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Iraq: 12 months on
The BBC team working at the site of a bomb blast
Frequent bomb attacks mean busy days for the Baghdad team
Newsgathering producer Shelley Thakral began working in Baghdad a year ago. She reports on how life and work in the Iraqi capital have changed in the past 12 months.

One of the most striking things about the Iraqi people is their stoicism, resilience and their ability to put 35 years of hardship and terror behind them.

It's only when you ask them how things have changed since the war that you get an outpouring of feelings - some positive and some not so. The mobile phones, satellite dishes and the freedom are better, but overwhelmingly the security situation is worse.

One young doctor, Leena Azzawi, summed it up by saying: "Before it was a prison, now it's a jungle."

When I first came to Baghdad in May 2003 it was the gun battles that kept you awake at night.

Out of bounds

These days the choppers are flying lower, and the mortars and rockets that pound the so-called Green Zone, home to the coalition, are more frequent.

Most of Baghdad is now behind a 300-foot concrete blast wall. The places that people couldn't visit under Saddam Hussein are still ruled out of bounds by the Americans.

The roads are full of new cars and getting anywhere quickly is an impossible nightmare.
The Baghdad team prepare for another roof broadcast
The Baghdad team prepare for another roof broadcast

But amazingly enough, even in 40-degree heat, there's no road rage and people patiently sit in long petrol queues watching the Baghdad world go by.

And if you were to visit today, you would see heaving markets, crowded tea shops and children playing football. Life is slowly getting back to normal.

The Baghdad correspondent is Caroline Hawley and the regular visiting senior producers are Kate Peters and Jo Floto.

The hours are long and there are no days off, so it makes a huge difference when you are surrounded by such excellent people.

Low profile

We live close to the Sheraton and Palestine hotels and are surrounded by American soldiers and fellow journalists. I often wonder what our Iraqi neighbours think of us.

We have a fleet of cars that range from armoured trucks to low key saloon cars.

One thing that has become more important when moving in and around the city is to keep a low profile. In the last few weeks I have made an effort to wear a headscarf.

I speak ''hello and thank you'' Arabic but I carry a digital camera with me, the children love it. It's also a great distraction from the larger TV cameras which people crowd around.

There are now more supermarkets in Baghdad which cater for the growing number of foreigners who are living in the city. One of my favourite things in Baghdad is going to the souk where you can buy everything from saffron to Saddam memorabilia.

Radio 4's Robin Lustig makes use of the rooftop live position
Radio 4's Robin Lustig makes use of the rooftop live position
I have learnt to cook here - it's the perfect way to unwind and the social aspect of everyone sitting down to dinner together is important.

The hardest thing now about covering the story is keeping it fresh, coming up with a new angle whenever there is a bomb.

A recent car bomb killed seven people after the Mount Lebanon hotel was attacked. It happened a mile away as we were about to sit down to have dinner.

Bombs are somehow different when you feel and hear them, rather than read about them on the wires.

Our first instinct now is to run to the bureau rooftop and see where the smoke is coming from.

Saving lives

We were in shock - you don't ever get used to bombs, especially when they land so close to home.

On that occasion, correspondent Barbara Plett, cameraman Malek Keenan, Jo Floto, safety advisor Mick Fox and translator Dilan Naled updated us from the scene. Caroline Hawley went live from the roof and Peter Biles filed for radio.

The next day we took our dish to the bomb site. In the darkness it had been chaotic, people running around madly trying to save lives.

And in the daylight bits of the hotel were still smouldering. It looked like an earthquake had hit it, blackened with smoke and its floors ripped out by the explosion.

Opposite, one house was pretty much demolished and there was the stark reminder that only hours before people (like us) were sitting down to dinner - fruit was still on the table and there was a layer of dust and rubble on the sideboard. There was even a fan that hung by a torn wire, most of the roof had been blown away.

It's hard to understand why the Iraqi people should still be suffering the hardship of suicide bombings and roadside bombs, but we need to keep trying to explain it.

And no matter what, the strength of character of the Iraqi people will see them, and us, through the months ahead.



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