Car Bombing Targets NPR Journalists In Baghdad

No one was hurt in the attack Sunday in Baghdad, but the experience was harrowing. Reporter Ivan Watson, who stood just 15 feet away when the bomb went off, talks to Andrea Seabrook about the attack.

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

From NPR News, it's All Things Considered. I'm Andrea Seabrook. India continues to deal with the fallout from the deadly waves of attacks that ended yesterday. One gunman, a Pakistani, is in custody. India's security chief has quit, and relations between the two nations are fraying. We'll get to that in just a minute.

First, to Iraq and a reminder today that Baghdad can still be a very dangerous place. Our correspondent, Ivan Watson, and three Iraqi staff members were reporting in western Baghdad today when their car was bombed. Ivan picks up the story from there.

IVAN WATSON: We were in a neighborhood, went to lunch, and interviewed the owners of a kebab shop. We were walking out, headed towards our armored BMW, when Iraqi soldiers started running up yelling bomb in Arabic. Let's listen to what happened next.

(Soundbite of bomb explosion)

WATSON: So that's the sound of our armored BMW exploding in a pillar of flame about 15 feet from where I was standing, along with Ali Hamdani, one of NPR's team of Iraqi translators, and two Iraqi drivers who don't want to be named for security reasons.

SEABROOK: Where had the bomb been placed?

WATSON: It appeared to have been placed underneath the driver's side of this BMW. And the force of the blast blew up the armored plates in the bottom of the car, completely vaporized the steering wheel. I couldn't find the steering wheel. And I'm pretty sure anybody who would have been a passenger inside would have been killed or severely injured by the force of that explosion.

None of us were injured, thank God. None of the other Iraqis who were standing on the sidewalk with us were injured. No windows were broken next to us. And in fact, there was a street vendor who had a table with crates of eggs about six feet away from the parked BMW that blew up, and not a single one of those eggs was damaged.

SEABROOK: Ivan, this has never happened to NPR personnel before. What are the authorities saying?

WATSON: The Iraqi troops at the scene, and one of the reasons why we felt comfortable, more comfortable conducting interviews in this kebab shop was because there was an Iraqi post about 20, 30 feet away from where we parked the car. They saved our lives because they say they got a call from an informant about three minutes before the bomb went off, and they ran forward first and actually pulled back one of our drivers who was trying to get in to the car.

They said that this was one of the lethal brands of bombs that have been used lately over the course of the past year, at least in Iraq - sticky bombs, which magnetically adhere to the bottom of vehicles and have been killing Iraqi officials and police and recently a bus that was carrying at least a dozen women working for the trade ministry with a high death toll.

SEABROOK: We here in the States have been hearing for months that security in Baghdad has been improving greatly, but obviously, there is still a significant risk to covering the war.

WATSON: Compared to a couple of years ago, it does feel safer, and there are neighborhoods where people are out in the streets where there is now night life or shops are open. And it's been a real treat as a reporter to go and explore these areas tentatively and to step out and perhaps not feel like you're a target.

I think, in the wake of this incident, foreign news operations in Iraq are going to have to rethink their approach to working in this city. The speed with which the people placed this bomb under the vehicle, it's really terrifying to think about how close we came to not being here with you tonight.

SEABROOK: NPR's Ivan Watson, safe now in Baghdad. Thank you, Ivan.

WATSON: You're welcome, Andrea.

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