Monday, November 03, 2003

On Friday night, the eve of a possible "Day of Resistance" or uprising in Baghdad, the whole KR team (3 reporters, 2 photographers, 7 translators and drivers) left the al-Hamra hotel. We had heard a warning put out by the Australian government about a threat to a hotel in the neighborhood. There are least four in our block and we're the biggest.

It was a difficult decision, and I think some of us felt a little like schmucks for doing it, although maybe this is only in hindsight.

Personally, I wanted more information and didn't want to leave just because 80% of the hotel guests were doing the same, including most of the other journalists in the building. You can't make sound decisions here like lemmings going over a cliff.

One of our translators said why don't you leave just for the one night. Probably nothing will happen, but why give these cowards even a small percentage or possibility of harming you?

It was hard to argue against that. But the US Consular Officer described "a particular threat over the next two weeks beginning on 1 November." It's not the first time there have been warnings and I didn't want to be fleeing everytime someone said boo. We also didn't want to be having the same roundabout conversations each night.

KR had previously looked at moving into a private house and at the time rejected the idea (There are arguments that a private house isn't necessarily safer, and who wants to manage a house and all its staff? It's also more isolating).

Most of us had been inclined to stay at the al-Hamra. We talked about the kind of attack that might take place, and what the chances were for a car bomber versus a rocket attack and which direction an attack might come from and whether we were safer on a higher or lower floor.

Then another one of our translators arrived and insisted that a United Nations building down the street from us would be hit and begged us to leave. I wasn't sure whether to trust the information, but I wasn't sure I could disregard it either.

Another journalist next door recommended sleeping in the hallway if we stayed, to protect ourselves from flying glass.

As we sat and mulled it over, we got a phone call from a photographer who had heard from two Coalition Provisional Authority employees that the rumor was gunmen were going to burst into our hotel and shoot everyone. That sort of did it and we all went to stay with our translators.

But by mid-morning Saturday, we were all back. I don't know if the others felt a little foolish. I know I felt sheepish the night before as we passed the hotel security guards on our way out, leaving them behind to deal with whatever bloody attack we envisioned. My driver had shouted a fond good night to them, thanked them and urged them to be safe.

On Saturday, the so-called Day of Resistance didn't pan out. One of my KR colleagues figures the real target was not the Hamra but another hotel down the block. My driver wants to bring our security guards a meal after 5:15 pm, when they're allowed to break their Ramadan fast.

I moved all my things back in Saturday afternoon, unpacked again and slept pretty peacefully. Today (Sunday) was also quiet in Baghdad but not in Falluja. A Chinook helicopter was shot down by an unknown weapon, killing 15 soldiers and injuring more than 20, in the deadliest single strike against US troops since the start of the war.

The soldiers were flying into Baghdad airport to catch a flight out to Germany or the US for some much-needed rest and recreation.

Sort of puts things into perspective.