With Travis Fox
Friday, April 11, 2003; 1 p.m. ET
washingtonpost.com videographer Travis Fox, who has been in Kuwait and Iraq for several weeks now covering the war for washingtonpost.com, was online live from Baghdad, Friday, April 11 at 1 p.m. ET, to share his observations on the current situation in the city.
Fox is an award-winning photographer and producer for washingtonpost.com. In 2002, Fox was named both Camera Person of the Year and Editor of the Year by the White House News Photographers' Association.
The transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
washingtonpost.com: Travis, thank you for joining us today. How long have you been in Baghdad and how did you get there. You are a "unilateral," non-embedded reporter. Did you have to make your own way, or did you hitch a ride with some coalition forces?
Travis Fox: I arrived in Baghdad yesterday evening after driving from Umm Qasr in a six car convoy and along the way, we had a total of three flat tires and lost a roof rack on one of the cars. And one window was smashed by angry kids.
Austin, Tex.: How safe is it for journalists not embedded with coalition forces to roam Baghdad now?
Travis Fox: First let me say that many journalists who were embedded have disembedded themselves and are in Baghdad unilaterally. Baghdad is a dangerous place now but the danger is very localized. One street might be safe and the next street you can get caught in a crossfire of fighting Iraqis or you could wander into one of the neighborhoods where there is still fighting going on between coalition and Iraqi forces.
Washington, D.C.: How safe do you feel in Baghdad? Are you staying in a hotel? If so, is there a functioning hotel staff or is it "every guest for himself?"
Travis Fox: I'm personally staying at the Sheraton which is across the street from the Palestine Hotel and the vast majority of journalists are staying in these two places. Both hotels are fully staffed but the conditions are not ideal -- we just got electricity this afternoon. It is night now and there are very few lights on in the city. This area of Baghdad is secured by marine tanks out front -- in the front of the hotels.
Fairfax, Va: Are the people of Bagdad truly happy to see the Americans? Did most of them escape injury or death from the bombings? Are only the poor class of people remaining in the city (in other words, if a family could afford to get out, they left before war)?
Travis Fox: Actually, some rich families have moved into the Sheraton hotel to wait out the bombing thinking that it would be a safer place. I would say that most Iraqis that I have spoken to today are happy that Saddam is gone but they very quickly blame the U.S. for not establishing law and order and restoring electricity.
London, UK: Travis,
We hope you're taking care of yourself there. With so many looters in the capital, how are journalists able to carry out their work? Are you getting any protection from US troops in Baghdad?
Dana Armean and John Denis-Smith
Travis Fox: Hi Dana and John,
Washington, D.C. : Jeff from Pew here, Travis. We've been getting reports of looting and lawlessness coming out of Baghdad. Are the U.S. and coalition forces making any efforts to keep the peace?
Travis Fox: U.S. forces are making some efforts but they are not equipped to be a police force for a city of 5 million people. For example, I was at a hospital today and it was guarded by U.S. Marines because many hospitals have been looted. But at the same time, when I was in a residential neighborhood, the people on this particular street formed their own vigilante checkpoint and fired warning shots at people that they suspected were thieves.
Washington, D.C.: Travis, is there any sign that the essential services (water, electricity, etc.) are going to be restored soon to the Iraqis? Have you started to see shipments of food? When will internal/external trade resume?
Travis Fox: Humanitarian shipments are not in Baghdad. When I left the port city of Umm Qasr in the south, that region of the country was just beginning to get aid in shipments and humanitarian organizations were just beginning their work there. It will take a while for the NGOs to lay the ground work of increasing amounts of humanitarian aid work throughout the country.
Falls Church, Va.: Can you talk a bit about the logistics of transmitting your work back to the site?
Travis Fox: I transmit everything over satellite phones which gives me Internet connection through a dial-up modem. This is what I'm using now to do this discussion.
Moscow, Russia: What do you think if the claim that those Iraqis dancing and cheering are just a minority?
Is it possible that the cheering is just because the crowd of gangs wants to loot, so it's happy with any destruction of authority?
