What was your itinerary while in Iraq?
I was over there with cameraman Joel Fagen. The two of us went to the north to Urbil, which is in Kurdish territory, then traveled to a place just outside of Kirkuk. We also spent some time in Baghdad and we went to a military base in Fallujah. All along the way we spoke with regular Iraqis, people working on construction projects, and our U.S. military personnel.
Being on the ground in Iraq you realize that the car bombs and attacks you see on the news are just a sliver of what's going on in Iraq. You notice this when you see kids on the streets playing, waving to cars, and when you speak with Iraqis excited about the upcoming election and the progress the country is making. People's enthusiasm about their future impressed me the most, and how peaceful other parts of the country are. There's more to the story.
Can you tell us something about the preparations for the coming election?
Our perception is that the elections there are as open as ours and that the process is transparent. On the ground, you realize that there are certain things they are keeping under wraps for security reasons. The logistics of the election are not as open as we would expect them to be. There were election workers that we tried to talk to that refused to go on camera.
The Iraqis that work for the Americans come into the Green Zone every day; they come through those gates where car bombs go off, and they know that there are insurgent spies standing at the gates to find out which Iraqis are "collaborators." These people risk their lives every day. People go through that to do a job they believe in.
You made a point of investigating reconstruction efforts. What did you find?
We went to reconstruction sites in Urbil and Kirkuk, and we found that not only are things being reconstructed, they're being constructed for the first time. We went to a power plant in a town called Taza; there was no power plant there one year ago. They've employed 1,200 people, most of them Iraqis.
There are Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis all working together. The Iraqis want the same thing as Americans. They want an income. They want to put food on the table. They want to have jobs.
Did you notice cooperation amongst ethnic groups elsewhere?
In the training of Iraqi's elite forces -- there are Shiites, Kurds, and Sunnis from all over the country working together. They say they want to fight terrorists, anybody who's blowing up Iraqis.
We hear stories of Iraqi forces running away from battles...
There are different kinds of units that are being trained. There are the conventional Iraqi forces such as the National Guardsmen, and they are in an entirely different category than the elite units. The elite units are being trained by U.S. Green Berets. These counterterrorism units are not the ones fleeing from battle. They have been in fights in Najaf, in Fallujah. You know these units are pretty good if our own Green Berets say they're willing to go into battle at any time with these guys. That struck me as something positive. In reference to the regular forces, our military absolutely concedes that there is work to be done. Leadership, frankly, is something they didn't learn under Saddam Hussein's military. We're having to teach these guys from the ground up.
Do you ever think twice about traveling to a place as dangerous as Iraq?
We went over with a division of our State Department called USAID; their job is to give money to reconstruction projects. We had the fortunate opportunity to get around the country with them. Because the security situation is so challenging, most reporters can't get out without a lot of advanced security planning.
It's an incredible gift to be given, to go to these remote places where the average American can't go and see what's going on with your own eyes and bring it back. It wasn't until I got there that I realized most are seeing just one sliver of the story in Iraq, and a lot more is going on.
When Heather is not on special assignment, you can catch her on "The Big Story with John Gibson," weeknights at 5pm ET.