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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Month of Mayhem

Aired May 18, 2007 - 23:00   ET


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Plenty of people spend more time in Baghdad than I do. For me it's a month or more, twice a year since the war began. Some colleagues virtually live here.

Six weeks is about my limit. I admire those who can stand it any longer than that. I've nearly died here. Friends and colleagues have died.

But returning always feels, in many ways, like I never left. Except without exception, it's always been more dangerous, more insecure, than the time before.

We've decided this time to film a little more than usual. Behind the scenes, if you like. Just to see what the next five or six weeks brings us. I already know it's going to bring bodies. Lots of bodies.

(on camera): It's a familiar trip into the office from BIAP as it's called, Baghdad International Airport. We're on the BIAP road. What is also known as Route Irish.

Now for a long time it's been actually fairly quiet. It used to be known as the most dangerous road in the world because of all the attacks and bombs that were taking place along here, heading into Baghdad, and out again to the airport.

But it's been quite quiet for recent -- in recent times. But just in the last few weeks, there's been a lot of activity on this road, again. So taking a lot of precautions once again. Just yesterday, a bus with some Iraqi workers heading out to the airport was attacked and four people were killed on this road. And another four injured.

So welcome to Baghdad.

It's always interesting coming back into Baghdad. You learn about what's happened while you were away. I've been away for about three months now. And the fighting that takes place around the city routinely is now coming closer into the center of the city. We've had to take a different route to our normal route because there's a gun battle going on and has been going on for the last 24 hours or more, involving Iraqi troops, American troops and insurgents, right in the middle of the city.

I'm told we can hear it from our bureau. So I'm looking forward to getting there and hearing how lively things are at the moment.

(voice-over): Things were plenty lively.

UNIDENTFIIED MALE: Right there, right there!

HOLMES: That gun battle turned out to be a major operation that became known as the Battle for Haifa Street.

Within 10 minutes of arriving in the bureau, just a mile or two from the fighting ...

(on camera): One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Michael Holmes has just driven through there, he joins us live to tell us what he's seen.

HOLMES: This is a very sophisticated group of insurgents.

(voice-over): I was live on CNN. The sounds of gunfire and helicopters all around.

CNN's Arwa Damon was much close letter.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This battle has been going on for seven hours now, and as the day progresses it's only getting more chaotic.

HOLMES: In the thick of it, embedded with a Stryker unit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go down, let's go down. Let's go down.

HOLMES: And so began a month of mayhem.


January 9

Battle for Haifa Street

53 casualties in fighting



GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: America will change our strategy to help the Iraqis carry out their campaign to put down sectarian violence and bring security to the people of Baghdad. This will require increasing American force levels.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After living with growing violence for more than three years, many Baghdad residents are deeply skeptical that more U.S. troops will help.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HOLMES: That troop increase took time to implement. While life in Baghdad continued as normal.

(on camera): You don't know what to expect when you go back in. But at the same time you do. And this time going back, snipers all of a sudden become a really big issue.

Instead of maybe looking there, a lot of people are looking up now, looking at windows and rooftops and things like that.

The other thing that had changed appreciably was the size and the sophistication of the roadside bombs.

(voice-over): The use of the EFPs, these explosively formed projectiles, which are savage, brutal, deadly roadside bombs. These are not like normal bombs.

(on camera): They're what they call shaped charges and they fire out a ball of molten copper which will cut through an Abrams tank armor, let alone a Humvee. Most people, soldiers and a lot of reporters, too we put our names, I've got my name and blood type in Arabic and English on my helmet. And I have it also on a piece of tape. The soldiers still do dog tags. And the interesting thing with soldiers, a lot of them will wear one dog tag around their neck and you'll see one in the laces of their boots.

And the reason for that is because of the bombs. You can have your head blown off or you can have your leg blown off. And, well, you've got a tag at either end.

One of the other problems, when I first started going to Baghdad, which was right, you know, during the war and at the end of the war, we would walk around the streets and talk to people and interview people and go to restaurants and stuff. But now, you can't. That's just the way Baghdad is now.

