Iraq, the beleaguered nation of 36 million people, has had little peace in the past 10 years. Now, Islamic State terrorists, or ISIS, the splinter group of Al-Qaeda in Iraq that has grabbed large swaths of land in Iraq and neighboring Syria, are adding to the political and religious tumult. Although they have been forced to retreat somewhat after American-led airstrikes helped Iraqi forces wrest back control of key cities, infrastructure, and oil installations, ISIS still controls about a third of Iraq.

“The situation in Iraq has been very volatile,” says journalist Vivian Salama, the Baghdad bureau chief for the Associated Press (AP) since June who heads up the effort to cover the war—and civilian life—in Iraq. “Coalition airstrikes have helped boost the abilities of the Iraqi and Kurdish forces, but the Islamic State group has been able to adapt to the changes and still operate.”

That type of on-scene dispatch—quick, newsy, and bare bones—is how Salama LC’00, SCILS’00 and her team of 50 (all Iraqi) reporters, photographers, and videographers report fast-moving events in Iraq. Headquartered in the country’s capital city, and unable to move about freely because of security concerns, Salama puts in long hours  witnessing history.

“It was nice to be a magazine reporter and have the time to dig into stories, but Iraq is the kind of place that demands a high-pace job. So the daily reporting requirements of a wire service are perfect,” says Salama, who worked for Bloomberg in the United Arab Emirates a couple of years before joining AP. As a correspondent in the Middle East for 11 years, she also had a job in AP’s television division in Cairo from 2004 to 2006, served as a commentator with Voice of America and NPR, and was a freelancer for Time, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, the Daily Beast, and the Atlantic. And the assignments have en­compassed their share of danger. Now, Salama has to be mind­ful of one threat posed by ISIS: its propensity for abductions.

“Abductions are a legitimate threat that requires vigilance,” says Salama. “They have mainly taken place in Syria, but of course that doesn’t mean they can’t happen here. We try to avoid areas where the militants maintain a strong presence. I have a job to do, and I try to do it in the smartest, most secure way possible.”

The daughter of Egyptian-American parents who grew  up in Rockland County, New York, Salama speaks fluent Arabic, thanks to her grandmother. She holds a master’s degree in Middle East and Islamic studies from Columbia University and wrote a study on jihadists’ media propaganda, but discovered journalism almost by accident. As a biology major at Rutgers, she signed up for a communication elective, then wound up rearranging her schedule and changing her major. “A lightbulb went off,” she says. Three semesters of internships at WNBC TV in New York “made me even more convinced this was the right path.”

Salama was working as a production assistant for WNBC on 9/11 and was, she says, “intrigued by what could drive a few individuals to commit such heinous acts.” Watching TV coverage of the Iraq War two years later sealed the deal. “I knew I needed to move to the Middle East.” Although she had envisioned herself as a foreign correspondent, she believed until that point that she would land in Europe, in London or Paris.

“Iraq is such an incredible place, rich with history and culture,” she says. “The people are among the kindest and most misunderstood in the world because of a handful of extremists who have cast a negative light on the society. I hope I can help to correct any idea that leads people to doubt that Iraqis want peace. I want to offer people a window into the world that I am privileged to see.” •