Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Photos With Petraeus A Big Draw In Baghdad


The man we'll report on next has a resume that includes running an army and overseeing a new manual on insurgencies. It's not necessarily the stuff that makes a celebrity, but if you're in Iraq there is one measure by which General David Petraeus is a bigger star than Angelina Jolie or the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. General Petraeus gets thousands of requests from people who want a picture with him. So every six weeks or so he takes a break from running the war and attends a ritual in Baghdad's Green Zone. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro was watching.

General DAVID PETRAEUS (U.S. Army): (Unintelligible) Give me (unintelligible)


(Soundbite of group exclamation)

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: General Petraeus strides onto the stage at the U.S. embassy and he's working the crowd like Dean Martin, minus the drink and cigarette.

Gen. PETRAEUS: There was a lot of energy in that room and I hope there's a lot of energy in this room. So let's start the music.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And like the best showman, he tosses the microphone to his aide and strikes a pose. There are hundreds of people waiting in line to take a picture with him. It reminds Air Force Master Sergeant Jon Feiss(ph) of Christmas and Santa's grotto.

Master Sergeant JON FEISS (Air Force): It's like being in Macy's again, you know, and you're nine years old.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sergeant Feiss has driven his whole office over with him for the opportunity.

Sergeant FEISS: Basically gathered up the crowd and even our local nationals, and we're about three-quarters of a mile away, and came in here and got in line first.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Feiss has been in Iraq for a year, but it's the first time he's been able to have his picture taken with the head of America's war effort here.

Sgt. FEISS: It's one of them pictures that I want hanging on my wall in my office, you know, for the younger troops to see like when I get back. Special moment, you know, and it's always good to catch on camera. So...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Salam is an Iraqi who works with Master Sergeant Feiss. He won't give his last name and he says he can't put this picture up at home.

SALAM: No, not at home, but in my office probably.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: General Petraeus is popular in the Green Zone, but if militants find this shot, Salam could be killed in the Red Zone, where he lives. Still, even he's excited.

SALAM: It's a great honor. Just want to say thank you by standing here and a taking picture with General Petraeus.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The general is a celebrity here, and no one gets much time with him.

Colonel STEVE BOYLAN (Spokesman for General Petraeus): Please step up here. Soon as you hear the click, please move forward.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Feiss's group gets to the stage and is quickly ushered on.

Col. BOYLAN: As these progress, we've got it down to a science where it takes less - it takes about three seconds per photo.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Colonel Steve Boylan is Petraeus's spokesman.

Mr. BOLIN: Numerous people would ask for a time to come up to his office and get a picture with him. So kind of a brainstorming session took place and it was decided that the best way to accommodate everyone's request was to set up periodically - and it happens about once every six weeks or so.

Unidentified Woman: One, two, three. Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: One after another they file past the general as an army photographer takes the shot. The people here are a cross-section of those who make up the American mission in Iraq - soldiers in fatigues, contractors in overalls, and even a group of Sri-Lankan cooks dressed in burgundy uniforms poses with Petraeus.

Armin Cuchinello(ph) is with the State Department. He often accompanies celebrities and dignitaries when they are in this country.

Mr. ARMIN CUCHINELLO (State Department): This is bigger than Angelina Jolie, the Secretary of State, Dick Cheney. It competes with Bill O'Reilly having been here for his book signing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It takes 45 minutes to take a picture with everyone who stood in line - 486 of them, all told. The room is now almost empty and Petraeus stops to give this comment to a reporter.

Gen. PETRAEUS: There is no greater source of energy than a room with all these great folks who are serving our country and Iraq in this very important mission.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Then he walks off, back to the business of war.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Baghdad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.