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What Is It Like Covering War in Iraq?

Aired September 19, 2003 - 05:36   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: So, just what is it like covering the war in Iraq?
CNN's Rym Brahimi has been in the thick of it in Baghdad, bringing us numerous live reports from the Iraqi capital. And we're glad to say she joins us live here in Atlanta this morning -- hello.


COSTELLO: So many people e-mailed us during the war worried about you out there.

BRAHIMI: That was very kind. I actually got a few of those e- mails and I bumped into someone, actually, the other day who said we were very worried, somebody I've never seen in my life who just said I'm so happy you're here. We were all very worried.

COSTELLO: How dangerous did it get for you there during the war?

BRAHIMI: I guess, you know, during the war it was as dangerous for us as it was for everybody, you know, be they a reporter so...

COSTELLO: Do you even think of that when you're reporting, though?

BRAHIMI: You know, you thought about it a lot before, because that was when people were saying are you sure you want to stay, you don't have to stay -- including, as you know, you know, our management here and our parents and everyone. That's when you thought about it. But once you were in the thick of it, you know, you just thought about, OK, what's happening? You know, I need to report this. I need to know what's going on. I need to go out and see what damage this night's bombing has done in the city.

So you were just...

COSTELLO: And you're working constantly, aren't you?

BRAHIMI: Yes. It's long hours, very little sleep.

COSTELLO: Tell us how many hours per day.

BRAHIMI: On a good day, maybe five, on a very good day.

COSTELLO: And that's constant talking. I mean that's a lot of work. So your parents, I'm sure they were worried. How did you communicate with them during the war? BRAHIMI: We communicated by e-mail and also by phone, not during the war, before the war. And then I had basically given the number of Easton Jordan, who is our boss. He was our boss here. And what I did was basically I'd call the desk, the international desk at CNN, and tell them could you either put me through to my mom or just tell my mom I'm fine.

And, you know, that's what, you know, that's what we all -- we always had, during the war, as you know, Carol, you know, we had an open line of telephone for the first few days that we were there, before being kicked out. It was a 24 hour line that was open. It was a land line from the hotel, because we weren't allowed to use satellite phones or anything else.

COSTELLO: Because the military told you you weren't allowed to do that?

BRAHIMI: Exactly. The Iraqi government told us we weren't allowed to do that and they came and checked and confiscated some of our equipment.

But we did have a land line through the hotel. It was 24 hours open with colleagues here on the desk. And this line was just open, which meant that we would, at any time, go hello, hello, and somebody here was always on stand by to see if anything new was going on.

COSTELLO: Oh, well, that must have made you feel a lot better. That would make me feel -- I mean at least to have a connection with someone outside of that country.


COSTELLO: What do you there all day? I mean now that the major combat has been declared over, what do correspondents do when they're not on the air there, especially female correspondents?

BRAHIMI: Well, there is always something happening. Do you know it's -- in the bureau, we have a constant roll in of people saying, you know, I know where there's a site where there might have been weapons of mass destruction, and you go and check it out and a lot of the time it's not true. Actually, so far it hasn't been true. Or you have, you know, you hear an explosion and you need to go check it out. And either you go out there yourself with a producer and a cameraman or somebody else will go out.

But, you know, if you know that something has happened, you check with the U.S. military and then you'll go on the roof and do a live report and just say, you know, this is what's happened.

COSTELLO: So once you're all done with that stuff, though, I mean is there anything fun to do? Is there -- I mean is there a restaurant you can go to?

BRAHIMI: There are. There are restaurants in Baghdad and they were -- there's restaurants that actually were there even before the war that are now reopening gradually... COSTELLO: Actually, John Vause e-mailed me that there's a restaurant in Baghdad called Costello's.

BRAHIMI: There is. It's called Costello and actually it has pretty good food. It's where you have the less bad or the most decent spaghetti.

COSTELLO: Oh, it's Italian food.

BRAHIMI: Yes. And it's in a very nice neighborhood with a lot of shops, as well. But now there is a curfew and that means that, you know, the curfew is at 11:00 p.m., but it's dark at about 8:00 p.m. And since the, you know, couple of big bombings, you know, it's really hard to go out at night. There's no electricity a lot of times and so the streets are really dark. And if you go out at night, you know, very often there are gangs operating and you'll see them at a distance. They'll, you know, set up a fake roadblock and attack people.

So it's a bit of a tricky situation and...

COSTELLO: Oh, yes.

BRAHIMI: You know, the other day, I have a friend who owns an art gallery in Baghdad and I really wanted to go and see him to get a painting that I had seen there previously, because I was invited to a wedding and it was just 7:30 p.m. But when I said I wanted to go out, you know, everybody kind of looked at the situation -- this was right after the Najaf bombing -- and they said no, just stay put.

COSTELLO: Probably a good idea.

OK, people are very curious as to where you're originally from.

BRAHIMI: Oh, I'm a mix. I am half Algerian and half Croatian and I have a bit of other blood here and there. I have a grandmother that's Armenian. So it's...

COSTELLO: So where did you grow up?

BRAHIMI: I grew up in London as a child and then we did spend some time in Algeria. I studied a little bit in France and then I studied, I went to journalism school in the U.S. and worked here for a little bit in New York and then D.C. before going back to Europe. And then that's the...

COSTELLO: So how did the Iraqi people relate to you? Do they relate to you as an American reporter, since they know you're from CNN? Or as a reporter from some other place?

BRAHIMI: I think a lot of them actually were a bit confused, because obviously I speak Arabic and I understand the culture, being from a culture that's, you know, not far from theirs. On the other hand, I am with CNN, which is, you know, the American network. And so, you know, very often, especially the Iraqi officials from the previous regime, you know, they point at you and say you Americans this or that. And I'm like I work with CNN, whatever.

And, but some people, it did help a lot in our, I think, in reporting because I think people, when I approached them and, you know, said I'm from Algeria and, you know, I work with CNN and I spoke to them in Arabic, it's as if it kind of reassured them, in a way. And they would speak, they would feel a little more free, a little more comfortable talking.

COSTELLO: Oh, and they're -- yes.

BRAHIMI: I mean just maybe because they saw it as a less sort of, I don't know, a strange element to -- yes.

COSTELLO: Well, it probably wasn't as intimidating to them.

BRAHIMI: Exactly. And I think also because of, you know, remember that regime was a very strict regime and any Iraqi seen with an expatriate, somebody that was not Iraqi, and especially someone that was Western, i.e., British or American, those Iraqis would get in trouble. And so for them, you know, they would feel they'd get less in trouble if they spoke to me because I was from Algeria, so I wasn't quite, you know, the big bad wolf that they were, you know, told were...

COSTELLO: Yes. Well, we appreciate all of the fine work that you've done. And you're going to go back there?

BRAHIMI: Yes. I am hoping to get back there in a couple of weeks.

COSTELLO: Well, we admire you for that.

Rym Brahimi, thank you so much for coming in early and joining us for DAYBREAK.

BRAHIMI: Thanks. Thanks for having me.


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