And so really, the only way we can get contact with local people is to use our own Iraqi staff, and they're fantastic and risk their lives for us every day. Or you embed with the military.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Smith! Barbrin (ph), Laselle (ph), Vrondin (ph), Abe, Mr. Holmes and Nicky.

HOLMES: We're going out with guys we've been out with many times before. I was out with these guys, August, September last year. 1-2- 3 Stryker. They're good guys. Colonel Smiley (ph) is on top of things, knows what he's doing. Good guys to travel with. And it's always good to be in a Stryker too. They're about as comfortable and safe a vehicle as you can get in Iraq. I'd rather be in one of these than a Humvee any day. That's just the truth of the matter when you're out on patrol. You're always worried about roadside bombs and the like. And these are about as good as it gets.


HOLMES: So far it's been a pretty standard sort of sweep through an area which we do a lot of. Going out with the military and doing sweeps through areas, they're looking for weapons, trying to get intelligence and stuff like that. This one's been pretty quiet so far, touch wood. Probably go on most of the day and we'll head back to the office sometime tonight. Or maybe in the morning. And put together a story which we'll then send to Atlanta, and hopefully it will get run.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, if you believe in luck, I think ...

HOLMES (voice-over): When we return, the importance of a lucky charm.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the same day that au UN report details the staggering loss of life from the Iraq War, new attacks in the Iraqi capital have killed 100 people and wounded many, many more. The deadliest was a dual bombing at Mustasariya University (ph) that came as students and employees were just leaving for the day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Two bombs in one place, just seconds apart.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a massive blast and it appeared to target students and faculty members as they left the university.

HOLMES (voice-over): In a place where college is a word that can lose its meaning, this day was particularly horrible. A death toll over 100. Dozens of people left with life-destroying wounds.

(on camera): This area is one of the major fault lines in Baghdad's bloody sectarian war. About half a mile that way, mainly Sunni, including insurgent elements. Half a mile that way, mainly Shia, including elements of the Mehdi Army. And here in the middle the two mix. Often not well.

(voice-over): One of the stories that I try to tell every time I go back is about the people forced out of their homes by the sectarian violence. Shia death squads who are pushing Sunnis out of their neighborhoods and vice versa. Works both ways.

We were out with the military, clearing houses. And went into this one house. And as we went through the courtyard, we all noticed all the furniture was out there. It had turned out that the night before, insurgents had come to their house wearing black masks and had said, "You must be out by noon tomorrow or we will come back and kill you and burn your house down."

(on camera): There are a couple of guys in the unit who were snipers. And they and the first sergeant were really annoyed at this. And they actually wanted to stay and wait until this deadline passed and hope that these guys came back.

But as it turned out, the family decided they were too scared. They couldn't stay anymore. And even with that -- what would have been temporary protection.


January 18

Day 10


It's Thursday. We're going out on another embed. Do a story on young soldiers in the military. Eighteen-year-olds and the like.

(voice-over): It's a story I'd wanted to do for more than a year after spending so much time with young men barely out of high school. Some have arrived here aged 17. But they're not allowed out on patrol until they turn 18.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You like that? You want some?

HOLMES: What strikes you about them is how on base they're teenagers. Video games, goofing off, kidding around.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you throw grenades? I forgot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not this one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't hit that one. I held down A.

HOLMES (on camera): What's with being in a war zone and playing war games?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can't get enough.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can't get enough of this.

HOLMES (voice-over): But when it comes time to go outside the wire, as the military calls it, they change. They become men. Making life and death decisions and seeing things people should never have to see. Some told of having to clean their vehicles of the blood of dead or wounded comrades.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: See a guy hit with an RPG, went through this one, stopped at the second.

HOLMES: We often try to tell stories that show a slice of life rather than death. Both with locals and with U.S. troops. This time looking at the lucky charms just about every soldier seems to carry around.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody needs their own good luck charm.

HOLMES: Sometimes you can query just how lucky a lucky charm is. Take Private First Class Matthew Yearwood. Blown up, as he puts it, by IEDs three times. Today, his first day back driving a Humvee -- and he's my driver. (on camera): I was doing a story on lucky charms and came across Yearwood. It was his first day back from his latest medical leave, having his knee repaired after a roadside bomb had gone off. And he felt lucky. And he said, yes, my lucky charm, if I didn't have that, I might be dead.

