In November and December 2003, a seasoned FRONTLINE production team spent five weeks traveling across Iraq. Along the way, they sent vivid e-mail dispatches from the field as they filmed the documentary "Beyond Baghdad." This is the story they told on the road.
On Nov. 12, we set off on a five-week journey across Iraq. We sketched our route on a tattered map, a remnant from our previous trip to Iraq last summer, and drew a line. The idea was to slowly track our way from north to south, starting at the border town of Dohuk, in Iraqi Kurdistan, and ending in Safwan, on the Kuwaiti border.
We set off not knowing what we would find, whom we would meet, or where we would spend the night. The only plan was to skip Baghdad. In truth, there was nothing linear about our trip. We lurched to and fro, from city to city, zigzagging from north to south and east to west. And as it turned out, we even spent a few days in Baghdad.
We set off with a few contacts in our pockets, a big wad of cash, and eight cases of equipment and clothing. Included in the luggage was an RBGAN, a cross between a satellite phone and a laptop, which if pointed south allowed us to write e-mails, check the wires, and send dispatches.
Often we would write these after a long day of shooting. And sometimes sending the dispatch took as long as writing it. We'd climb up to the roof of our hotel, or hang the RBGAN out our hotel window. For the most part, it worked as well as any DSL line, but sometimes it was like getting a cell phone to work inside the New York subway.
We did it to record what we witnessed during the day, and as a way to let friends and family keep track of our whereabouts, but mainly to distract ourselves. Days were long in Iraq, but nights were often longer. Writing seemed to help pass the time.
We wrote where we could. Most hotels didn't have a proper desk in the room, so we'd make a makeshift office in the hallway using our cases, or type away in the lobby of a hotel while Iraqi men smoked their hookas. If our laptop batteries could withstand the journey, sometimes we would even write in the back seat of the car while we drove through endless stretches of drab desert.
We tried to write candidly and honestly, but sometimes it would backfire. When Martin wrote that a grenade had been thrown at the lobby of our hotel, his son wrote back, "You are worrying me and I really don't need any more stress than I have. I have a math exam this morning. So make sure you don't get hurt."
We have a lot of memories of this latest trip to Iraq. Many of them are now etched on this Web site.
Feb. 12, 2004
New York City