Iraq: Getting ready to report

Matthew Hay Brown, for the Pulitzer Center

In a sense, I've been preparing for this trip since the spring of 2000. That's when I first traveled to Iraq, to write about life for Iraqis then caught between sanctions and Saddam.

I journeyed from Baghdad to Basra, visiting hospitals, schools and the homes of ordinary Iraqis. By then, the U.N.'s humanitarian coordinator for Iraq was estimating that the widest-ranging embargo in history, then more than nine years old, had been responsible for the deaths of one million Iraqis, most of them children.

I met doctors who told me they could not get the medicine they needed to treat simple illnesses, teachers whose students sat on classroom floors for want of chairs, and parents who said they had sold appliances, furniture and even clothing for money to buy food.

The U.N. Security Council lifted the sanctions after the fall of Saddam in 2003. But by then, Iraq was aflame. Growing sectarian violence eventually triggered a massive refugee exodus, and soon I was talking, once again, with Iraqis struggling for survival.