PFC MATTHEW YEARWOOD, U.S. ARMY: I think the IEDs were there. I think -- I mean, if you believe in luck, I think this is what -- I mean, I'm here today, you know.

HOLMES (voice-over): But as he's doing it, his hand is shaking.

YEARWOOD: I'm saying somebody's looking over me, you know.

HOLMES: In the interests of full disclosure and admission now, journalists do sometimes share the soldiers' habit of carrying lucky charms. For me it's a koala my daughter insists I bring with me. And for my son, I'm not quite sure what it is but I bring it anyway.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A new wave of bombings across the capital city. Police and civilians are among the dead and wounded.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The latest round of violence in the capital saw five car bombs explode in a span of just three hours. This is the violence that resonates with the Iraqi people. Not any sort of plans that are being put forward by the American and Iraqi governments.

HOLMES (on camera): Obviously we don't talk about where we live, but we have a couple of houses and we all live, and eat, work, do everything here.

(voice-over): We thought it would be interesting to just sort of do a bit of shooting around the bureau.

(on camera): Show people how we live. And how we live is essentially in three houses. We have our own little compound outside the Green Zone. A lot of people think the media are inside the Green Zone. Hardly any media are because it's just too hard to go in and out and the check points are targeted a lot. So most of us are outside.

The irony of trying to show, you know, do a bit of shooting around the bureau and show the bureau is that we can't show our Iraqi staff. Because the reality is if we show their face, and it's seen on this program in Iraq, their chances of being kidnapped or killed are huge. Because they work for a Western organization.

We have like three houses and one house is where the bureau is at and about five of us have bedrooms there. And it's just a -- it's just a weird way to live. You're living, eating, working, everything, in this very small area, basically.

(voice-over): When we come back, when friends and colleagues become casualties of war.


January 20

First of five helicopters downed in three weeks


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Over two dozen U.S. servicemen died in Iraq on Saturday. The deadliest incident -- a helicopter crash happening northeast of the capital, Baghdad.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Twelve U.S. service members on board killed. All of the indications now, according to senior U.S. military officials, are the helicopter was brought down by hostile fire.


25 U.S. troops killed in action

Separately, 29 bodies found in the streets


HOLMES (on camera): This is a bit of a depressing board here. This is like the daily running total of casualties, if you like. And I always find among the most disturbing things in a country of disturbing things, is these bodies that are found in the street every day. Bound, tortured in horrific ways that I won't even tell you about. And shot. And just dumped in the streets.

And just pick a random day. Forty-five bodies there. Then Wednesday, 27 bodies. Thursday, 47. Twelve -- that was a good day here. And then -- this is after Saddam was hanged, 71 bodies. Six of them hung, which we thought was like trying to play off the Saddam hanging.

Then just move down to any day you like. Thirty bodies. Six car bombings that day, a triple bombing in Dora. That happened the day after we were in Dora, actually, so missed that one. Twenty-six bodies that day. Seventeen. Twenty-nine. It's just an ongoing tally.

If you're not careful, in a way, you just get used to it. It's like, oh, how many bodies today? And put them up on the board. But every one of those bodies, they're people, most of them not involved in the violence itself. They're not insurgents. They got the wrong surname. You've got to remember that these are people. These are not numbers on a white board, if you like.

But we have to keep the white board to keep track.

(voice-over): One thing that annoys me about my own profession sometimes is that we -- we sanitize things a little bit. Necessarily too. I mean, a lot of people don't want to see some of these -- or know these horrific things. Some things people need to know.

When you hear of bodies found dumped in the streets, tortured, shot to death, we rarely go into details. It's important to know that these people, almost always men, are usually not insurgents. They're regular people like us, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, with the wrong political or religious affiliation.

And the torture is horrific. Eyes gouged out. Broken limbs. Burns from hot irons or electrical current. A favored method has been to use electric drills to bore holes into still-living people.

It's not pleasant to know. That doesn't mean we shouldn't know.


January 22

105 people killed in Baghdad attacks



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST: CNN's Michael Holmes is in Baghdad for us morning.

