McClatchy Washington Bureau chief John Walcott sent this note Monday to McClatchy editors:
Many of you may have seen the story about the three bombings in Baghdad today and recalled that one of the targets, the Hamra hotel, housed the McClatchy Baghdad bureau. Happily, that’s no longer true: Together with our partners at The Christian Science Monitor, we moved out of the Hamra three weeks ago to a private house in a compound with The New York Times. The windows there were blown out today, but we suffered no casualties and no major damage, and we’ve posted a story on the bombings by Jane Arraf of the Monitor and Laith Hammoudi of McClatchy, both part of the new McClatchy/Monitor bureau.
The recent move out of the Hamra was no accident, nor was it simply good luck. Hannah Allam, who oversees the Baghdad bureau from her base in Cairo, was in Iraq late last year overseeing the merger with the Monitor and was alarmed by the deteriorating security conditions at the hotel and some developments in the immediate neighborhood, most colorfully the openings of two brothels across the square, which in addition to their primary purpose provided an ideal place to survey the Hamra and its defenses without attracting much notice. The security force had shrunk to about half of what’s needed, largely because NBC News has bailed out of Iraq and taken its budget with it, and one day workers arrived and began tearing down the blast walls, we suspect because of a dispute over payments to someone in authority.
Foreign Editor Roy Gutman and foreign affairs correspondent Warren Strobel, both of whom did recent tours in Baghdad, agreed with Hannah’s assessment, and so we decided to find a new location and get out of the Hamra while the getting was good.
The bombings today killed at least 31 people and included a suicide car bombing inside the compound that surrounds the Hamra. Witnesses said gunmen on the main road outside the hotel began firing at the security guards manning the checkpoint that leads to the hotel compound, and then drove a pickup packed with explosives past the security barrier. The guards shot the driver dead just before the truck detonated on the street directly outside the hotel.
Thanks to the fine work of Hannah and Roy, no one from McClatchy or the Monitor was there.