Monday, September 10, 2007
Bargain flight to Baghdad
We flew into Baghad this past weekend on a Royal Jordanian flight from Amman, Jordan. The one-way fare for the 90-minute flight is a bargain -- $85.

The flight was packed, but bargain fair or not, I did not see any tourists. The flight had some journalists, and lots of American security types going to jobs that in their line of work are very plentiful in today's Iraq. Of the 63 passengers on the plane, 61 were men. The two women were journalists.

The flight was not a routine one, at least compared to what I'm used to. As we approached Baghdad, the pilots started doing spirals with the plane as they went into a steep descent. The idea is to make it harder for insurgents to hit the aircraft with their weapons.

Once in the airport, it was easy to forget we'd entered a war-zone. They have a fully staffed duty-free shop inside, and the terminal is actually gleaming and quite clean.

But when we got in an armored car to leave the airport, we quickly realized where we were. The road leaving the airport has become legendary for its danger. Insurgent attacks, whether from IEDs or suicide bombings or other methods, have been frequent and deadly. Even veteran travelers to Iraq hold their breath as they barrel down that highway. I was here in Iraq for several weeks in March of 2003 at the very beginning of the war, but this was my first time on the airport highway. I can unequivocally state it is an unnerving experience.

I am here now to cover military activity at the Balad Air Base, which is the U.S. Air Force's largest facility in Iraq. We had to take an Army helicopter to get to the base, which is about 45 miles north of Baghdad. We were warned that rockets are often fired by the insurgents at the choppers. Supposedly it would take a stroke of luck for them to hit us. Those words aren't necessarily comforting, especially when 15 minutes after we took off into the night sky we saw what our crew believed to be a rocket fired at us.

The helicopter automatically emitted flares in order to draw the heat-seeking ammunition toward the flares, rather than the chopper. The rocket and the flares turned the nighttime into daylight out the right window of the chopper for about ten seconds. Nothing hit us, and we are doing fine. But our first hours in this country initiate us into the reality of today's Iraq.

-- By Gary Tuchman, CNN Correspondent
Posted By CNN: 10:22 AM ET
Gary I know how notorious insurance companies are in covering unusual circumtances. So, are you journalists covered against being hurt in a combat zone by your medical policy, or does cnn have a separate policy for you for "hazard insurance".
Posted By ronnie, knoxville, tn. : 11:36 AM ET
So why is "360" going to Iraq? Isn't the mainstream media already decided on reporting that General Petraeus' report isn't credible?
Posted By Laura - Tulsa, OK : 11:38 AM ET
Hi Gary,
Stay safe and bring us the facts on the ground. That's all any of us viewers could ask for from a journalist. Take Care
Posted By Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 11:41 AM ET
don't you have enough excellent correspondents in Iraq?
Is it really necessary to send your 360 gang, too?
Is it worth the danger?

On the other hand, I'm cancelling my plans for tonight, to see Anderson and Co live from Iraq.
I guess that makes me a hypocrite and an enabler?
Posted By Minou, New York,NY : 11:51 AM ET
Hi Gary,
What a welcome! Please stay safe!
Looking forward to the broadcast this week.
Best Wishes!
Posted By Pamina, New Rochelle, NY : 12:06 PM ET
The public wants tangible evidence of success, but I think the true impact our troops are making in Iraq and Afghanistan will not be know for many years. Thanks and Godspeed to you and all Americans over there.
Posted By William H. - Stuart, Fl. : 12:08 PM ET
So , how is this trip going to be any different from every report cnn does from Iraq; Michael Ware basically mouths the talking points of the Democratic party .
Posted By Cary - Lowell, IN : 12:09 PM ET
Gary, I hope you and the rest of the CNN crew are able to stay safe. It's so dangerous over there. I don't know how you and the other journalists keep from going insane. Thanks for all you do and keep safe!!!
Posted By Sarah, Atlanta GA : 12:15 PM ET
Guys stay safe!!!
Posted By Marcy B, Mobile, AL : 12:24 PM ET
We appreciate what you journalists go through to bring us the news and stories that are important and relevant to all of us. Please stay safe.
Posted By J. Ganaban : 12:25 PM ET
Dear Gary, Anderson, Aneesh, Michael and all in Baghdad,

Please be safe while reporting this important story. I am excited to hear what you all have to share and am looking forward to the coverage this week.

Gary, I was surprised to hear you mention the lack of tourists on the flight for this reason-are tourists even permitted to fly into Baghdad at this point? Interesting question.

Admittedly, your post tells the frightening tale of reporting in a war zone. Just getting there is a major feat and enormously dangerous.

In spite of this, I must admit that I am excited to hear about it and I would love to be there with you all. It sounds fascinating; telling the stories and gathering the information would be something that I would enjoy. Maybe I am just crazy, but it soulds like a very rewarding job. Need any volunteers?