Michael, good morning. Let's begin first with these bombings at the central market in Baghdad.

HOLMES (on camera): Over my shoulder you can see the smoke still rising from that scene of carnage. This always happens with these bombings. The death toll started at four. It is now 52.


HOLMES: It's bizarre what you become used to. You know. Helicopters all the time. And they fly low and fast. So you've got Black Hawks and Apaches flying 300 feet over the house. And you just don't even hear it after a while.


January 26

20 people killed in suicide attacks

Separately, 27 bodies found in the streets


HOLMES (voice-over): This really is the latest in a series of attacks in the last couple of weeks on very busy commercial areas in the capital. Fifteen people were killed and 39 others were wounded when this bomb exploded. It was hidden in a box normally used to carry pigeons to the marketplace. The animal market, a very popular place, especially on a Friday. (on camera): But as far as the Iraqi government is concerned, let's see, a lot of people are saying to us, let's see if they walk the walk after talking the talking. That's going to really come into sharp focus next week, probably.

And I can tell you, about 20 minutes ago, our entire bureau shook when only a few hundred meters away another car bomb went off.

A suicide car bomber detonated right next to an Iraqi army patrol. And it was the loudest explosion that I've heard in the times that I've been coming here. It didn't just shake the windows. I thought the windows were going to come in on my head.


January 27

Third anniversary of the ambush of a CNN crew

Two CNN employees were killed in the attack


HOLMES: It's ironic and certainly unplanned, that I've actually been in Baghdad on two of the three anniversaries of the ambush. And the deaths of Yasser (ph) and Durai (ph). It wasn't like, you know, you got caught in the crossfire or were near a bomb. These guys are trying to kill us. And they weren't stopping.

And we had a guard who was returning fire and they still didn't stop. And they didn't stop until one of them got hit. And meanwhile, we'd lost Yasser (ph) and Durai (ph).

We'll never forget those guys. And I'll never forget the day that they died, you know.

The last thing I saw of them was driving off the side of the road and the windshield was red.



January 27

Day 19


HOLMES (voice-over): The difficulties and dangers of even driving around Baghdad are probably no better explained than by our journey to al-Amia (ph). It's a suburb no more than three or four miles from our bureau. But even that journey was considered too unsafe, too many bombs and ambushes on that route.

So instead of driving those four miles, we drove one, into the green zone, waited two hours for a ride on a Blackhawk helicopter to Tarji (ph), a military base in the north of the capital. We waited there for several more hours before hitching a ride with an armored convoy. A drive that could -- should -- have taken maybe 15 minutes, took 7-1/2 hours.


January 28

Day 20


HOLMES (on camera): Dusty this morning. It was pretty windy last night. A lot of dust came in here. So visibility's down.

We're at (UNINTELLIGIBLE). They call it the Alamo here because we're right in the heart of the Sunni district. And all around is Shia districts. And both sides are full of insurgents.

It's essentially just a house that these guys have taken over with some protection around. There's 120 guys living here. And they just go out every day and these guys have had a lot of casualties, a lot of wounded. I think they're up to 23 purple hearts. And we're going to go out on another patrol today and see what we get. We'll see how it goes. See how it goes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got two objectives. We're going to do a recon of a target house we're probably going to raid in a couple of days if we're lucky.

We got CNN with us. We got doc. And we got -- Steve-o, is he here?

HOLMES (voice-over): Getting to know the soldiers is a fascinating experience. There's lots of testosterone there, much bravado. Occasional admissions of fear. And support and rejection of their government's foreign policy. And there's bravery.

Every day on patrol takes courage, but then there are people like Specialist Ross McGinnis.

They were telling us one story that was just amazing about a 19- year-old Specialist McGinnis. And this kid was a gunner on a Humvee. So he's at the top, spinning around with these 50 cal. And one tactic in al-Amia (ph) was that often kids throw hand grenades and try to come down the hatches of the Humvees.

(on camera): And they've hit a couple. And this one day, McGinnis is there, and a hand grenade drops in. And the rules, the orders for these guys are, if a hand grenade drops in, you yell "grenade" and you get out.

