became apparent that while they were on the right street they had the wrong house.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, nobody from my family.
ROBERTSON (on camera): What was very interesting about being on that raid and this was all about trying to find somebody who was involved in intimidating Iraqis.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know where the house is or do one of these gentlemen know?
ROBERTSON (voice-over): He said the man in the house really was too afraid to want to give the troops any information.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please don't put me in (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have to put you in this position.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fourth door you can shot.
ROBERTSON: And they did eventually manage to convince him that it would be better for the people of Mosul, better for the people of Iraq if he told them.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The fourth door which way?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With the name being hit over there and him pointing out this, that gives us enough information to action on this house as well.
ROBERTSON: Of course when they got to that house the men of the family weren't there. The women in the house said they were out in a farmhouse. The family was saying well these men are farmers. They didn't buy that story at all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that it?
ROBERTSON: When the soldiers went out and, of course, we have to travel with them.
(on camera): We have to get out with them quick. They're the security in the area so when they go we have to go.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I ask you a question?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When do they come in your house?
ROBERTSON (voice-over): OK, I'm going to stand here 30 seconds and I'm going to try and talk to this family and find out what they think about what the troops are doing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) are shaking (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
ROBERTSON: When the soldiers come they think that they're trying to make Mosul safer.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know your people are calm people. I know that.
ROBERTSON (on camera): As I talked to this particular family they immediately associated me with the troops and I wasn't really confident that they were really opening up and telling me what they really thought. I think that they were telling me what they wanted me to hear.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, great job, great job, (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
ROBERTSON (voice-over): The more time I spent with this particular unit and the more time I spent with Captain Lackey the more I grew to respect the professionalism of the job that he was doing.
(on camera): And I said to him, you know, "What's really important for you in the months ahead? You have a long way to go here." And he said, "What I really want to be able to do is to get to bring all my men home alive" that he doesn't have to call relatives back home, that there aren't empty chairs around the next briefing.
And, of course, the day that I left I flew back to Baghdad and I heard that two soldiers were killed in Mosul and when the names were released and the unit name was released a couple of days later, I realized immediately that these were Captain Robert Lackey's men and I knew that this was -- this was what he really didn't want to happen.
ANNOUNCER: When CNN PRESENTS returns...
BRENT SADLER, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There are times in some conflicts where particular human tragedies really get to you.
ANNOUNCER: ...the wounded 4-year-old boy whose story grabbed the world's attention.
BROWN: We now return to UNDER FIRE, stories from the new Iraq.
SADLER: There are times in some conflicts where particular human tragedies really get to you and there was one of those occasions surrounding a tears-to-triumph story of a young 4-year-old Iraqi boy called Baqa Ali Hussein (ph).
He was out playing one day when he was caught in the crossfire when U.S. troops responded to an attack and he was hit by a bullet. Now the bullet wedged in the base of his skull in his head. Now he carried that bullet fragment for seven months and that was having a devastating effect on young Baqa Ali's life.
He was having serious problems walking. He couldn't talk clearly. He was beginning to have his hearing and eyesight affected. So, this little boy seemed set to suffer a life doomed by growing incapacity to live a normal life. Now, CNN ran a story about Baqa Ali Hussein.
The tragic circumstances of one little boy's ordeal in the ordeal of Iraq as a nation and, as a result of that piece, that first story that ran, there was a response.
Greece wanted to intervene to try to improve the plight of this little boy. He will be taken by the Greek authorities out of Baghdad, be flown to Greece to have an operation to remove this bullet from the base of his skull. So, Baqa Ali was flown out of Iraq and taken for several weeks to Athens to have this operation done.
I picked up the story on a bright, sunny day at Baghdad International Airport waiting for Baqa Ali Hussein to return home from this operation. How was he going to look?
So, there I was with my cameraman waiting on the tarmac feeling I hoped within my heart this would be a happy ending to this story for at least one family in Iraq.
The airplane came to land so the mum, dad, boy came down the steps of this charter plane and I could see amazingly the little boy was able to walk much better and we just let them walk past us to go into the airport terminal.
While inside the airport terminal there were some unforgettable moments because obviously I wanted to try and talk to Baqa Ali himself to see how his speech was. Was it impaired in the way that it was before?
His mum and dad were beaming. They were very proud of this little boy and the ordeal he'd been through. So, I squatted down on my haunches to come down to a 4-year-old's eye level and started trying to talk to him.
