The Digital Journalist
Palestine Hotel
April 2004

by Jerome Delay

Wednesday, March 17 2004, Palestine Hotel, Baghdad, 08.09 PM. It's been just another day in Baghdad, pictureless protests, roadside bombs, unexploded devices, argument with American soldiers, the usual…

KABOOM . . .

Mount Lebanon Hotel: I snapped 2 frames

Photo by Jerome Delay/AP
The hotel shakes. Flashback to last April when Taras Protsyuk, a cameraman for Reuters, and Jose Couso, a cameraman for the Spanish television station Telecinco, were killed at the Palestine Hotel by an American tank shell. Except this time, there is smoke, lots of smoke, coming from behind the mosque on Firdus Square. TV is already rolling live, CNN is breaking news with "explosion near journalists hotel in Baghdad," as if it is bigger news if we are nearby, and I grab my digital Olympus and snap two frames.

Our Baghdad photographers are already on the way. I don't even need to call them, I know they are. Everyone is running in the hallways, looking for their flack jacket, searching for a helmet, cursing at the elevator that is just never there when you need it. I've got to file. I trust the elevators... I have a few minutes. When I reach my Mac, there's an instant message from the London AP desk. They are watching CNN too. You'll get the first pix in three or four minutes, I reply.

Not a picture to be proud of. But at least London didn't have to do a frame grab. Mosque, smoke, night, quick caption, the picture lands on photo desks and webmaster's screen around the world almost live.

I've missed the first elevator.

Five more frames.

Photo by Jerome Delay/AP
Ten minutes later, I find myself running in the general direction of the explosion. US tanks roll through the square. And I walk, and walk, and walk. It's a good feeling, first time out without the back brace I've been wearing since December following a high speed car crash near Ramadi.

Near Baghdad hospital, I see flashing blue lights. Ambulances race down the avenue partially blocked by US tanks. All I have is a small digital rangefinder. I should not be bothered by the authorities, Iraqis or Americans who, it to often seems, concentrate on photographer-hunting instead of victim-rescuing.

Once the barrage of tanks passed, I see a large crowd being pushed back from the scene of the explosion. In that crowd, I recognize some colleagues who didn't miss the first elevator at the Palestine.

Five more frames from the top floor

Photo by Jerome Delay/AP
I have to get through. To the right. By the wall. No one sees I have a camera. I am not the enemy. Television cameras are being pushed around Bystanders are not. I go through.

The Mount Lebanon Hotel is gone. On the ground, a huge crater. There is still fire roaring. To the left, a four story structure. I get in. It offers a great view, and I can hide there. I start to work. Firetrucks provide some light. The few remaining streetlights give the scene an warm glow. Five frames. Three men walk in the viewfinder. Five more frames. I've covered my ass. AP has a picture.

I start climbing through rubble up some stairs, when I get almost run over by a group of US soldiers rushing up to the last floor. I follow them, they don't seem to mind. After all, I barely have a camera.

Five more frames from the top floor. Looking down at the crater, there is no more press around. I climb down, turn left, only to find a barrage of US soldiers blocking the area. "excuse me sir, I need to get out of here." Behind the barricade is Khalid Mohammed, who gives me a ride back to the hotel. Got to file, got to eat, got to sleep...

It's just another day in Baghdad.

© Jerome Delay

Jermone Delay is an International Photographer for The Associated Press. His work is published in Time, Newsweek, Paris Match, Stern, and daily newspapers throughout the world.