McGinnis is the gunner. He could be the first guy out though. And he would have been fine. But he notices he's had his back to the driver and he noticed that the grenade had lodged in the radio. And one of the guys who was in the vehicle said he just laid back, out of his sling, dropped back into the vehicle and laid on top of the hand grenade.

And the other four guys in the Humvee hadn't gotten out at the time that the grenade went off. McGinnis was killed, of course. And he's going to be nominated for the Medal of Honor, the highest honor in the United States.

And this 19-year-old, you know -- you've got to think about what possesses him to make that decision -- to not get out, to fall back, know you're going to die, and take care of your mates.

(voice-over): January 28 was a particularly busy day. The Shiite religious observance of Assura (ph) was under way amid fears of violence. And then a string of incidents. I was in the field with the military unable to report live.

Arwa Damon was back in the office and barely had time to draw breath.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At least 19 Iraqis were killed in violence in the capital alone. One of the more disturbing attacks, when two mortar rounds impacted on a girls' high school in a western Baghdad neighborhood. It is an area that is controlled by the Iraqi army. They are not releasing casualty figures; however, residents in the area did tell the Iraqi police that at least one student was killed in that attack, dozens more wounded.


Five girls killed

23 people wounded


DAMON: Separately, in the Shia slum of Sadr City at least 85 Iraqis were killed, another 35 wounded when a bomb planted next to a vehicle exploded in a busy marketplace.


52 people killed in multiple attacks

Separately, 53 bodies found in the streets


HOLMES: That's crazy. You get a feeling sometimes of hopelessness, that the place is so absurd. What I always try to tell my friends, these are you and me. They're like us. They want to have a house. They want to be able to go to work and get home. Raise their kids. Have their kids go to school. And live a life. That's all they want.

(on camera): I, on this last trip, asked just about every Iraqi family I came across, do your kids go to school? Not one said yes. Kids do not go to school. It's too dangerous. My kids don't go to school, no, no.

(voice-over): When we come back, a day I'll never forget. Shedding blood to atone. A rare glimpse for a Westerner in Iraq.


ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Erica Hill. Our special report, "Month of Mayhem," continues in just a moment.

First, though, this 360 bulletin.

The Army has confirmed the identity of a fourth soldier killed in an ambush Saturday, south of Baghdad. 23-year-old Sgt. Anthony Schober died in the attack. Three other soldiers were apparently kidnapped. And a massive search continues for them.

A bipartisan immigration plan announced yesterday, facing tough opposition now from both sides of the political aisle. Some saying it is nothing but amnesty for America's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. While the American Immigration Lawyers Association calls the proposal a large-scale social experimentation. The Senate is expected to debate the measure next week.

And on Wall Street, a record day for the Dow. Blue chips adding 79 points, to close at 13556. The NASDAQ gained 19. The S&P closed up 10.

And those are your headlines at this hour. We'll return you to "Month of Mayhem" in 90 seconds.


HOLMES: This was a day to remember. And not just for the rather graphic scenes of religious fervor, people hitting their heads with swords to mark Assura (ph), to share in the pain and the suffering of the ancient Imam Hussein.

It was also because we were here at all. It had been three years since I'd been able to walk Baghdad's streets like this. Even when the war ended, we could eat in restaurants, walk around.

Here, sitting on what was left of Saddam's famous statue in Ferdo (ph) Square, not even wearing flak jackets. Those days long gone.

But here we were, our crew of four, including a woman, five U.S. soldiers, and key to our safety, the local sheikh. His presence guaranteed we could make this war, witness this event. It also illustrated the still powerful tribal system in Iraq.

Here, not even the Mehdi militia men who live here would cross the sheikh and do us any harm.

(on camera): We got to within, I don't know, probably 200 meters of the shrine. And you know, Iraqi cameramen have filmed this before. But in the last couple of years I don't think any Westerners had filmed it. And I just felt honored to be able to experience it. And just the fervor on the street. And it may sound crazy, I felt perfectly safe.

Really, really a bit of a buzz to be out here on the streets like this. It's been some time since we've done this.

It was a remarkable picture because they were coming down from the shrine. And it looked like they were coming right towards us.

I was on the phone doing a telephone interview with CNN at the time, live.


