Cooper: War is hell, opportunity
'I had my first gun pointed at me today'
By Anderson Cooper
Programming Note: CNN's Anderson Cooper reports live from Iraq this week on the country's historic election. His reports air at 10 p.m. ET.
Anderson Cooper rides through Baghdad on the first day of a weeklong reporting trip.
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- We arrived in Baghdad this morning. Caught the first flight in from Amman, Jordan. It's a Royal Jordanian flight, but the crew is South African, because contractors are the only ones willing to take the risk.
At the airport, there are long lines of people waiting for visas. Reporters and Iraqis, former military guys now working for Halliburton, shaved heads, duffel bags, drawn by the lure of money. War is hell, but it's also an opportunity.
The first thing you do when you step out of the airport is slap on a bulletproof vest. The road from the airport used to be considered one of the most dangerous in the world, but not anymore. The United States has tightened its grip, increased patrols in surrounding neighborhoods. The Iraqi National Guard has posted checkpoints on all the road's on-ramps.
The Iraqi police and military are all over the streets. They've started to shut the place down in advance of the elections. I'm surprised how many troops and cops they have on the ground. I don't know how good any of them are, but what they may lack in quality, they seem to be making up for in numbers.
I had my first gun pointed at me today. We were in a car, waiting for an Iraqi patrol to pass by. The Iraqi police ride around in these tricked-out pickup trucks with 50-caliber guns mounted in the back. It reminds me of Somalia and the technicals.
Anyway, you've got to feel for the Iraqi cops. They have no armor on their vehicles, and they are all crowded into the pickup, one on top of the other, totally exposed. It's no wonder they are kind of tense.
This guy pointed his machine gun straight at my car. He was telling us to stay back. We waited until they were about 50 yards ahead before we started on our way. No reason to take any chances.
I went over to Yarmouk Hospital, a place I've visited every time I've come to Baghdad. The place was crawling with Iraqi security forces. There had been an attack earlier, and a half dozen or so Iraqi troops were injured.
They took over the emergency room, made sure the doctors gave them their undivided attention. We weren't there to videotape them, but they freaked when they saw the camera. After about 10 minutes of shouting, we were all great friends.
We interviewed a young doctor about what has and hasn't changed. It was interesting. He asked my producer, who speaks Arabic, to only speak to him in English. Turns out he didn't want the Iraqi police stationed at the hospital to hear what he had to say.
He doesn't trust the cops who are there to protect him. He worries some of them are connected to the insurgents, and he's afraid they might rat him out.
Welcome to Iraq. The cops dress like insurgents, and the insurgents dress like cops. Nothing is easy. Nothing is what it seems.
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