During long days in traffic jams, Alan would tell me funny stories about his daughter and infant son, marveling at how fast they were growing. I would tease him that I was a spy for his wife, Fairuz, and would report to her if I caught him looking in the direction of a pretty girl.
The first interview on our list that morning was Adnan al-Dulaimi, a Sunni politician. While there was a handful of what Western journalists considered no-go neighborhoods in Baghdad – his office wasn't in that category yet. But we had taken our normal security precautions. I was dressed, for example, in a black hijab that hid my hair and Western clothes. We'd been to Mr. Dulaimi's office several times before without a problem. Our last trip had been two days earlier to set up this interview.
In retrospect, that was a fatal mistake; we had given someone 48 hours to prepare for our return.
Adnan Abbas, the Monitor's longtime driver – who'd shared many of our harrowing experiences – guided his maroon Toyota sedan along the familiar route to Dulaimi's office, dropping us off 20 minutes earlier than the scheduled time of 10 a.m.
Inside, Dulaimi's aides steered us away from the usual waiting room full of men drinking sweet tea in tiny glasses, and into an adjoining room where we were alone. Alan and I noticed the strangeness of this move at the same moment.
"Well, it's better," Alan said. "You're a woman and there are a lot of men in there."
The minutes passed and aides walked through the room chatting on cellphones. I understood through my rudimentary Arabic that they were telling various people that a reporter was waiting to see Dulaimi. But a little after 10 a.m. the same aide who had made the appointment for us approached us.
"Sorry, Dr. Dulaimi has a press conference right now," the aide said. "He can't talk to you. Can you come back at 12?"
I wondered why I hadn't heard about the press conference before now.
We agreed to come back later and stepped out into the bright sunny morning where Adnan was waiting for us.