Anne Garrels, Back in the U.S.A.

NPR's Baghdad Reporter on Her Experiences Covering the War

Listen: Listen to an extended version of Susan Stamberg's interview with Anne Garrels.

NPR's Anne Garrels

NPR's Anne Garrels Vint Lawrence hide caption

itoggle caption Vint Lawrence
Anne Garrels and Susan Stamberg

NPR's Susan Stamberg interviews Garrels at her home in northwestern Connecticut. Vint Lawrence hide caption

itoggle caption Vint Lawrence

A veteran foreign correspondent, NPR's Anne Garrels began reporting from Iraq on an on-and-off basis last fall. In early March, she began filing daily reports from Baghdad. As the war in Iraq officially began, Garrels stayed. She was the only U.S. network staffer to continue broadcasting from the heart of the Iraqi capital. She was also the only American female reporter there. So many listeners have inquired about Garrels' well-being that NPR's Susan Stamberg traveled to check in with Garrels at her home in northwestern Connecticut.

Garrels, Stamberg reports, needs more sleep, and it wouldn't hurt her to regain some weight. But overall, "she's fine," Stamberg says.

During her sojourn in Baghdad, Garrels withstood sandstorms, smog from oil fires, bombs, bullets, strong-armed handling from the Iraqi Ministry of Information, U.S. forces firing on her hotel and too many Kit Kats — packed to supplement what she calls the "dog food" served at the Palestine Hotel.

From her hotel in Baghdad, Garrels used a smuggled satellite phone to file her reports in the dark of night, a measure designed to elude ever-watchful Iraqi security officials.

"I decided that it would be very smart if I broadcast naked," Garrels recounts. "If, God forbid, the secret police were coming through the rooms, that would give me maybe five minutes to answer the door, pretend I'd been asleep, sort of go 'I don't have any clothes on,' and give me maybe a few seconds, minutes, to hide the phone."

In a voice sometimes rattled, sometimes scared but always authoritative, Garrels took NPR listeners on a tour of terrible times — days and nights of precision bombing, then chaos and looting and snipers in the streets of the Iraqi capital.

"It was all bad," Garrels says. "After a couple of days of the bombing, you realized how accurate it was — and it wasn't scary, curiously. It was more dealing with the Iraqi security apparatus and the worrying that they were going to arrest us, use us as hostages. That was the fear. At the very end, the scary part was when the ground fighting started, because you had no idea where it was going to erupt and if you were going to be in the middle of it."

Back home in Connecticut, Garrels relaxes with her three chocolate Labrador retrievers and her husband, artist Vint Lawrence, who has planted purple and yellow crocuses on their front lawn in the shape of a huge letter "A." Garrels, who will be 52 in July, has covered conflicts around the world, from Afghanistan and Chechnya to Bosnia and Kosovo. She says she'd never planned on being a war correspondent but "the wars just kept happening." But the Iraq war, she suggests, may have been her last.

"I can't do it to my husband again," Garrels says. "I'll never do it to him again."

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