March 7, 2005


Traveling on a Highway of Dread: A reporter recalls her own wary journey on airport road hours before an ex-hostage was shot. (Alissa J. Rubin, March 7, 2005, LA Times)

The route runs through a broad and flat landscape, bare but for a few date palms rising tall and dignified and the occasional small bush. Goats mill about, shepherded by young boys or old men. Except for the litter of plastic bottles and bags, the scene is almost pastoral, peaceful.

It hardly seems the place where people could hide and detonate bombs or jump out and ambush vehicles. But this is Baghdad's airport road, seven miles of dread.

It was on this road that U.S. soldiers opened fire Friday night on the car carrying Italian journalist Guiliana Sgrena, wounding her and killing the Italian intelligence agent who had negotiated her release from Sunni Muslim insurgents.

Having reported from Iraq for much of the last two years, I was dismayed to hear that a fellow journalist who had survived the unimaginable stress and fear of being a hostage was then the victim of an American military shooting. But when I learned the incident occurred on the airport road, it became, at one level, understandable.

Bad things happen on the airport road — all the time. Many people who travel it on a regular basis have a personal horror story, a moment when they thought, "This might be it." Everyone else has a friend who has had one.

Since the war, the airport road has not been any ordinary highway. It is a battleground; a place without rules or certainties, a place where there are no guarantees of safety for civilians or soldiers of any nationality.

For the ordinary traveler, there are two hazards: the wary, short-fused American troops who have lost dozens of their comrades to roadside bombs and ambushes, and the insurgents who target the U.S. military convoys that ply the route.

It is a road to be approached with caution, with a plan, with wariness of every other car and every American convoy. [...]

On this route, it's hard to know whether a car that speeds by a military convoy simply has a nervous driver, or carries a suicide bomber.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 7, 2005 7:38 AM

Speaking strictly as a layman, how difficult would it be to set up sniper teams to kill anyone digging in the ground near the road? Or driving on it without some sort of infra-red tag on the roof or in the windshield? Or having troops staged nearby who could sweep up intruders?

Just asking.

Posted by: jim hamlen at March 7, 2005 11:34 PM