Now, instead of trying to engage in conversation, Baqa Ali just threw his arms around me. He started to kiss me. He was saying, obviously speaking Arabic saying thank you, thank you, thank you, not once but several times. He came backwards and forwards, hugged me around the neck and really it was a heart-wrenching moment because you have this small child, one innocent victim of the war as a whole in Iraq being plucked out from the obscurity of probably having a life doomed by invalidity, coming back with renewed hope.
How's the head? Oh, oh, oh, what a cute little boy. Look at this boy. How's the head? How is the head doing?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, OK.
SADLER: When he finished hugging and kissing me and smiling and waving at everybody, including the Greek diplomat, he kissed the Greek diplomat as well and the diplomat was somewhat taken aback by that I think as well. We were all surprised by what he was doing. He was running around a happy little boy, 4-year-old boy, as you'd expect him to be.
And then we followed their vehicle to where he lived in a pretty poor neighborhood in Baghdad and the whole street was out, maybe 50, 60 people. It was chaos.
When Baqa Ali came out of the vehicle there was chaos and sweets cascade, toffees, candies cascaded on this little boy's head. We don't get many really good, happy stories with good endings in war, in the tragedy of war. This was one of them.
ANNOUNCER: Next on CNN PRESENTS, Saddam Hussein's day in court.
AMANPOUR: The first inkling I had that Saddam was arriving was the sound of the chains.
BROWN: The handover of sovereignty and the first courtroom appearance of Saddam Hussein, two milestones in the brief history of the new Iraq. U.S. officials saw both as critical stepping stones on a path to a peaceful democracy in the country but, as it turned out, neither event had the desired impact. The hurried handover took place in near secrecy. Saddam's courtroom appearance did little to stem the insurgency.
CNN's Christiane Amanpour witnessed both events.
AMANPOUR: The transfer of power from American occupation to Iraqi sovereignty took place at the very end of June. One morning I came into the office. It was very early. I think it was about 7:00 a.m. and I received word that we were called to the Green Zone, heavily fortified, sort of one island they hoped of safety in the middle of this unsafe Baghdad.
We were called there. They wouldn't tell us what for and we were taken into this sort of holding room and we go through this whole hullabaloo. Our phones get confiscated. Our radios get confiscated. We can't broadcast. We can't phone out. We can't tell our people what's going on.
And then we get taken into this other room and we arrive in this other room and there we find Paul Bremer, the head of the occupation authority; Iyad Allawi, the interim prime minister; the interim Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawer. We witnessed this very, very short ceremony, very bland, very short. There were some smiles and then it was over.
Well, of course, as a journalist you think, wow this is great. Off we go. We've got the exclusive. Let's see who can get the news out first. So, of course, we ran for our phones and our walkie- talkies to see that they had been disappeared.
And, I remember running for my phone. I was body blocked by a huge former Navy SEAL, now bodyguard to any number of these new officials and I mean almost knocked to the floor and I went ballistic. I mean I just went nuts.
I said, "But we need our phones. We're journalists. You brought us here to tell us the story." Such was the paranoia, such was the fear because of this incredibly insecure situation that they just, they wanted to hold onto this news for several hours. Well, after a lot of, you know, to and fro and back and forth, we finally got our equipment back and we got the news out.
This is once again sovereign Iraqi territory.
Certainly the Americans and the Iraqis were very pleased that they'd managed to pull this off without it being sabotaged by the insurgents.
PAUL BREMER: The future of Iraq belongs to you, the Iraqi people.
AMANPOUR: At every milestone that we've witnessed the hope has been that this will somehow change the direction of the violence in Iraq, whether it was the capture of Saddam Hussein, whether it was the transfer of sovereignty in June of 2004, whether it was the preliminary hearing of Saddam Hussein in July of 2004.
I was lucky. I was one of three journalists who were able to get into the little makeshift courtroom for Saddam's initial court appearance and, of course, it was the first time he was being seen since he had been captured the December before.
And the last time people had seen him, he looked really like a caveman so that when it came time to see him in his court appearance one of the things we all wanted to know was what would he look like?
The first inkling I had that Saddam was arriving was the sound of the chains and I heard this sort of clanking of chains coming in and we all sat bolt upright in the courtroom. He came in. We sort of gasped because he was very thin. He looked very dark. He had trimmed his hair obviously. The Iraqis who were in that courtroom were still scared at this moment. All these months after Saddam had lost power they were still scared that somehow he was going to rise like a Phoenix and, I don't know, assume his presidential mantle again.
LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: But first, Saddam Hussein defiant in his first day in court today.
AMANPOUR: The anchors wanted to sort of move me into the train of talking about the defiant Saddam Hussein, how this former dictator came to court and he was still defiant.
And you know when you describe him as defiant and combative I think that this is a really interesting case of where the video clashes with reality.
So, one of my biggest tasks in trying to recount the story of Saddam in court was to try to express and try to make our viewers realize that this was a man who was cowed, who was stripped bare f all his power.
I know for sure that the Americans, the interim Iraqi government hoped that by putting Saddam on trial and by having him have this public first court appearance that it would tamp down the insurgency but it hasn't.
And, I have heard from my sources who are in the legal community and who deal with Saddam Hussein they tell me now that he's being less and less cooperative because he is also hearing about the insurgency.
He knows it's going on and he's wondering perhaps maybe it will work. Maybe it will run the Americans out of town. Maybe one day he will have a chance to get back to power.
ANNOUNCER: Coming up on CNN PRESENTS, behind the scenes of the battle of Samarra.
ARRAF: There is the sound of women sobbing and not just sobbing, tearing their clothes, tearing their hair. It's this unending, inconsolable grief.
COOPER: Good evening again from Baghdad. I'm Anderson Cooper.
Just 48 hours and change until Iraq's historic election begins. For Iraqi expatriates, however, in other countries the election may have already begun. Australia started first. More than 280,000 expats in 14 countries will be able to vote in Iraq's elections over the next three days. Iran has the largest voting block. More than 50,000 expats are registered there. Here in Iraq throughout the country at least a dozen people have been killed in the last 24 hours as insurgents are stepping up their attacks against polling stations. They rained mortar and machine gun fire on seven polling stations in Kirkuk, shot up a police patrol there as well.
To the south in Samarra, armed men took over a school where voting was set to take place on Sunday. They ordered everyone out, blew the place up. They were not the only incidents, however.
In Baquba, north of here, a suicide car bomb outside the governor's office killed an Iraqi police lieutenant, wounded four other people. The bomb exploded as a convoy of Iraqi police was passing by.
Across the country three other Iraqi policemen were killed in separate attacks. In Saddam Hussein's hometown, Tikrit, a bystander was killed by a roadside bomb targeting a U.S. convoy.
In addition, attacks were reported in Basra in the south, which has been relatively peaceful up to now. Also investigators are now saying the crash of a Marine Corps helicopter in western Iraq yesterday was most likely an accident. It went down about 200 miles west of here; 31 Americans died in the crash, including 26 Marines from the same battalion based in Hawaii.
That's all the headlines right now from Iraq. Let's return to Aaron Brown and CNN PRESENTS.
BROWN: Seventy-Five miles northwest of Baghdad lays the city of Samarra, a rebel stronghold in the Sunni Triangle. Samarra was the target of a major U.S.-led offensive in September. It was a fierce and bloody battle, a battle ultimately won by U.S. forces, but at what cost?
Here is CNN's Jane Arraf.
JANE ARRAF, CNN BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF: One of the importances of Samarra is that it was one of the capitals of the Islamic empire.
Now, in modern day, of course, it had become a place of violence, a place of dissent. This was one of the battles, a battle that was purported to be a model for the rest of the country. There was really an active participation for the first time by Iraqi soldiers, by Iraqi special forces, by Iraqi police.
We had been pressing to go to Samarra for a long time. We were told we would be the only television people there, which was terrific. For 10 hours, we were in the back of this vehicle with explosions around us, with fighting around us. And, finally, when dawn came, they let us out of this vehicle and there was this amazing sight, hundreds and hundreds of soldiers on foot, marching down the street.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get ahold of 3-6. Tell him to mark his location. And the VS-17 panel will put it at his location.
ARWA DAMON, CNN PRODUCER: Captain George Rodriguez was the commander of the soldiers we were with, Charlie Company of the New York National Guard. His nickname was Prime-time. Apparently, whenever the media came by, they always ended up focusing on him. He was one of those very charismatic people, very soft-spoken, yet commanded the respect of his troops.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give me a distance on that alleyway. How far off they were receiving fire from.
