Life Under Lockdown

June 18, 2004 Baghdad 7 pm

E-mail Steve!

Pizza from a place called Pizza Hut is due to arrive soon, sending a frisson of expectation among the staff. Dinner is ordinarily served in four metal tins, two of which contain chicken and rice. One of the rudest things an insider can do is to call the Baghdad bureau from somewhere in the U.S. and ask a staffer, "How's the CHICKEN?" Jeff Goldblatt did this the other night from the Chicago suburbs.

I was thinking the other day about stress, since this place seems to be a field laboratory for stress and how it affects people. I was thinking about it while sitting up on the roof of the Baghdad Sheraton, under a brilliant blue sky. Because security concerns sometimes severely limit movements around the city, you have to be careful to get some sun every day. I run from the basement of the hotel up the concrete stairway to the roof for a workout, usually with Frank Giglio. The last trip we were climbing the stairs six times. Now, maybe because of the heat, we’ll go up just four or five. It is exercise that can only be described as grim; gray concrete walls, garbage and the occasional rat, and dead hot air — up and down in a monotonous monochrome of masochism, with Frank in the lead, who often forgets the count.

Today I made the run by myself and sat up on the roof after five trips. I sat up against a concrete wall, out of sight of any snipers, when someone yelled, "HEY. ARE YOU IN THE ARMY?"

It was a guy in a mustache up above me from a bunker, and he was aiming his weapon.

" for Fox News," I said weakly.

"ARE YOU IN THE ARMY," he yelled again, "YES OR NO?"

I had heard that the roof might now be off limits, with snipers and security posted on top to protect the hotel, but I had been popping out every day, nodding to the U.S. soldiers under camouflage nets, keeping quiet, getting a little sun, then going away. Now my voice stammered a little. I didn't know what the right answer was, kind of like that scene in "Monty Python" at the bridge. I was about to get swept away.

"I...I'm a reporter for Fox News," I said again, hesitantly. How could he mistake my New Balance DriFit® top, Nike Airs, blond hair, and American accent for a terrorist? I started to stand up from the wall. A soldier began to walk over sheepishly from the camouflage tent. I looked to him for help.

"Am I not allowed to be here?" I said.

"No," he said quietly. The guy with the mustache was yelling at him now. He wanted to see someone from the Army now. On my way down I heard the metal door to the roof shut. I imagined it would be locked tomorrow...

Steve Harrigan currently serves as a Miami-based correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 2001 as a Moscow-based correspondent.