(voice-over): I'm in Kabamir (ph) just outside the al-Khartoum (ph) shrine. Now, this is the third most significant shrine in Shia Islam.


HOLMES (on camera): And somebody just grabbed the back of my flak jacket and pulled me out of the way. And then these guys took a left turn and they, you know, had their procession route. And just went right by in front of us. And blood everywhere. But you know, nobody's seriously wounded. Head wounds bleed profusely. So just a couple of little cuts will make a pretty good impression.

That was an amazing day. I'll never forget that.

(voice-over): From that moment of optimism, being able to see Assura (ph) up close, to what's more like reality in Baghdad -- violence. Bloodshed. Another body count.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Officials in Iraq say that a planned major attack during a Shiite religious festival has been smashed.

CNN's Arwa Damon has the details.

DAMON (voice-over): A brief snapshot filmed on a cell phone of a fierce gun battle between insurgents and Iraqi security forces backed by U.S. air support.

According to the governor of Najaf, quoted by the "Associated Press," that plume of smoke is from the wreckage of a U.S. helicopter.

A high-ranking police official saying his men on the ground saw the crash and claim it was shot down by insurgent gunfire.



January 29 25 people killed in Baghdad and Kirkuk attacks.

Separately, 22 bodies found in the streets



February 3

Day 26



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A suicide bomber turned a busy market place into a place of death.

Arwa Damon is standing by live from Baghdad with more on today's explosion.

Arwa, what have we learned so far?

DAMON (voice-over): It is the deadliest attack to hit the capital this year. More than 120 Iraqis killed, hundreds more wounded, when a suicide bomber drove a dump truck packed with 1,000 kilograms -- 2,200 pounds of explosives, driving his vehicle into a central Baghdad marketplace. The attack timed to hit, when the marketplace would be at its busiest. The attack, utterly devastating.



136 people killed in multiple attacks

Separately, 19 bodies found in the streets



February 4

Day 27


HOLMES (on camera): Hearing gunfire around here is not all that unusual. But this morning -- that's pretty close.

We're not under fire here, but we put the helmets on because one of the rules of physics is bullets that go up, come down. So we always put a helmet on when we come out and this sort of thing's going on. You get a sense of what's close and what's not. If you hear a crack, as opposed to a bang, the crack means it's real close. There's been a lot of cracks.

(voice-over): Despite the on-camera drama of it, it's not all that unusual in Baghdad. This fighting never even made it into our reporting. There was too much else going on.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yet another deadly day in Baghdad -- 14 people were killed and more than 46 wounded, all before noon in a series of bombings and shootings. One thousand people have been killed in the past week.


HOLMES (on camera): The update, our Producer Nicky (ph) just tells me the update is that it's apparently Iraqi army units engaged with insurgents. We don't know how many or why the firefight's taking place, but it's been going for about 10 minutes or so now. And hasn't stopped yet.

(voice-over): It was only after the bullets stopped flying that we realized one of them had made its way into our neighborhood -- in fact, into our house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... through the curtains in there. And then all the way across the room into the wall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When did this happen?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About like 5:00 today, this morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's the bullet that hit the wall.

HOLMES (voice-over): One military commander put it well. He said we are making some progress. And that's true. But he said, it's like taking four steps forward and three steps back. So any progress that is being made is incredibly slow.

Up next, leaving Baghdad. As always, with a heavy heart.



February 6

Embedded with 5th Battalion 20th Infantry Regiment


HOLMES (on camera): It's now 6:50 a.m. One of the unusual things about this mission is that mosques are being targeted. Although only Iraqi troops are going into the mosques. U.S. troops helping on the exterior of the mosque, specifically, on the ground. All in all, there's going to be four mosques targeted today, which is unusual to see that many in one mission.

At the rear of a mosque, the soldiers have managed to unearth quite a little cache here. Magazines for AK-47s. There's a couple of AK-47s there. This is used for balancing a mortar. And this is part of a RPG. These are all for heavy-duty machine guns.


February 8

Day 31


HOLMES: These two car bombs were fairly deadly. At least 27 people killed and 61 others wounded.

Let's start with one in Azida (ph), which is about 100 miles southeast of Baghdad here.

