Couric in hostile territory

Anchor to report from Iraq, Syria

NEW YORK -- "CBS Evening News" anchor Katie Couric is on her way to Iraq and Syria for a 10-day trip that will see her report from the war zone ahead of a progress report by Gen. David Petraeus that could determine the course of the Iraq War.

It will be Couric's first trip to Iraq since she became anchor of the newscast a year ago next week. Her reports come in advance of the Sept. 15 deadline for the report by Petraeus on the progress of the U.S. military's shift in strategy that could influence American troop levels in Iraq.

"CBS Evening News" executive producer Rick Kaplan said he and Couric want to provide viewers a full picture of what's happening in Iraq through her reporting as well as that of CBS News foreign correspondent Lara Logan, who already is in Iraq.

"This Sept. 15 deadline is quite real for Congress and the military and the White House," Kaplan said before he and Couric departed with a small crew. "We hope to give people a deeper understanding of the issues."

Couric was unavailable before her departure Wednesday.

Couric will spend six days in Iraq, including four days during the Labor Day weekend reporting stories from around the country. The "CBS Evening News" will be anchored by Couric live from Baghdad on Sept. 4 and 5, then in Damascus on Sept. 6 and 7. Although it's no problem to broadcast live from Baghdad, broadcasting live from Syria will be a work in progress, and some of the segments might be taped. Kaplan said all of the newscasts will be Iraq-focused.

Plans for the trip have been hush-hush for several weeks, though word has leaked around New York media circles during the past several days. CBS News and the U.S. military are concerned for Couric and her crew's safety in Iraq, concerns that were heightened with the abduction and death of a CBS News translator last week after a home invasion. Two CBS News journalists were killed and correspondent Kimberly Dozier was severely wounded in a bomb attack in May 2006.

CBS News president Sean McManus said he supported Couric's decision to go to Iraq and that the network was taking every possible precaution.

"It's an incredibly difficult decision to make, and in the end it was one that Katie had to make herself. Nobody was going to assign Katie to go to Iraq," McManus said Tuesday. "It was a story she said she needed to experience." McManus said some of the access CBS News was getting on Tuesday came about because it was sending Couric.

Kaplan acknowledged the safety concerns but didn't want to overplay them. He said the security was being attended "to the smallest detail," but the network wanted to be low key about that as well as the types of stories it would do. He said the majority of the CBS stories would be done outside Baghdad's so-called Green Zone.

"We're being very prudent about were we go, what we do and how much we talk about it," said Kaplan, himself a veteran journalist who has been to Iraq and other war zones.