ARRAF: They aren't fighting for weapons of mass destruction. They aren't fighting to prevent terrorism necessarily. Their main role is to keep their buddies on either side of them safe, so they can all go home alive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That 5-4 building, keep an eye on those (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
ARRAF: And that was a lot of the motivation. When the major part of that battle was over, they took over this hotel. And as one of the National Guards Guardsmen was setting up an anti-mortar position on the roof, he was killed by a sniper.
In less than 24 hours, they retook that city. There were minimum civilian casualties. There were minimum Iraqi and American casualties. And they deemed it a huge success. One of the things that happened in Samarra that happens over and over in Iraq that is endlessly fascinating, compelling, astonishing is that, out of this devastation, very quickly, you get people coming out.
DAMON: And we walked into the storefronts that were barbershops for the most part. And there was broken glass everywhere that would just crunch under your feet as you were walking in. And in the middle of it all, this gentleman is sitting and he is getting his Friday haircut, as though the world hadn't just exploded all around him.
ARRAF: And into these shops would go Captain Rodriguez with some of his men to try to negotiate how much they wanted for the damage that had been done. And then the bargaining started.
DAMON: Captain Rodriguez and his soldiers had spent pretty much a solid 12 hours in this area around the mosque, paying out compensation. I looked at him and I thought to myself, I was like, I really wish I could give you a hug and say, listen, everything is going to be OK. All these efforts you have put in are going to be worth it. This country is going to be fine. This is going to be a great story to tell someday. And I just -- I really couldn't bring myself to do it, because I just -- I couldn't lie to him.
ARRAF: One of the absolutely fascinating things that we saw is a conversation between the commander, Colonel Dragon, Randy Dragon, who was talking to the governor about how to reconstruct.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When are we going to get the kids back to school? ARRAF: And the governor was going through these streets and he was telling us initially what an amazing reception he had in these streets, about how wonderful everyone thought it was, how well he was being treated.
He would go through these streets. And we went with the governor. And this was really amazing and heartening, because, again, I come from the Saddam era, when people just did not complain. And for me to see people complaining in public to a figure of authority is just an amazing thing.
So they were saying to the governor, yes, you're here now. Where have you been for the last six weeks. We're not going to see you for another month and half.
It was almost -- if you want to talk about democracy, maybe that was one of the seeds of democracy.
As we approach the Samarra General Hospital, which was the main hospital there, there was a sound that I will always think of as the soundtrack to the war that I have been covering in Baghdad. It is the sound of women sobbing, and not just sobbing, tearing their clothes, tearing their hair, just this unending, inconsolable grief.
And one of the things that will haunt me is the sight of a man carrying a child in his arms. We don't know how he died. It was one of those little bits of things that jump out at you that hint at horrors that we can't even imagine.
DAMON: The Iraqis had their first press conference about Samarra about a few days after the main fighting. And the minister of interior walked in with Colonel Dragon, who was commanding the U.S. forces down there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello. (INAUDIBLE) How are you?
DAMON: And said to him, shook his hand and said, congratulations, sir, on a battle with no civilian casualties. And I just remember being so shocked at hearing him say that, especially having seen what we had just seen in the hospital in Samarra, having seen the bodies, having seen the sorrow, thinking to myself, how could you ever say that?
ARRAF: You mentioned there were no civilian casualties. Surely, there were some.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There might be. There might be. But there is a minimum civilian casualties.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who is your one person staying to collect the body?
ARRAF: We asked the National Guard what they thought of this. Were these civilians? Was it a tragedy? Was it worth the battle? And one of them said civilians, insurgents? Who knows. You can't tell. This is war. DAMON: The hardest question I have ever gotten from an Iraqi person I have spoken to has been, why? Why did this happen to us?
The woman who is crying wants to know why. And the two brothers who just lost their son are crying and they want to know why. And everybody just wants to know why. And there's just absolutely nothing that you can say to them. How do you ever answer that question? How can you ever justify a person's sorrow or their loss? There's just nothing to say.
ANNOUNCER: When CNN PRESENTS returns:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRENT SADLER, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And inside that hospital, we found a Baghdad city official literally bleeding to death.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Insurgents try to wipe out Iraq's professionals. Brent Sadler follows the trail of blood.
BROWN: Welcome back to CNN PRESENTS.
They're working to rebuild Iraq, to secure a country ravaged by war. They're policemen, politicians, civil servants, professionals who risk their lives literally every day, men and women who have become prime targets of a vicious insurgency.
