Monday, October 13, 2003

I was heading back to Baghdad from a visit to Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's office in Najaf when the bomb at the Baghdad Hotel went off. Najaf is two hours south of Baghdad. As our drivers sped back, Detroit Free Press photographer David Gilkey and I spoke by radio. We knew we’d never make it to the scene before soldiers closed off the area and we knew from a satellite phone call to our Knight Ridder colleagues that they were on top of things. I sat forward in the car seat, feeling useless and thinking about early reports that at least 6 to 10 people were dead and dozens had been injured. The Baghdad Hotel is home to government contractors and people who work with the coalition, including Iraqis on the Governing Council. Gilkey joked that our hotel is next. I called my husband in New York, where it was 730 a.m., to say I was fine and asked him to tell the rest of my family in the Bay Area that it wasn’t my hotel. He told me what CNN was reporting and then our connection was cut off. Later, I heard that a Washington Post reporter was inside the hotel interviewing a government official when the blast went off. I made it back to cover the briefing by coalition officials, where another reporter asked whether the Coalition Provisional Authority could order hotels to beef up security. CPA spokesman Charles Heatly’s reply was that in this case, existing security measures had worked – Iraqi police shot at the car speeding through a checkpoint, and it detonated before it could get closer to the Baghdad Hotel. The gates at the al-Hamra don’t seem so big anymore.