CNN special to look at the mayhem in Iraq

MUMBAI: CNN will air the special On Assignment : Month of Mayhem on 12 May at 11:30 am, 7:30 pm.

It has been 50 months since the war in Iraq was started. The special is a personal
account of what it's like to report in Iraq during one of its bloodiest months since the war began. This dramatic hour-long report goes beyond what is presented in a typical newscast by letting viewers see daily life in Iraq through the eyes of a reporter.

CNN International anchor and reporter Michael Holmes has been to Iraq seven times since 2003, but it is just as unnerving on the eighth tour to Baghdad as it was on the first. Little did he know that within 10 minutes of arriving at CNN's bureau on January 9, he would be on the air reporting on a battle at nearby Haifa Street, thus beginning the month of mayhem.

"The previous seven ‘tours' had allowed me to witness a steady deterioration in the level of security and services - despite my hopes, it was always, always worse. And I knew this trip would likely be no different," Holmes said.

It really becomes a matter of how bad it's going to be. Before leaving the airport - before leaving home, for that matter - I know there will be bodies, and there will be bombs - it was only a question of who and how many."

Throughout his assignment, Holmes films behind the scenes inside the CNN bureau where he lives and works, on embedded trips with the military to neighborhood sweeps and wherever else a story takes him. With the conditions in Iraq worsening, embedding with the military has become, in some cases, the only way for reporters to safely meet with residents to get their first-hand accounts, putting a human face on the war.

Holmes arrives in Iraq in early January, just as President George Bush announces his new "surge" plan to send thousands of additional U.S. troops to pacify Baghdad. What follows is one of the deadliest months of the war. Hundreds of people are killed in bombings at universities, markets and other places where civilians gather. Several American servicemen die in a string of insurgent attacks on U.S. military helicopters. Sectarian fighting rages and bodies showing signs of gross torture are dumped in neighbourhoods on almost a daily basis. The CNN bureau, where the team grapples with how to tell the stories behind the death counts, even takes a stray bullet from a fight in a nearby neighbourhood. In one sequence, Holmes shows viewers the whiteboard on which they record the date, location and circumstance surrounding each violent episode.

"This a depressing board, the daily running total of casualties...but they are people, not involved in the violence itself," Holmes says. "Every now and then you stop and you gotta remember that these are people - they are not numbers on a board."

Despite the tragic stories, Holmes is also able to show the dignity of the Iraqi civilians, living and trying to work in very difficult circumstances. On one embedded sweep with the U.S. military, he shows how a family was so generous and hospitable even though 12 soldiers had just searched their house for weapons.

But for Holmes it is the Iraqi children, who follow him around when walking the streets with the military, which bring a smile to his face. One of the few opportunities for joy during this month of mayhem in Baghdad. The children are smiling, laughing and asking for his name. For a brief moment, Holmes feels like the ‘Pied Piper'.

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