A car bomb going off in a meat market.

Meanwhile, here in the capital, seven killed, 16 wounded, when a car bomb exploded outside a mosque in Amin (ph). That's an area southeast in Baghdad.


57 people killed in multiple bombings

Separately, 25 bodies found in the streets


HOLMES (voice-over): It can be a bizarre sight. Troops cautiously running through the street, sometimes using smoke to hide from potential snipers. And all the time, followed by laughing kids.

HOLMES (on camera): We sometimes call ourselves the pied piper because wherever we go with the soldiers, or whatever, there's 20 kids behind us.

(voice-over): And it can be an amazing sight where the soldiers, quite rightfully, are very aware and very alert, and there's all this sort of military maneuvering going on. Meanwhile, behind you, there's 20 kids running along laughing, saying, what's your name, mister?

(on camera): It's quite a bizarre reality when you're doing that, you know, you're looking for snipers and telling the kids to keep it down.

(voice-over): The soldiers will tell you in some ways it's reassuring. Often, if the kids disappear, it can mean something bad is going to happen. Word gets out. Streets empty. And something blows up.

(on camera): It's a great Arab tradition that you show hospitality to guests. We just come in here with a dozen soldiers, people going house to house, asking questions. And they make you Chai (ph). Everyone gets a little cup of tea if they want one. It's a traditional Arab hospitality.

The incredible hospitality and generosity that these people sometimes display to us, you know, we're going in with the soldiers sometimes, doing searches, and looking for weapons and stuff like that.

And many times, the people, they invite you in, sit down on the sofa. Bringing you cups of tea. Because that's the Arab thing. If you have a guest in your house, you must give them something, you know.

So they come out with the glasses of Pepsi and glasses of tea and cookies for these guys who just basically invaded their property. But that -- that's the Arab way. It's a hospitality thing. And you know, it's an extraordinary thing. I wonder how most Westerners would react if 12 soldiers came into their house, made themselves at home. You know. I dare say probably most Westerners wouldn't be offering cups of tea.

(voice-over): Camaraderie is very important. You know, you feel like you're part of a team.

(on camera): In our bureau, a great bunch of people. Because it takes a certain type of person to be there, so you're all pretty similar to start with. You cope with humor. You cope with goofing off. You know, 10:00 at night at the end of the day, everyone sits around, maybe has a couple of beers, talks about the day. Then everyone goes 25 feet to their own bed and goes to sleep, and then gets up and walks 25 feet to the office the next day. And you start all over again.

DAMON: It's about 10 to 8:00 on Sunday. While the rest of the bureau is enjoying their cocktail, waiting for the -- what is it, NFL ballgame?


DAMON: Super Bowl?

I'm waiting to go (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

HOLMES: It's always harder to adjust coming home. You'll be driving along -- well, for a start, you're driving. Only I never get to drive over there. So, all of a sudden I'm driving my car. And that's a weird feeling. Going outside the first one or two times without a flak jacket, you know -- oh, don't have to wear that.

It's not like you crave going to a war zone. What you crave or what I crave, and others like me, is to cover the bigger story. And that might be the Berlin Wall, it might be the Iraq War. Right now the Iraq War is the biggest story in the world. And as a journalist, I don't understand why you wouldn't want to cover it.


February 9

Day 32

Last day in Iraq


HOLMES: Last day here in the bureau. Out tomorrow. It's been a very productive work mainly because Arwa Damon has taken all of the live shots, so I've been able to get out more than other troops, which is always satisfying. That's what I prefer to do.

But the place continues to be pretty depressing and I think people often forget a couple of things -- they only hear about a percentage of what goes on here. Simply, because there's so much going on here.

The other thing I always come back to is, you know, I try to tell people I know and friends that these aren't numbers, they're people. And they're real people. They're like you and me. And they have families and everything else. And you know, 20 dead here and 30 bodies found in the street overnight, can just seem like so many numbers. But they're people. So I always leave with a bit of a heavy heart after being here for 38, 39 days. I don't know how many people died in the time I was here. There's hundreds and hundreds of people in just over a month.


1,098 people killed in violence

955 bodies found in the streets

More than 2,000 deaths in 32 days