Once again, y'all stay safe and stick together. Cannot wait to hear your reports.
Posted By Pati McMillan, Camp Hill, PA : 12:27 PM ET
If people want to do something positive, please help the TAPS Program (Tragedy Assistance Prog. for Survivors). They help military families who've suffered a loss. Thank you and God Bless you.

Posted By Lori Dean, New Orleans, La. : 12:28 PM ET
Gary and Anderson , Thank you for going to Iraq to bring us more insight. Please don't do anything crazy or go out of your assigned areas. Hurry Back soon !
Posted By Melissa, Birmingham, Al. : 12:30 PM ET
Gary, I have no comment except to say thanks for keeping them honest. The candle is lit until you, Anderson, and the rest of the team come home.
Take care.
Posted By Judy Stage Brooklyn MI : 12:33 PM ET
I think you guys want to go to a dangerous area. Boys will be boys.
Posted By Jane R. - Montgomery, AL : 12:40 PM ET
Dear Gary,
Just wanted to say how grateful we are to have such dedicated and selfless individuals such as yourself and your CNN colleagues who go where we cannot. God bless all of you, please stay safe and let all of our soldiers know how much we love them and support them, our prayers are always with you. Thank you for keeping us informed of all these important issues, and letting us know what is most required of us. Take Care. Jennifer From Ontario, Canada.
Posted By Anonymous : 12:45 PM ET
It all sounds unnerving and is a reminder that Iraq is still a very dangerous country. It's also a reminder that our troops and civilian workers need to be there until the country is stable and safe for all citizens. Only then should our people come home. We need to keep our promise to Iraq's people. My heart wants us home yesterday. My head knows that the reality is we still have a job to do and running away now only dishonors those men and women who have fought since this began. Please stay safe so you don't become the news yourselves. I'm looking forward to some different perspectives on what's happening over there.
Posted By Tammy C., Berwick, LA : 12:45 PM ET
When reporting this story consider these words:

You and I are told increasingly that we have to choose between a left or right, but I would like to suggest that there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down--up to a man's age-old dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order--or down to the ant heap totalitarianism, and regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course.

Posted By Anonymous : 12:47 PM ET
As frightening as it might be for you, I think it is very important for us to see what it is like over there. I hope you bring us many stories while you are there. Stay safe, I'll be watching...
Posted By Jess, Paris, KY : 12:48 PM ET

I was wondering when the 360 crew would make it back to Iraq as both Katie and Brian have made recent visits. First off, stay safe. I am looking forward to the broadcast this week to give me a more indepth view of what is really happening in Iraq.

One place I hope that 360 visits is the Kurdish area. The Kurds have a huge stake in the outcome of this war. From what has been reported, this is one area in Iraq where the local militia is doing a decent job of defending the population and keeping insurgents at bay. We need a bright spot in the midst of all this gloom for those of us who are suspect of the rose colored glasses through which the Administration has viewed and is continuing to view this war. I would hope that for all the lives that have been lost and all the billions of tax dollars that have been spent, we can have more to show for our efforts than a journalist or congress member being able to walk in a market in a flak jacket surrounded by armed soldiers with Apache helocopters flying above.
Posted By Charlotte D, Stockton CA : 12:51 PM ET
Please give credence to both "sides" of the war debate when you start your reports.
Posted By Steve - Peoria ,IL : 1:01 PM ET
Hey Gary...
Glad to see that Coop took you along on this trip!! I love your reporting so I can't wait to see what you do for us there!! Guess you got initiated pretty quickly huh!!? Hopefully nothing like that will happen again!!

You and the 360 crew stay safe!! And you all better be wearing your helmets and flak jackets!!

Cynthia, Covington, Ga.
Posted By Cindy : 1:04 PM ET
Remember, this is about standing aside and letting the story tell itself, not about the adventures of Johnny Reporter.
Posted By Grace - New Orleans, La : 1:30 PM ET
Hi Gary...thank you for doing what you do, informing us what's really going on in Iraq.

Well, if this is how dangerous it is to be in and around Baghdad where the U.S. military is concentrated, it must be even more dangerous in other parts of Iraq where our military presence is limited.

I wish you all a safe return.
Posted By Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA : 1:34 PM ET
Gary, The safety and well being of you and your colleagues are in our thoughts. We are interested in a look inside the refugee camps where thousands of Iraqui citizens have fled. What is the condition of the people and the camps? Is the U.S. helping with food and shelter? Are these camps breeding grounds for UBL followers?
Thanks for your continuing coverage,
Pam Smith
North Carolina
Posted By Anonymous : 1:51 PM ET
Hi Gary, it all sounds scary. I know you have to do your job, and you've probably heard this a million times, but please be careful. Mr. Petraeus is supposed to give his report before Congress on the effectiveness of the surge. Will you and Anderson please interview our soldiers on the ground and ask them what they really think?