Their story from CNN's Brent Sadler.
SADLER: It was clear from reports we were getting from security forces that there was an increasing number, radically increasing number, of professionals within Iraqi society being killed.
Those who were working for the central government, for also the central occupation authorities under the United States leadership, these sort of professional classes were being eliminated, one by one, sometimes more than one in one day alone. This was the story we wanted to follow up. So, we went to see a family in one of the districts of Baghdad to talk to relatives of a political analyst and leading human rights activist, a man called Abdul Latif al-Maya (ph), who had been gunned down after appearing on a local Arab satellite channel.
So, we're sitting in this room, camera is rolling, and I'm talking about the loss of their loved one as a result of a hit by machine gunfire. At that moment, I heard another burst of machine gunfire, very similar to what this man was describing in front of me. And then we rushed outside.
We jumped in our vehicle and drove off in the sound of where the gun shots came from. On the road, we saw puddles of blood. People told us the victims had been taken to a nearby hospital. We then followed a trail of blood to the hospital to track down what had happened. And inside that hospital, we found a Baghdad city official, Sala Adi Medhi (ph), literally bleeding to death before doctors could start the important job of trying to save his life.
Now, in the grand scale of things, he was one of the most important people in the Baghdad City Council. He was No. 2. He was an important administrative official. And he was representative of many of those civil servants that are the lifeblood of the emerging new Iraqi authorities.
And it was these specific people, not gunmen, not security forces, that they wanted to eliminate, the insurgents aiming to take out the professional class. So it was really designed to kill, to intimidate, to scare and to break the backbone of those Iraqis who are coming forward under tremendously difficult conditions, deadly conditions in many circumstances, risking their life and limb every day to go to work.
This was the aim of the insurgents, to break that will. We saw the mother, the brother, the sister and the wife of this very badly wounded official coming in straight from their jobs, from their homes. And they were absolutely gut-wrenched, obviously, by what they were seeing, their loved ones literally lying on gurneys with their blood quite clearly on the floor.
Now, the emergency room doctors came in and started dealing with triage, started dealing with trying to staunch the flow of blood. And then I saw his bodyguard also very badly wounded. They had been hit by multiple bullets as a result of an attack from AK-47 assault rifles. His driver died, but the bodyguard survived and the official eventually survived.
And I remember, as I left the emergency room, his wife said to me, you know, I wish my husband would not go back to his job, but I don't think I will be able to stop him. It's that important to him.
ANNOUNCER: When CNN PRESENTS returns:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He was just firing pretty much from that position.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Michael Holmes and the nightmare of every journalist who has ever reported from a war zone.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOLMES: It's personal when you see the guy doing the shooting, you've got one of your mates bleeding in your lap and you lost two people that you felt very close to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Iraq is one of the most dangerous places in the world for a working journalist. More than a third of the record 129 media personnel killed last year died in Iraq. And two of them were our own. Duraid Isa Mohammed, a translator, and driver Yasser Khatab were gunned down when a CNN convoy came under attack.
Correspondent Michael Holmes was there.
HOLMES: We had been down at a town in the south called Hillah. We had been doing a story down there, ironically, on democracy classes for civilians going and learning about democracy. We were on our way back up to Baghdad. We had a two-car convoy, because that's the way we do things. You've got to have two cars in case one breaks down. And that's a safety issue. It was just a lottery who was in which car.
SCOTT MCWHINNIE, CNN PHOTOGRAPHER: You didn't have any clue at all about something was going to have something like that. I mean, just I had my head in the window. We were just chatting. And then we all jumped back in our cars took off and headed for home, ready to cut the story. But, literally, I don't know, 30 seconds, a minute later, all hell broke loose.
HOLMES: The first thing I remember was the sound of the crack of a rifle.
MCWHINNIE: I remember all the windows just shattering and you just hear thump, thump, thump.
HOLMES: Then a bullet pretty much went right between Scott and my head. And I remember looking forward and seeing it go out the front windshield. Scotty (ph) and I both turned around. It was just instinct to turn around and see where the gunfire was coming from.
I saw a sedan behind us and a man standing out of the sunroof, two-thirds of his body out of the sunroof. He had an AK-47. Could see his face, could see the weapon. He was no more than 30 or 40 feet from us. He was just firing pretty much from that position, just bang, bang, bang.
