I am quickly discovering that there are benefits and burdens to having a credentialed press badge. The defined benefit is that you need press credentials to do on-the-scene interviews with many of the coalition units. An undefined benefit is that other reporters recognize you as a reporter, and are thus more amenable to conversation. The downside is that reporters actually have less access than an American with a passport. For example, last night, I went to the Al Rasheed to meet someone for a drink. The guards at the gate to the Rasheed explained that I could not enter without a Public Affairs Officer (PAO) escort. I stated that I had been in numerous times without an escort, with just my U.S. Passport. The guard explained that you could get in with a U.S. Passport, but that the press were not allowed. I quickly tucked my press id away, pulled out my passport, and presented myself as an American citizen. I was waived in, with the admonition that the press are not allowed. I assured the guard that I had seen no press around here.
Then this morning I had a similar experience going in the gate. I went to a gate which I know well, presented my press ID, and was informed that the press could not enter through this gate. I explained that I had entered many times on a passport, and they said that U.S. citizens could enter, but not press. I tried the same trick as the night before, but this soldier wasn’t biting. I would have to tromp down to another gate. I went to the next gate, and this time presented just my passport. They asked if I was press, and I stupidly said yes. Press aren’t allowed at this gate either, without a PAO escort. In fact, he suggested that press are not allowed in the Green Zone at all without a PAO escort! To enter without an escort, I had to go to still another gate. Well, not just another gate, the gate with the long lines. I did finally get through, and learned a valuable tip: When asked at the checkpoints, I am a professor with the Ashbrook Center, not a journalist. In reality, however, the delays were very useful. I explored a neighborhood I was not familiar with, and met some very interesting people, who you will get to meet on this page soon.