With Baghdad in coalition hands, the mission now for many of the high-profile embedded TV reporters is to come home.

"The first part of the story was getting to Baghdad," said CBS News spokeswoman Sandy Genelius. "Now most of the stories are coming out of Baghdad proper."

That means — after weeks of fighting fatigue, cramped conditions and living with the threat of bombs, gunfire and chemical or biological weapons — many of the reporters who rode shotgun with U.S. troops are handing over their assignments to a second wave of unembedded correspondents, such as CBS' Dan Rather, who arrived in Baghdad over the weekend.

For many of the embeds, the war is over — at least for now.

"I think most of them were ready to come back," said Genelius.

Over the weekend, "Nightline" anchor Ted Koppel, 63, returned to Washington after an amazing month of chronicling the Third Infantry's push to Baghdad at "the tip of the spear."

Other reporters who decided to trade in their desert fatigues and go back to business suits include CBS' Jim Axelrod, Byron Pitts, Mark Strassman and John Roberts, and NBC's Kerry Sanders and Chip Reid - all embeds who spent weeks rumbling across the Iraqi desert with U.S. soldiers on their way to Baghdad.

But in some cases, getting out of Iraq was even harder than getting in.

ABC News' Don Dahler, who had been embedded with the 101st Airborne, figured it was time to leave last week after spending nearly three months away from his wife - who told him via satellite phone that she was pregnant.

"I hadn't really been home to enjoy much of the early processes of imminent fatherhood," he said. Dahler, was just south of Baghdad last week and was set to hitch a ride south towards Kuwait with a U.S. supply convoy when it was abruptly canceled.

Instead, the unit's commander gave him a small Nissan pickup truck that had been captured from some Iraqi soldiers. He loaded it up with extra gas, a GPS locator and a map before setting off on the trip back to Kuwait.

"I decided it was worth taking a chance because there were U.S. soldiers in every town pretty much up and down the highways," he told The Post yesterday.

Later that day somewhere near a small Shiite town and miles from U.S. troops, the pickup gave out. Upon inspection, Dahler found that there was water in the fuel.

He tried to convince a taxi driver to take him to Kuwait but the dangers of the road and lack of fuel killed that idea. Finally some locals agreed to help him tow the car to a unit of U.S. soldiers that they said was nearby.

Dahler used rope to tie his truck to an older one and was followed by a car full of Iraqis down the road.

About 50 kilometers into the trip, just when a AK-47-wielding fellow who volunteered to sit with Dahler in the truck began showing him old wounds inflicted the 1991 Gulf War and talking about the $50,000 Saddam Hussein had offered for captured Americans, they ran into a patrol of U.S. troops in Humvees.

"It was an unbelievable experience," Dahler said.