For Ashura [a Shiite holy day], in March 2004, there probably were about a million people estimated gathered in Karbala. It was the first time that Shiites had celebrated Ashura publicly in Iraq for something like thirty years. On the final day, when the streets of Karbala were the most packed, there was a series of bombings. We were on the streets of Karbala; one bomb went off reasonably close to where we were. Perhaps foolishly we went to it, thinking it was a one-off thing. We were rushing to the site where the bomb had gone off, and another suicide bomber blew himself up between where that bomb had gone off and where we were, probably about thirty feet in front of me, and it just mowed down everyone between me and him. Thirty people were just wiped out in front of myself and the cameraman — a really devastating scene. Then we turned and another bomb went off to our left, doing exactly the same thing to people to our left, and then another bomb went off. I was on the satellite phone trying to call in what was happening, and people then thought that — I was the only foreigner there — I was somehow setting these things off through the satellite phone. They wanted to attack me, but we managed to basically get out of immediate danger.
Los Angeles Times [In March 2004], people in Fallujah had been laying IEDs [improvised explosive devices], and we knew that a serious assault was coming. We had someone with the Marines, writing about the Marines, and some civilians in Fallujah were killed, and so I felt that we needed to tell the story also from the point of view of the civilian Fallujans. So I went out there to talk to them. And I was in a hospital and a relative of someone who had just been killed came in and he was very angry that there was a foreigner there, although I was properly dressed in an abaya and a hijab, but he became furious and he pulled out a gun. An Iraqi translator I was working with was there and [the angry man] basically held the gun far closer to his head or my head than either of us ever want to see again.
And Suhail [Rubin’s translator] told him, “Calm down, stop it. We didn’t mean any harm.” That sort of thing. And he told him that we were trying to explain what had happened to his relative who had been killed. No one offered to help us or pull the man away, and we walked out of the hospital and survived. Although we were very afraid as we walked out that we’d be shot in the back.
The Washington Post
I spent more than two weeks with the U.S. Marines in Fallujah in April 2004 during the first Marine incursion into Fallujah, the one that would eventually result in the Marines’ pulling out and then bringing back a bunch of former Baathist officers called the Fallujah Brigade, which turned out to be a disaster. This was in the spring of 2004.
I was with a Marine battalion in the city. We were camped out in an abandoned soda pop factory. We went out on patrol with these guys. We ate the MREs with them. We were taking incoming fire in the evenings with them. We were in the same degree of danger as them. I was just blown away by how a bunch of eighteen-, nineteen-, twenty-year-old kids, from often very broken homes, inner cities, you name it, how they had come together and were exhibiting what I felt to be very great discipline. We all know there are exceptions to this, but by and large I was just really impressed by their ability to exercise restraint, to have such a disciplined chain of command. The Marines would have to go back in again with greater numbers and greater force in the fall of 2004.
Knight Ridder (McClatchy)