I'd been in Baghdad for the first Gulf War and was probably one of the first journalists to get to the bomb shelter when the bombs started raining in.
My grandfather had told me during World War Two he always knew German bombers were on the way to London way before the bombs fell, because the dogs started barking.
For that reason I was listening at my open window in the Al Rasheed hotel that January night back in 1991. Sure enough, the dogs barked, then the bombs fell. With the first flash I was already half way down the stairs leaping half a floor at a time.
Needless to say, I was no sooner secure in the bunker than I wanted to get out and see what was happening. Iraqi officials blocked the way. Peter Arnett, John Holliman and Bernie Shaw hid out upstairs and made TV history. I made a mental note, next time stay out of the bomb shelter!
So 12 years later when we got the call 'shock and awe' was about to begin I knew what I must do.
My head was saying go upstairs, my gut was telling me head for the basement...
We were in a different hotel than 1991, the Palestine, right across the Tigris River from Saddam Hussein’s main downtown presidential compound. We’d chosen the hotel for this very reason, its ready vantage point overlooking the most likely target in the Baghdad and I'd taken the best room, the Presidential suite on the top floor. Something ironic I suppose in the name, but 17 floors up it had a 270 degree view of the city. Like having the Royal box at a London theater, only this was no play, lives would be at stake, possibly ours. We'd been told when shock and awe started, if we were within two miles, our ear drums would be blown out.
I agreed to share my room with a couple of photographer friends, Jim Nachtwey and Alexandra Boulat, a wonderful woman who sadly died last year. To me they were the cream of the photography crop in Baghdad, at the top of their game.
So when the warning came and my gut said 'hide,' my head said 'be a journalist,' my heart said 'warn my friends.' I ran up the 6 flights from our 11th floor office. Jim and Alex began bagging their gear, we were worried, what would happen when the bombs fell. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The top guns not staying for the top shot.
My head came in to play, 'let's wait and see what happens' I said. We all set up on the balcony again, grabbed some cushions for protection, threw them on the floor in the corner, put our flack jackets and helmets on and waited.
As the bombers got closer, the anti aircraft fire got louder and louder. I began to doubt myself in more ways than one, were we crazy? More importantly, had I set my camera to record?
I went out to the balcony to check and became transfixed as the night sky was rent by wavering lines of anti-aircraft tracer rounds, snaking through the sky as desperate Iraqi gunners sought an invisible prey. The huge yellow flashes erupted from the huge presidential complex just across the river. Then one almighty bang and a massive ball of flame. I pulled myself back into room, hid behind the wall, waiting for the shock wave. Would the hotel shake? Would it crumble? Would the windows shatter and we'd be shredded by flying glass? Then it hit, windows burst open, dust came down from the ceiling, and that was it, the worst was over. From that moment I knew we'd be safe.
For over an hour we watched and recorded 'Shock and Awe.' Then a banging at our door. Iraqi government minders had come to close us down. We went silent, pretended not to be there, they left.
We breathed a sigh of relief and I stashed my tapes in a bag. Half an hour later they came crashing back, breaking the door down. I pulled a curtain over the balcony window to hide my camera... it went on recording Shock and Awe.
The men Saddam employed to control our every move didn't get my tapes, we were expelled the next day and the material broadcast as soon as we got over the border to Jordan.
– Nic Robertson, Senior International Correspondent
Program note: AC 360 takes a look back at the start of the Iraq War and where it stands now five years later. "Shock & Awe: 5 Years Later" airs tonight 11p ET....and read other blogs from the 360° team of contributors at cnn.com/360
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
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