April 18, 2008
In the eye of the sandstorm
Posted: 1222 GMTI knew something was strange as soon as I woke up. An eerie yellow haze at the window instead of the morning sun. I climbed up to the roof and looked out over Baghdad toward the blue Bunyah mosque. It had disappeared behind a thick curtain of microscopic dust.I had never experienced a sandstorm. I instinctively tried to stop breathing until I could get indoors. We were about to leave to shoot a report on an Iraqi paralympic competition. “They can’t go ahead with it!” I thought. When we called, however, they said it was still on. So we piled into our car and set off for the running track.
On a good day, the streets of Baghdad are dusty, blanketed with dirt, crumbling concrete and assorted trash. This dust , swirling in the high winds, is lighter but more penetrating. It fills your lungs insidiously. But, as we drove through Baghdad, I saw, at the most, two or three people with masks. Most were walking purposefully through the haze.
As we passed the Green Zone, where the United States Embassy and Iraqi government offices are located, I saw a man in running shorts and t-shirt jogging on the street. At the running track the athletes were arriving, some missing legs, or arms. Many are victims of the war. In the distance, a loud explosion roared. The athletes and their friends muttered but quickly returned to more important things. Bombs, sandstorms - it’s a nuisance but nothing that will stop them from competing.But the storm, the worst in years, did shut down Baghdad Airport. The helicopters that roar every few minutes through the skies of the capital were grounded. Back in our bureau everything - computers, cameras, monitors, desks, pens, coffee cups, my eyeglasses -was covered within minutes with a fine yellow talcum. There was no getting away from it.
In 2003, just after the start of the invasion of Iraq , a giant sandstorm blanketed southern Iraq. Some Iraqis began calling it “Allah’s Shroud,” God’s protection from the “invaders.” To me, it’s just as exotic. A sandstorm in Baghdad. Like Ali Baba’s 40 Thieves, I said the magic words “open sesame!” and waited for the skies to clear.
CNN’s special prime-time programming will begin at 7 p.m., following wall-to-wall politics on The Situation Room, and will run late into the night. Lead political anchor Wolf Blitzer will direct the coverage and be joined by anchors Campbell Brown, Anderson Cooper, Lou Dobbs and Soledad O'Brien. Chief national correspondent John King will again provide in-depth, Pennsylvania-specific data and analysis using the CNN “multi-touch” board, a unique tool that makes complex information more understandable and accessible. The coverage will lead into a special edition of Larry King Live at midnight hosted by Larry King. American Morning with John Roberts and Kyra Phillips will be live the following morning from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. with post-election analysis.In the lead-up to Tuesday, CNN’s correspondents are traveling across Pennsylvania to cover the race. Ali Velshi will be live aboard the CNN Election Express, the network’s mobile news bureau, as it completes its stint as CNN’s mini-bureau in Philadelphia and will anchor Issue #1 from the site at noon for both Monday, April 21, and Tuesday, April 22. Candy Crowley and Suzanne Malveaux are covering Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as they make last-minute pitches to the voters. Jim Acosta, Dana Bash, and Jessica Yellin will also provide live reports from the trail.Gloria Borger, senior political analyst; David Gergen, senior political analyst; Bill Schneider, senior political analyst; Jeff Toobin, legal analyst; and CNN’s nationally known contributors Paul Begala, Bill Bennett, Donna Brazile, Amy Holmes and Roland Martin will provide commentary from the CNN Election Center. Also joining them will be commentators Alex Castellanos, Leslie Sanchez and Jamal Simmons.