Baghdad life, bad to worse (The Age, AU)

The Iraqi insurgency has made the country perilous, learns Paul Kalina.

BAGHDAD-based war correspondent Michael Ware politely deflects a question about his personal life and whether he has a partner or family.

"For matters of security I don't talk about my personal life. Given the global reach of these guys, I just don't advertise (anything)," says the Queensland-born journalist during a brief visit home.

It's a chilling reminder of the extraordinary risks the world-renowned Ware takes on behalf of his profession.

"It's different, I'll give you that," he remarks with a dry Aussie laugh.

Until recently, Ware was Time magazine's Baghdad bureau chief, and the Seven Network's man on the ground in the troubled war zone.

When he returns to Baghdad in a few weeks it will be as a CNN correspondent. The boy from Brisbane can't quite explain how he became a war correspondent. As he told Andrew Denton on Enough Rope two years ago, "I'm sort of asking myself that same question every night before I go to sleep."

He trained as a lawyer but after working for one year as an associate to Queensland Justice Tony Fitzgerald decided "it wasn't the right fit, neither for me nor for the law".

He became a general reporter at Brisbane's Courier-Mail and had his first taste of foreign reporting during the East Timor crisis of late 1999.

That led to a job with Time Australia but, after September 11, 2001, he was called on by Time in the US to help cover the Afghan War. Three weeks in Afghanistan stretched into 13, and with the invasion of Iraq coming, he crossed Kurdistan and northern Iraq to cover that event. Since the fall of Baghdad he has mostly lived in Iraq, where he expects to be staying for a while, despite promises politicians may make of a speedy end to the conflict.

As Ware makes patently clear - both talking to Green Guide and in the PBS documentary The Insurgency, in which he is one of several interviewees to deliver sobering assessments of the troubles - there "is no quick solution whatsoever".

"The Americans have crossed a threshold from which they cannot easily return. Whether you're for or against the war or its execution no longer matters. There is a situation that's been created there that to walk away from would have consequences too dire to bear.

"Any withdrawal would lead to chaos in Iraq or, best case, semi-partition and some kind of stability, but through stakes that would be all but hostile to the West. Terrorism in that environment can only but flourish."

Reporting from Baghdad, says Ware, is fraught with extreme difficulty.

"The dangers are multiple and ever-present. Moving around is a major operation. You can't just jump in a taxi and dash off to a press conference or meet an official and do an interview. You need to have security with you at all times, you need to live in fortified compounds, you can make forays through the city but they must be well planned and orchestrated and very quick. You have to be lean and mean and ready to move when you're outside your compound.

"There is a very small number of journalists that live in the green zone (a heavily guarded area where US occupation authorities live and work) but by and large the bulk of the press corps lives in what the military calls the red zone, essentially out among the Iraqi population.

"In 2003 it was a totally different war. We could drive the length and breadth of the country at night-time, there was no problem, we could day-trip to cities that have now become famous, like Fallujah and Ramadi. However, by the beginning of 2004 the highways were lost to us as journalists and civilians as the US military rapidly lost control of those arteries. By the autumn of 2004 we'd lost Baghdad as large tracts fell under insurgent control or became so destabilised it was impossible to operate there for fear of kidnap or assassination. Increasingly, our freedom of movement has become restricted. Even now you're not safe in your own home."

To Ware, the controversy over journalists "embedding" with the military is misunderstood.

"I'm able to embed with American units. Just before I left, I was in the city of Ramadi with a company of marines. These boys are literally in blood-and-guts combat every day of the week. At this particular outpost there are attacks on average five times a day.

"I lived and breathed with these soldiers for over one week and during that time five were wounded and three were ambushed. So they do allow you access to the harsh realities.

"It does involve a lot of manoeuvring and developing of relationships, and the military doesn't allow anyone to go anywhere. So you do need to develop a certain rapport with the military where they might not like or agree with everything you write and say, but at least they accept that you play it straight and tell it honestly and frankly."

Living in Iraq makes it difficult for Ware to accurately assess the Australian media's coverage of the war.

"From what I see it's a narrow snapshot. There really isn't a sense of the depth or the complex layers of the conflict. It comes across to me as not much more than one-dimensional.

"Public interest in the Iraq war waxes and wanes and you see peaks and troughs of interest, but it's the single most enduring story on the global stage and unfortunately it will remain so for quite some time to come.

"The reverberations of this war, its legacy, is going to ripple across the Middle East and beyond for far too many years to come. This is history unfolding."