In that split-second, as I was looking back and saw him, I got a glimpse of Yasser and Duraid's car going off and into a center median. And I remember seeing blood on the windshield.
MCWHINNIE: I saw Yasser and Duraid's car. I saw them like spinning across the road and then flip into the ditch. HOLMES: When I had looked back and then went down across the seat, I grabbed the flak jacket and pulled it in behind me. And I looked up. And Scotty was still looking out the back.
MCWHINNIE: And then I see this other car with the guy standing out the sunroof, with a black balaclava on, and an AK just like riddling us with bullets. I remember Holmes, he said to me, like, get down.
HOLMES: And I reached up and grabbed the front of his flak jacket and pulled him down across in front of me. I think he was hit on the way down.
MCWHINNIE: Mitch (ph), our security guy, he was looking. And he was like -- he said, sort of no, no. And I remember him going, taking two deep breaths and then just leaning right out the window, and turning around to the gunman and just firing off rounds into the gunman.
HOLMES: Scotty, I still had my hand on him. I had my hand on his head. And he said, Holmesy, man, I think I've been hit. And I took my hand off him and there was just blood everywhere.
MCWHINNIE: I remember lying on Holmesy's sort of lap like this. And we were all huddled down, just thinking, I don't want to go. I don't -- God, I don't want to die.
HOLMES: Scotty and I had covered Afghanistan, Gaza, West Bank, Iraq before. We had worked closely together in some pretty nasty situations. And to have a friend like that basically bleeding on your lap and expressing doubts that he was going to make it is a pretty traumatic thing.
MCWHINNIE: And then all the gunfire stopped and I remember like sort of opening my eyes and sort of sitting up. And I couldn't see nothing. And I thought, blimey, I'm dead.
HOLMES: He had been shot, just skipped across the top of his scalp. And, of course, that bleeds like crazy. It wasn't life threatening, we found out later, but it's pretty terrifying.
ODAI SADIK, CNN PRODUCER: I just came back from my day off and it was a great day to start with. I was out on assignment and came back and I was told that Duraid is missing. We don't know where Duraid is. Him and Yasser went missing after on the way back.
MCWHINNIE: At the time in the hospital, it was like, where's Yasser and Duraid? Are they back?
HOLMES: This whole time, while we're looking after Scott and the chaos that follows an incident like that, I'm on the two-way the whole time calling for Yasser and Duraid. And I remember once getting some sort of static on it. And I thought, is that them? Is that a response? It was like a little bit of hope there for half-a-second. But we never heard back from them. SADIK: I get into the car to go to the hospital. And I go there and I see Humvees pulling over to the -- pulling up to the hospital itself. I get out of the car and I walk to them and say, I'm CNN. They say, you know -- they check my I.D.s and then they tell me that Duraid and Yasser, they have just Duraid and Yasser, and they're both dead. I couldn't believe what they told me.
So, I asked to -- I wanted to see them. They wouldn't let me see them. And then they showed me digital pictures of them and that's when I knew it was them.
INGRID FORMANEK, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: I was heartbroken. I think a lot of my colleagues felt the pain very deeply, because we knew both of them quite well, especially Duraid. I felt very attached to Duraid, because I had hired him in Saddam's time. And when he walked into the office, I was amazed.
He was not your usual Iraqi. He wasn't afraid to speak. He was full of energy. He had ideas. He wasn't easily cowered. This was not something we saw in Saddam's Iraq. I saw Duraid as maybe a chance for Iraq, for maybe the new Iraq, because he had taken this opportunity, this change, with a lot of energy, and he threw himself into it.
But that death was a little bit of death of Iraq. And, to me, it's come to symbolize a lot of this conflict.
HOLMES: Over the years, like a lot of people in our business, covered awful things, like Rwanda and the Middle East extensively. And I have seen a lot of bad things. But it's personal when you see the guy doing the shooting, you've got one of your mates bleeding in your lap, and you lost two people that you felt very close to.
Duraid in particular had been my translator on previous trips to Iraq. He and I had a lot in common in a way. I mean, we would socialize afterward. His kids are the same age as mine. They're young. He was just a terrific guy with a great love of life.
SADIK: It's loss of hope. People like him don't come very often.
He wrote this a few days before he died. And this is the first time that I actually read it. "And the killing still goes on. Women, children, fine young men trying to earn their decent living are getting killed every day. How long will this go on? When will I be next?"
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