[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/22/art.twitter.baghdad1.jpg caption="Twitter founder meets with a delegation of businesspeople in Baghdad, sponsored by the U.S. State Department."]
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/22/art.twitter.baghdad2.jpg caption="Business executives in Baghdad meet with representatives from firms such as Google and Twitter."]
CNN Baghdad Correspondent
Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey is in town! You know the world has gone Twitter crazy when the fastest-growing social network in the world comes Baghdad.
Baghdad is one of the most dangerous, broken and sometimes backward-seeming cities in the world. Yet if you set out across Baghdad, you can see it has regrown a tremendous amount in a short time.
As we drove to meet with Dorsey, we saw people on the streets, and in restaurants and Internet cafes, in numbers that you just never saw during the height of civil war here.
So. no wonder Twitter is in town. And they're not alone – executives from Google, AT&T and Youtube are also part of a delegation sponsored by the US State Department.
I knew that Mithal Al-Alusi (an Iraqi member of Parliament) was controversial before I sat down with him: but I had no idea how open and transparent he would be. The man has traveled from Iraq to Israel twice – for counter-terrorism conferences.
Between his first and second trip, his two sons died in an attack that was targeting the minister. It seemed clear to me, from his answers that because his sons were dead – he had lost the one thing that meant the world to him. And he was going to take his belief: that Iraq and Israel can learn from each other all the way to the end – even if it meant he, eventually would be killed.
It was one of those rare interviews – where the back and forth flowed perfectly. I could not believe the answers that I was getting to my questions.
Why did you travel to Israel first in 2004, I asked …
“My God, Why not,” he answered… “Let me tell you – nobody knew I was Iraqi, because I look like them. So they told me sometimes because of my language, from – where are you? I said, from Iraq. Are you sure you’re from Iraq? Oh … well, welcome to Israel,” he said to me.
I was so stunned at some of his answers it would take me a brief moment to ask the next question.
“How many times have they tried to kill you,” I asked.
“14 … I think … it will be 15 … it doesn’t matter” he replied.
It will be 15 – I’m quite sure.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/09/16/art.odierno.jpg caption="US Defense Secretary Robert Gates hands over the Multi-National Force Iraq flag Gen. Ray Odierno while outgoing commander Gen. David Petraeus looks on during a Change of Command ceremony at camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq"]
As General David Petreaus handed over control to the new man in charge: General Raymond T. Odierno – it was like watching a speech you've seen a thousand times: 'Gains have been made . There's still work to be done . We need to maintain security gains: Thank you to all the troops who have sacrificed so much. '
That was the point when I flashed back to a meeting I had with General Odierno in January of 2007.
We were sitting at the time in his command center – he was the number two in command in Iraq at the time- and he started telling me a story I'll never forget.
He was at home, between his first and second tour in Iraq, when in the middle of the night he got the phone call that every parent who has a son or daughter in uniform dreads.
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After a week of no sleep in Tbilisi Georgia, covering the war with Russia, I was finally checking in for my flight to Munich on Monday. All I could think about was getting on the plane, and getting some very necessary sleep.
While waiting for my flight to board, I sat in the business lounge enjoying a relaxing drink. Finally, an opportunity to simply listen to my iPod and clear my head. All of a sudden I look up – and walking towards me is Joseph Biden (D) from Delaware.
Are you freaking kidding me, I thought?
I wandered over, introduced myself – said, “Senator, my name is Cal Perry, I’m a reporter from CNN and just wanted to say hello.” He immediately smiled and asked me to sit with him while we waited for the flight.
The conversation immediately turned to Iraq – a place I spent four years covering for CNN. He peppered me with questions – How are things going there do you think? Who are the most important and reliable politicians, in your opinion? Do you think Abdul Aziz Hakim is the man who wields the most power?
Editor's note: CNN's Cal Perry filed this reporter's notebook from Beirut, Lebanon about what it was like being caught in the middle of a fire-fight. Here's the quick back-story:
Gun fire broke out in downtown Beirut last week after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said recent government actions amount to "a declaration of open war." The latest tensions between Lebanon's U.S.-backed government and Hezbollah were sparked when the government declared Hezbollah's communication system illegal.
The government threatened to dismantle a Hezbollah telecommunications network discovered at Beirut's international airport claming Hezbollah had installed cameras and other monitoring equipment at the airport. The government believes that Hezbollah was using the equipment to keep tabs on anti-Syrian government officials, possibly funneling the information to Syria. Syria has been accused of carrying out assassinations on anti-Syrian Lebanese politicians, a charge it vehemently denies.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.l.cnn.net/cnn/2008/WORLD/meast/05/08/lebanon.hezbollah/art.tires.afp.gi.jpg caption="Government loyalists add tires to a burning barricade outside Beirut."]
Can’t stop thinking about what one of my former security advisors from Iraq said to me in a cafe here in Beirut just two days ago. “It’s quiet now Cal — but this is Beirut … at any moment, within 24 hours, the city and country could be thrust into complete chaos.”
Today, chaos is what happened.
The Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, gave a speech in the afternoon, reacting to what the government had said about Hezbollah’s telecommunication network (a private network used by Hezbollah for communication.) It was exactly as expected — a fiery speech in which he said the government’s actions were tantamount to a declaration of war against his group.
After the speech we headed out into the streets to tape a brief “piece to camera,” while it was still light outside. Within minutes, deafening gunfire broke out all around us. A group of Lebanese Army soldiers starting yelling at us to come towards them and take cover behind a large building. The rounds were snapping close to us as we ran behind the building.
Cameraman Christian Streib, who has lived in Beirut for a decade, snapped into action — immediately filming. We tried to do a “piece to camera” but with all the gunfire, I could hardly hear my own voice. I found myself screaming at times, and gave up pretty quickly.
The firefight was raging when Christian spotted gunmen on a nearby rooftop. He remarked that he got it on film — something I still cannot believe. I kept telling him he was making me nervous as he filmed about, but the truth is he’s a seasoned as they get, and it was the simple gunfire, now coupled with large explosions from rocket-propelled grenades that was really making me nervous.