Is anyone safe in Iraq?
Could it be getting worse instead of better in Iraq?
ABC News co-anchor, cameraman wounded by roadside bombBY LIZ SLY AND PHIL ROSENTHALChicago TribuneBAGHDAD, Iraq - A journalist known to millions of Americans was among the casualties Sunday in Iraq, a stark reminder of the everyday dangers that people face in the war zone.
Newly installed ABC "World News Tonight" co-anchor Bob Woodruff and a cameraman were in serious but stable condition after being wounded when the vehicle in which they were traveling was hit by a roadside bomb north of Baghdad.
The pair was embedded with the 4th Infantry Division and was on a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol near the town of Taji when the explosion occurred, the U.S. military said. An Iraqi soldier also was reported injured in the attack.
Woodruff and Doug Vogt sustained shrapnel wounds to the head, and Woodruff's upper body also was injured. They underwent surgery at the U.S. military hospital in Balad and were flown to Landstuhl, Germany, for further treatment, the network said.
After they came out of surgery, ABC News President David Westin said in a statement: "We take this as good news. But the next few days will be critical."
The journalists' injuries came after the kind of attack that has been a frequent killer of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers.
Roadside bombs - or improvised explosive devices, as the military calls them - accounted for about 60 percent of all U.S. casualties in the last six months of 2005.
In January, the number of fatalities in roadside bombings appears to have fallen sharply, with 23 deaths accounting for 37 percent of the casualties, the lowest number since May of last year, according to statistics compiled by the Web site icasualties.org.
"The IED risk is real in this country," said Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington, spokesman for the multinational force in Baghdad. "The terrorists keep putting them out there."
Joint U.S.-Iraqi patrols, like the one on which Woodruff and Vogt were traveling with two other ABC News crew members, are becoming more common in Iraq as the U.S. military embarks on a major effort to train the Iraqi army in preparation for drawing down its own forces later in the year.
The two journalists, who were said to be wearing protective body armor, helmets and ballistic goggles at the time of the blast, were in the hatch of an Iraqi vehicle, which left them more exposed. Small-arms fire reportedly followed the explosion.
Though Woodruff and Vogt were traveling in an Iraqi armored vehicle, most Iraqi army units travel in open pickup trucks, making them much easier targets than the U.S. military.
"If you're going to cover the Iraqi military forces, you have to be with them," ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz said on "This Week With George Stephanopoulos." "You have to see how they live. I will tell you one thing, a few months ago when I was there and we wanted to get into an Iraqi pickup truck, one of the American soldiers said: `You can't do that. It's way too dangerous.'"
As the highest profile U.S. casualty of the war to date, Woodruff has become part of the story he was trying to cover. Just eight days earlier, he told reporters at a press event in Pasadena, Calif., he was wary of the weight an anchor's presence plays in news judgment.
"If you do send an anchor into the field, you do have an tendency sometimes to overemphasize the story," he said, noting he hoped ABC would resist that.
Coming so soon after the abduction of U.S. journalist Jill Carroll, 28, a freelance correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, Woodruff's injury demonstrates the continued dangers with which the dwindling foreign press corps operating in Iraq must contend.
Since the war began in March 2003, 61 journalists have been killed, 42 of them Iraqi, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The dead include two Americans and nine Europeans.
The press corps also has been reduced in less lethal ways, as news outlets pull back from Iraq. Hundreds of Western journalists converged on the country after the U.S. invasion, but only a few dozen remain.
Embedding with the U.S. military is widely considered safer for Western journalists than operating independently in the hazardous streets of Baghdad, where the threat of bombings is compounded by the danger of being kidnapped or assassinated.
But embedded journalists share the same risks faced by the American soldiers who are being killed by insurgents on a daily basis.
"It sort of does give me pause for thought, because I do a lot of embeds and seeing what happened to Bob is something that could have happened to me," said Rick Jervis, Baghdad bureau chief for USA Today and a former Chicago Tribune reporter.
Journalists in Baghdad say they have been especially affected by the kidnapping of Carroll, the first American journalist to be held hostage for longer than a few days.
"We're in one of the more dangerous phases now that we've seen for a while, with threats from all sides - kidnappings, bombings and shootings," said Larry Kaplow, Baghdad correspondent for Cox Newspapers. "But I don't think it's the most dangerous phase we've seen here and I'm hoping I can be careful until this phase passes."
Kaplow, who has been based in Baghdad since March 2003, says he is determined to remain.
"It's an important story, and it's something in our business you want to do," he said. "There are probably only a few dozen American reporters who have a feel for this story, and if we all start to leave, there really won't be anybody to write informed stories about it."
Woodruff would heartily agree. That's why he was in Iraq.
A former lawyer, Woodruff, 44, was bitten by the journalism bug and chose to forego a legal career for a $12,000-a-year TV job in 1991, shortly before the birth of the first of his four children.
"I have always been a pretty curious, wanderlusting kind of person and I saw a job where I could scratch that itch and get paid for it," Woodruff told the Tribune recently.
Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas officially became co-anchor of "World News Tonight" on Jan. 3. They replaced Peter Jennings, who died of lung cancer last year.
Part of the appeal of the job for Woodruff was that it didn't tether him to the news desk and increased ABC's ability to showcase stories, some of which he hoped to cover.
"Those of us who still feel very strongly about serious news and informing our children, especially, this is a great new opportunity for us on so many fronts," he said in Pasadena. "It's really good for the reporters in the field, too, to know that when they do all this work and sometimes risk their lives to do it, there's a place that an audience can find it."