Dexter Filkins
The New York Times
We used to go out to dinner at night. It’s hard to imagine. I remember one really nice place we used to go called Nabil’s. In 2003, we used to go there, not even regularly, but we went there a few times. It was very nice. It was blown up on Christmas Eve of that year. I more or less did anything I wanted. I went into Sunni villages, I met with insurgents, I met with people who hated the United States and you could sit with them and talk about it. You could go out all day in a place like Ramadi — where I think now your life expectancy would be about twenty minutes.

That started to change as the insurgency got going, that was kind of fall 2003. And I remember the day very clearly because I almost didn’t survive [laughing]. Ramadan — first day of Ramadan, October 2003 — it was about eight o’clock in the morning and we were all having coffee and there was a gigantic bomb blast and it shook our house, it was so close. And it was the ICRC, the International Committee of the Red Cross. Two suicide bombers had hit the place. I actually got there before the cops did, and I remember seeing a suicide bomber — charred remains still clutching the steering wheel — but, you know, bodies everywhere, crowd going insane, as they do.

There were five suicide bombings that day, and I remember hearing the other bombs going off as I was literally walking through the bodies at this place. But we worked there and then drove to another — the second place that had been hit, which was a police station in a neighborhood called Shaab, which is basically a Shiite neighborhood. I stepped out of the car. I was with two photographers. About five hundred people turned on us instantly and surged. I remember there was an old man saying, “Kill them, kill them, kill them!” And so we were grabbed by the crowd and taken by the crowd and they started to beat the hell out of us, and I am reasonably sure they would have killed us, but the driver, my driver — Walid, who’s wonderful and happens to be like six-foot-eight and enormous — he reached into the crowd and pulled me out. And we somehow managed to get free and get into the car, and the crowd jumped on the car to try to stop it, which they were pretty close to doing. You know, three hundred people holding a car back could actually do it. They started to throw bricks into the car, and they were smashing the windows, and one of the photographers I was with, Mike Kamber, [they] busted his head open — it was really awful — and we almost didn’t get away. I remember we got back, took Mike to the hospital, and later that day we got back to the house, and I remember — I counted them, and I think it was seventeen bricks in the car; every window was smashed out. But that’s just an example of how it started to change, and the crowd — I remember the crowd — they blamed us for the bombing, you know? Which didn’t make a lot of sense to me — I mean, it doesn’t make immediate sense — kind of counterintuitive. But it’s like before the Americans got here we didn’t have these things and you’re American, so we’re angry at you.

Caroline Hawley
We would drive to Basra. I remember having a picnic on the side of the road for Christmas 2003. We stopped at the side of the road and had tea and eggs after covering Christmas with the British troops.

The Editors