Originally posted July 18, 2007 on the All Things Anderson blog.
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Let's be honest… we've all wondered from time to time why anyone would be crazy enough to be a war correspondent covering a city as dangerous as Baghdad. But if you had to compile a recipe for how to create a good WarCo, you might start here:
Take the smarts and tenacity of a prosecuting attorney…
Add the physical toughness and slight mental insanity of a professional rugby player…
Mix in the dogged determination and interview skills of an investigative journalist…
And if you're very lucky, what you end up with is Michael Ware.
Of course, you know he's Australian; the accent and attitude give that away straight off. Picturing him buttoned up in a suit and tie, standing in the formal setting of a courtroom might be more of a stretch, but that is exactly how he planned to spend his life… well, once the chance for rugby stardom seemed to be down the drain due to serious injuries sustained in a traffic accident.
Just a week after being named as a reserve to the state team Queensland Reds, his motorcycle lost an argument with a car, and he would be off the field for the next two years.
Meanwhile, he received his law degree from the University of Queensland in Brisbane, and was offered a position as an associate to fellow alum Tony Fitzgerald. That name might not resonate with us Yanks, but Fitzgerald was at the time the President of the Queensland Court of Appeal. Not too shabby a start, if you want to compile an impressive resume and get that comfy corner office some day.
But then rugby came calling again, when he was asked to step onto the field in place of an injured player for a Reds team touring South America. (It will surprise no-one reading this that the position he played is considered the most dangerous one in a sport most famous in the US for the ubiquitous bumper sticker that reads: Give blood, Play rugby.)
At some point after that tour, having returned to the suit and tie, he realized how "dull as dishwater" such a career would be and reevaluated his options.
His next stop took him to Rupert Murdoch's newspaper stable, and again, while Murdoch's name may be best associated with tabloids here in the States, the Courier-Mail in Brisbane is very much a normal daily newspaper, and Michael climbed the newsroom ladder the hard way. His first published byline was for a humor-edged retelling of a personal experience: having returned from a five-week backpacking trip through Vietnam and Cambodia, he made the mistake of petting a drug-sniffing dog at the Brisbane airport. The dog clearly identified him as the Alpha male, and once off-duty, came back to Michael and dropped a chew toy at his feet. Security had a few sharp questions regarding what exactly might be in that backpack, sir?, and it was all somewhat amusing until the latex gloves were snapped on.
He covered the police beat and court trials, not surprisingly, but also did a short stint as the computer columnist. And eventually, he started getting overseas assignments: Jakarta, East Timor, Papau New Guinea; all in the midst of political and social upheaval.
By the time of the 2000 Olympics, he was working for Time and based in Sydney. After 9/11, he wheedled, cajoled, and pleaded his way to the assignment that would shape the rest of his career: Afghanistan. Throughout 2002 he reported on the hunt for al-Qaeda and the Taliban, living amongst the people in the mountains, learning to speak enough Pashtu to bluff his way through checkpoints.
As the invasion of Iraq shaped up, he entered the country through the Kurdish north, hooking up with US Special Forces teams and Peshmerga militia forces to cover the front line battles. He witnessed the death of the first Australian journalist killed in the war, photographer Paul Moran, and although he had never before met Moran or his writing partner Eric Campbell, helped arrange for Campbell to leave the country and escort his cameraman's body home.
In the summer of 2003 he relocated to Baghdad and was soon named Time's Bureau Chief. For the next year, his contacts within the insurgency would provide him with access that no other journalist could match. While giving voice to the "other side" earned him considerable controversy, he was truly following the first rule of warfare, per Sun Tzu: "Know Your Enemy." Throughout the summer of 2004, he was sent videotapes showing insurgent attacks, including the gruesome murder of four Blackwater contractors in Fallujah by a group calling itself "Attawhid wal Jihad" (Unity and Holy War) led by a man whose name would soon become a household word in the West: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
By September 2004 he had built up his contacts within the insurgency to the point that he was informed when Zarqawi's nascent "Al-Qaeda in Iraq" militia took over a section of Haifa Street and defiantly claimed it as their own. When he asked to be shown the area, their car was forced to a stop by Zarqawi's men, who dragged Michael out. They forced him to the ground beneath one of the infamous banners seen in so many hostage tapes, and prepared to behead him while filming the execution on his own video camera. His life was spared only when his Baathist guides told the gunmen that his death would start a war between the two groups, a war Zarqawi was not yet strong enough to win.
But while his coverage of the insurgents has been controversial, his coverage of the military in Iraq has been equally impressive and nearly as harrowing. Throughout 2005 and 2006, Michael's bylines read like a Foder's Guide of Scary Places: Fallujah, Ramadi, Tal Afar, Samarra, and of course, Baghdad itself. Footage he shot of some of those battles has been shown on 60 Minutes and Frontline.
In May 2006, he wrote an article for an Australian magazine that recounted the dangers journalists face every day in Iraq, telling the deeply personal and painful story of one of his "fixers," who was abducted and tortured for five days by al-Qaeda interrogators in an attempt to get him to falsely name Michael as a spy. The man was finally released with a chilling message to deliver: "Tell Mick we're watching him."
- Michael moved to CNN in June of that year, and although he spent his first on-air month covering the Israel/Lebanon war, by early August he had taken up residence at the CNN compound in Baghdad. Since then his reports have continued to bring fresh insight and occasional controversy as the US and its allies struggle to find closure to this war. Michael is often asked whether he plans to cover it through to the end; sometimes he says he hopes to. Sometimes he doesn't answer at all.