Thanks, Gary, Anderson, and 360 team for going there in Iraq and doing the work you do.

Edmonds, Washington
Posted By Lilibeth, Edmonds, WA : 2:11 PM ET
I don't believe I would be able to understand what kind of world people are living in over there. But that's the sad part - why they have to live in those circumstances. Suffering constant warfare and poverty is not an option we can let people live in.
Posted By Erica : 2:17 PM ET
And our troops continue fighting in a country that obviously does not want us there why? This isn't about running away from a job. This is about leaving a country alone after we were misled in becoming involved in the first place.
Posted By Anonymous : 3:08 PM ET
I hope you'll cover the atmosphere in the Petraeus hearing ! If the Democrats can't keep the pink-haired, sign-carrying folks from disturbing the hearing, how can we trust them with national security?
Posted By Michael West, Jacksonville, Fl. : 3:14 PM ET
Dear Gary,

I must admit that although I knew the flight into Baghdad was no walk in the park, I had no idea it was this dangerous. Your description of your flight in helps us to appreciate what journalists go through in order to bring us these important reports.

It is difficult to believe that the airport road remains unsecured! I am sure it is a vast and problematic area to control, but you would think it would have been a top priority.

I hope that you, Anderson, and the rest of the 360 crew remember that no matter how normal certain areas of Iraq look, it is just an illusion. Please be careful and wear your safety gear and don’t take any unnecessary chances, especially with the anniversary of 9/11 on the horizon.

Remember a bargain is only a bargain when you can benefit from it.

I look forward to hearing your reports tonight.

Take care,
Jo Ann
Posted By Jo Ann Matese, North Royalton, Ohio : 3:16 PM ET
I don't know why the military pays for you to chopper around Baghdad whenyou just question their judgment and spin the information they give you to fit liberal media bias of CNN. Let the carnival music start, Cooper's headed to Iraq.
Posted By Sacha Dane, Louisville, KY : 3:40 PM ET
This has got to be the most bizzare blog. The airport sounds better than Heathrow !

OK, so whats the best buy in duty free (as there are no tourists) - toblerone bars or m&m's?

Be interested to see what Basra's like, now the Brits (my fellow countymen) have pulled back to the airport.

All of you keep safe, and even here in the UK, I trust CNN (especially 360) as a reliable unpatronising news source.

Sarah, Canterbury, UK
Posted By Anonymous : 4:03 PM ET
I hope you and Anderson and all the crew with you stay safe. I'm not surprised there weren't any tourists. The only reason I can think of to go to Iraq is to drag you guys back home. I think this is one place where I would trade live coverage and worrying for slightly old news and peace of mind. Thanks though for the extra effort you all go through to bring us the news and keeping them honest.

Be careful and please keep us updated so we know everyone is okay and safe. Would every hour on the hour be asking too much? yeah, I guess it would!

God Bless! Come home safe and soon.
Posted By Christina, Windber, PA : 4:20 PM ET

I lived on that airport for a few months and traveled down that road many times. When I was there, the road was not very dangerous at all. However, when I was there we were on the offensive and the enemy was running. It seems like violence has declined now that we are on the offensive again. Hopefully we can continue to stay on offense until the Iraqi military and police force are capable of maintaining the peace there. Hopefully if we give support to the troops (especially the politicians and media), we can get them home with Iraq being a safe nation. Lets do the job right so more young boys don't have to go back to fight a stronger, more determined enemy.
Posted By Nestor, Austin, TX : 7:44 PM ET

So the ticket into Baghdad was a bargain but what do tickets OUT cost?

Thanks for telling us how you get in there - I don't think we realize what anyone going there has to go through to get in and out of Baghdad or the routine practice of the insurgents firing rockets at the helicopters. Its a wonder we don't lose more helicopters to these rockets.

I know we are in for some good reporting on the situation in Iraq with all of you there. Just be safe and remember helmet and flak jacket! Don't let your co-workers forget either!

Annie Kate
Birmingham AL
Posted By Annie Kate : 9:03 PM ET
Thank you for your report last night, my brother is part of the troops you covered who are training the Iraqi police. Although I know they face danger everyday, I didn't understand the magnitude of the danger each and every day. I appreciate the coverage that you continue to provide about our troops.
Posted By Cindy M. Lombard IL : 9:32 AM ET
I'm getting tired of hearing about Iraq. George Bush was playing a little game when he went in. He should just admit the jig is up and say uncle.
Posted By Gypsy, Mexico : 12:48 AM ET
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