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 AJR  Features

From AJR,   October/November 2007  issue

“Groundhog Day” in Baghdad   


By Sherry Ricchiardi
Sherry Ricchiardi (sricchia@iupui.edu) is an AJR senior contributing writer.     

Associated Press correspondent Robert Reid describes life in the AP's Baghdad bureau in an e-mail to AJR's Sherry Ricchiardi:

"We live and work in a small three-story building, which AP renovated in 2006 after moving from the Palestine Hotel, which was targeted by a truck bomb in October 2005.

"For security reasons I don't want to give the precise location but it is in what U.S. officials refer to as the 'red zone.' Years ago the red zone was limited to a few dangerous neighborhoods, but over time it came to be used to describe the whole city, except for the Green Zone.

"We have our own security, which again I don't want to describe in detail.

"You have to be self-sufficient here. With frequent power cuts, we have to rely on generators, which can get expensive due to rising fuel costs. We also have our own water supply as backup when city water supplies run low. That requires a staff to maintain the equipment.

"We have our own cooks and people to buy food in the market.

"Work days are long here — routinely 15-16 hours although the pace eases off from time to time due to the cyclical nature of the story. Some days are not as busy as others. And we do not take days off.

"One of the reasons we don't take days off is that, really, there's not too much else to do except work. People come here mentally prepared for a hard slog.

"The downside of it all is a 'Groundhog Day' mentality that develops after a long period. You see the same people every day, do the same things. You lose track of the days of the week. In the newsroom you can hear people call out, "what's today? Monday? Tuesday?" Bombings, casualty reports, shootings, all take on a sameness. Today's carnage is quickly forgotten.

"To ease the stress and frankly the monotony, we have a few diversions. They include a small room that was turned into a gym with weights, stationary bike, treadmill. And we have a small DVD library thanks to some friendly editors in New York. The DVDs are used but not every night. Often people will be too tired and just retreat to their bedrooms to watch TV (we have satellite TV in the rooms) or read.

"And from time to time, especially on Thursday night, which is the end of the Iraqi work week, we barbecue in the back yard — if it's not too hot."