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On our first trip, in mid-September 2003, the State Department entourage and diplomatic press corps stayed for two full nights at the legendary al Rashid Hotel, the high-rise once heavily bugged by Saddam Hussein's security goons. Iraqi vendors in the hotel arcade sold military paraphernalia and souvenirs from the old regime. Medals that Hussein once bestowed on his troops went for 10 bucks -- or less, if you bargained enough.
Back then, we could tool around the Iraqi capital. With a New York Times colleague, I walked through the concrete barriers down the lonely lane that linked the protected Green Zone to the rest of Baghdad. U.S. troops stationed along the route didn't stop us.
My second trip to Baghdad, on July 30, 2004, some 15 months after the fall of the city, was a secret. This time, the press corps traveling with Powell couldn't report it until after we'd landed.
We traveled from the airport to the Green Zone in Black Hawk helicopters, with U.S. troops perched in open windows on both sides manning machine guns that fire as many as 4,000 rounds per minute.
The route was so dangerous that we were all given flak jackets and helmets for the short trip.
This time, we didn't stay even one night. The al Rashid had come under rocket fire in October 2003, when then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was visiting. The attack had killed one American soldier and wounded 15 other people.
My latest trip to Iraq, on Nov. 11, 31 months after the fall of the capital, was kept secret even from some of the people on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's plane. The dozen members of the traveling press were summoned to the State Department the day before we left on a trip to the Middle East and sworn to secrecy after a briefing about the additional stop.
We could tell an editor and a family member, but we were asked not to mention it to anyone else, particularly our bureaus in the Iraqi capital -- and not on the phone or by e-mail to anyone, at all, anywhere. If word got out, the trip would be canceled. A leak had forced the postponement of a similar trip in the spring.
The road between the airport and the Green Zone was officially considered safer, but we still flew in armed Black Hawks moving in diversionary patterns through the sky.
On this latest trip to Baghdad, the bubble shrank even more. No roaming the Green Zone. Not even a stop at the convention center. The press corps, including veteran war correspondents, was sequestered in Hussein's old palace for most of the seven-hour stay. We were discouraged from wandering the palace and were provided escorts to go to the bathroom.
Our one venture out was a short hop to the nearby prime minister's office, also in the Green Zone. All we saw were new barricades trimmed with razor wire, concrete blast walls, roadblocks and time-consuming identity checks. No Iraqis. No vendors. In October 2004, the bazaar had been attacked, one of two almost simultaneous suicide bombings inside the Green Zone that together killed 10, including four Americans.
November 25, 2005
Posted by Maria
In this article Robin Wright, a staff writer at the Washington Post, compares visits to Iraq: