“It’s not over,” Michael Ware told me in December 2003. “It is only the beginning.”
We were drinking in the front bar of Young & Jackson in Melbourne. Time magazine had given him time off from his new position as Baghdad bureau chief to cover the Rugby World Cup here.
Based in Iraq since the United States-led invasion in March that year, he had just scored a cover story for Time and in a way the rugby tour was his reward. He had gone out with insurgents and filmed and interviewed them as they attacked US forces in the Iraqi capital. At that time, no one else from the mainstream press had done that.
Indeed, many of the foreign press corp in Baghdad still really didn’t believe an insurgency existed. They had swallowed the Bush administration’s line: that the increasing attacks on US forces in Baghdad were the result of disgruntled Saddam Hussein supporters, or “dead-enders”, as then secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld described them.
As Ware patiently explained how and when he had made contact with the nascent insurgency and gained sufficient trust for them to allow him to film their attacks, it became clear to me that the triumphant rhetoric of the Bush, Blair and Howard administrations and their many supporters in the Western media was just that: rhetoric.
For me it was the starting point of four reporting trips to Iraq in 2004 and later in 2007, and seven years covering the war in Afghanistan. For Mick, it was a brief respite from an almost continuous assignment in Iraq, first for Time and then as bureau chief for CNN, which only ended when the bulk of US troops withdrew in 2009.
I’d be shot at, blown up and eventually kidnapped by Sunni insurgents as I wrote a book, filed print reports and filmed stories from Iraq for SBS.
For Mick the physical danger, intrigue and psychological pressure of working in that environment and documenting the sufferings of that conflict – Sunni, Shia, civilians and combatants of all sides – was something he would deal with daily for seven long years. While other journalists came and went, Mick lived in Baghdad and became one of the pre-eminent authorities on what was actually going on in what became the ongoing multi-sided conflict that replaced Saddam.
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