Travis Fox: It's my feeling that the Iraqis I've spoken with are generously happy that Saddam's regime is gone. That doesn't mean however that they are happy that coalition troops are in their country. And only time will tell if the happiness lasts.
Philadelphia, Pa.: We've been shown images of the Iraqi people dancing in the streets of Bagdad, but in a city of 50 million people there must be some who are not as jubilant. Have you encountered or spoken to anyone who feel the toll differently or who are bitter towards America?
Travis Fox: Yes. If you drive through Iraqi towns, many people wave and give you a the thumbs up. But I've encountered a fair amount of people who motion you to leave and give you a thumbs down. It is also possible for someone to be happy dancing in the streets that Saddam is gone but also be against the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Travis Fox: As I sit here on the telephone, the only thing louder than the wail of generators outside is the occasional gunshots that you hear all throughout Baghdad.
Washington, D.C.: Roughly how many corpses of Iraqi soldiers have you seen. Roughly how many destroyed or incapacitated iraqi military vehicles have you seen?
Travis Fox: I've seen a fair number of dead bodies which includes the Iraqi army. Some volunteer fighters who were identified as Syrians.
Bethesda, Md.: What are some of the things you've seen that have affected you personally? Have you been in a situation where you had to make a decision on whether or not to put the camera down and get involved with what you're taking pictures of?
Travis Fox: Today was a rough day at the intensive care unit of a hospital as patients and relatives were wailing in agony. Anytime that there is gunfire nearby, it puts you on edge and raises your heartbeat a bit (even though I am getting used to more and more gunfire in Baghdad).
Bethesda Md.: Do you sense the situation could turn quickly and the people of Baghdad will become openly hostile to U.S. troops? Also, is there anybody not associated with the Ba'aath Party who could administer a government?
Travis Fox: It's my feeling that public opinion could turn quickly against coalition forces if law and order is not restored and humanitarian supplies are not distributed within a reasonable amount of time.
Winston Salem, N.C.: Travis, have you had an opportunity to walk through the city? How much of it is in ruins? Thank you.
Travis Fox: Having been here only a day, I have seen only so much of the city. But fire still burns all across the horizon and it is easy to find buildings that have been destroyed in the war. Unfortunately more and more buildings have been damaged and set ablaze by looters.
Is the scene in Baghdad one of complete anarchy presently, or has that been exaggerated in the press? I'm rather disheartened that the U.S. did not plan for dealing with the looting and general disorder once Saddam was displaced. What do they intend to do now to bring order to the city?
Travis Fox: Anarchy is a good word to describe the situation here. In addition to looting, you have cars driving the wrong way on highways and no one stopping at red lights. The U.S. military would certainly would like order in the city but their mission is to destroy the Iraqi armed forces which they are still in the process of doing in certain parts of the country. When you talk to military personnel, they wish they could stop the looting but there is only so much that they can do and they don't have the resources to police a country of this size.
Duncannon, Pa.: Are you able to get television reception? What sort of programs are being broadcast currently?
Travis Fox: There is a t.v. in my room but judging by the looks of it, my guess is that it no longer works. For the past few weeks, I've been living by car and I haven't seen any television reports.
Boulder, Colo.: How are the troops doing right now? Or, with the ones you have been with, how have they been reacting to this war, and how is their morale doing? Talk a little about some of the troops you have seen, or been with and talked to?
Travis Fox: The troops that I've been with have no problems with morale. The thing they crave the most is information back home. For example, driving into Baghdad this morning at one checkpoint they were disappointed to find out that Kansas lost the Final Four. So for the troops, news from home doesn't travel too fast.
washingtonpost.com: This just in from Travis Fox: Panos from Baghdad.
Washington, D.C.: Is it hard to work as a reporter when you're fearing for your life? How are the Iraqi people treating you?
Travis Fox: Iraqis tend to be very warm hearted and welcoming friendly people. In terms of fearing for your life, you are rarely in a life threatening situation as you do your day to day business. It's just that once in a while you may be in a situation that tends to be dicey.
That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.