ABC News continues Iraq status report


NEW YORK -- Four years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq began and in the middle of the troop surge announced by President Bush, ABC News next week will launch its fifth all-encompassing look at what's going on in the country.

Central to "Iraq: Where Things Stand" will be the reporting of ABC News Baghdad correspondent Terry McCarthy and the release of a poll of 2,000 Iraqis sponsored by ABC News, USA Today and the German TV network ARD.

McCarthy has spent months on the package. He said in an interview Thursday from Baghdad that he was able to get to several places in the country to do reporting. He flew to the southern city of Basra with British forces because the road that they used to travel in 2003 and 2004 has become too dangerous. McCarthy flew by helicopter to the Iraq-Iran border and was able to report there without too much trouble and flew commercially to Kurdistan which, unlike the rest of the country, is easier to move around in.

ABC News' Iraqi crews traveled to Nasiryah, Najaf, Tikrit and Fallujah, which are still too dangerous to travel to for Western reporters.

"Iraq: Where Things Stand" will kick off Sunday with "Good Morning America" and get major play throughout the ABC News platforms including "GMA," "World News With Charles Gibson," "Nightline" and "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" plus the ABC News Now digital service and through at least Thursday. It's the brainchild of ABC News president David Westin and has been done five times so far, the first few with then-anchor Peter Jennings.

"It's very enlightening at a time when it's very difficult to get out and talk to Iraqis because of the security situation," said David Reiter, senior producer of special events at ABC News. "The poll allows us to find out what Iraqis are thinking about throughout the country." Reiter and Tom Nagorski, senior broadcast producer of "World News With Charles Gibson," are producing the coverage.

"Terry has done the same trips at least twice before, so he can talk about the differences in the situation in Iraq for different parts of the country and also over time," Reiter said.

ABC News executives declined to discuss the details of the poll, but McCarthy said in an interview from Baghdad on Thursday night that it wasn't all that positive, with a few exceptions.

"Generally, optimism has fallen through the floor," said McCarthy, who noted that the earlier incarnations of the poll in 2004 and 2005 showed that Iraqis had looked to the future and a better life free of Saddam. But particularly in Baghdad, he said, the sectarian war between the Sunnis and the Shiites have sapped optimism to the point where "most Iraqis would like to leave the entire country if they could."

McCarthy said southern Iraq is a slightly less depressing picture, with less violence than in and around Baghdad but controlled by organized crime.

But he said that there are still signs of optimism.

"On a more personal level, I've been coming to this country since the war in 2003, and it never ceases to amaze me how resilient Iraqis are," McCarthy said. "Life still goes on, literally among hell on Earth in Baghdad."

McCarthy has participated in two other "Iraq: Where Things Stand" when he worked for Time Magazine and appeared on camera for ABC News during that time.

ABC News is the second network to do a big series of reports out of Iraq in the past two weeks. Last week, "NBC Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams traveled to Iraq for a weeklong series of reports, the first network-news anchor in the war zone since Bob Woodruff was critically injured there Jan. 29, 2006. MSNBC also will have a full day of Iraq coverage on March 19, the fourth anniversary of the war.

"At a time when it's really difficult to get out of Baghdad or even report within Baghdad, and at a time when some others choose not to focus on Iraqis, I think what we've done is pretty unique and extraordinary," Reiter said. "At a difficult time in Iraq, we've done really one of the most comprehensive bits of reporting."