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A reporter reflects on three years in Iraq

NBC's Richard Engel reflects on his three years in Iraq.

Below my window this week, I watched seven Iraqis die after a car bomb.

Outside my Palestine Hotel window three years ago, I watched the "shock and awe" of the U.S. military.

Back then, I started keeping a video diary. Looking at it today, you can see me taping over a glass door, stockpiling food and planning for a fast escape.

Three weeks later, on April 9, 2003, Baghdad fell and reporters were free to travel the country, to mingle with Shiite fundamentalists in Najaf and talk politics in Baghdad coffee shops.

But on March 31, 2004, four American contractors were ambushed in Fallujah and everything changed.

A year later, my video diary again shows the aftermath of a car bomb outside my room. The violence was beginning to take a toll.

"I've seen so many ugly things," I said to the camera. "So many memories and images that I'm not sure people are equipped to handle. Two weeks ago I was walking around Latifiya in the south of Baghdad. I was watching stray dogs eat a dead body and just picking it to pieces."

As violence increased, foreign reporters, like Iraqis, adapted.

Now, it's too dangerous to run on the streets, so we use a treadmill and a punching bag to relieve the tension that's hard to escape here.

And there's another way to cope. It's no longer safe to go to restaurants, so we take turns cooking comfort food for each other, like macaroni and gravy. The team dinners are an important nightly ritual. For a moment, they provide a sense of a normal life.

But in the morning, reality returns.

Reporting trips are now military-style missions. We're escorted by private, armed guards. But even after taking every precaution, sometimes we're caught in the violence, as I was during an IED attack in Mosul in January 2005.

"It feels like every time you are out or every time you are here, you are trying to pull a fast one on history," I said in my video diary. "You sneak out to get information and try to get back without being kidnapped or without losing an eye or a limb."

It's been a three-year journey through war, and it's not nearly over.