I've spent more than 13 months reporting in Baghdad since the end of the US invasion in 2003, and every time I've come over, I've had to deal with friends, family and colleagues trying to talk me out of it. 'It's too dangerous,' they say. 'Something's going to happen to you.' They know me well, and they know that I reject the extremely security-conscious methods of many reporters. Correspondents for The New York Times, for instance, travel with armed security in armoured cars and live in houses protected by armed guards. My thinking is that makes a journalist a target in a place like Iraq. I have always taken the line that the best way to go about things is to drop the flak jacket and act like a normal person, take taxis and eat at local restaurants - no one's going to bomb a place that's frequented by one foreigner, but the places that are frequented by lots of foreigners. I left Baghdad in August after a four-month stay. I was watching the Mehdi Army, the militia loyal to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, bury land mines in the streets and lying in wait for the US military, and I knew then that I couldn't stomach being witness to a round of brutal fighting. In the time I've been gone, the situation in Baghdad has certainly worsened, and in response, people are considerably more desperate. Fear of kidnapping or death is an assumed state for westerners as the insurgency locks itself into a death struggle with the frighteningly impotent US-backed government. (Before I left the US, I called the Ministry of the Interior spokesman in Baghdad to do an interview, and asked him whether the police and security forces were simply outmatched by the insurgency in terms of funding and other resources. 'We were discussing that at this morning's meeting,' was his none-too-reassuring reply.) I arrived last Tuesday and have been forced to move into a fortified hotel in Baghdad. Before leaving Amman, Jordan - the general jumping-off point, since you can't fly directly into Baghdad - I caught up with a couple of friends who have decided it's time to get out. Saloomi, my former contact in Sadr city, was forced to leave when local thugs took issue with his collecting money from friends abroad to support the widow and children of a man who had been killed in crossfire between the US military and the Mehdi Army. One of his friends was shot while driving his car in a hit that was apparently meant for him. On the other side of the coin, my friend Isam, an Iraqi journalist working in the Sunni neighbourhood of Al-Adamiyah, a favourite place for resistance attacks, decided to leave after being arrested for a third time by the US military and having his camera confiscated. The petrol shortage is worse than before, the closed Syrian border has raised prices on general produce and food, the electricity is on for two hours and off for four, if we're lucky. People have grown so used to it, it seems, that they rarely complain about the shortages any more. But perhaps it was an e-mail from a friend, a financial consultant, who will send his wife and children out of the country as soon as school ends in June, that really put me on edge. I expect other journalists to be a bit alarmist, but he's usually pretty level headed. 'Blue eyes are hard currency sought after by jihadees and gangsters who work for money with the terrorists,' he wrote. 'I beg you to be extra careful.' I have had to abandon walking around the streets; browsing in shops is no longer an option. There is no going out unless it is work-related, staying out after dark is entirely taboo. Most western journalists rely on their translators for reporting and only travel to places like the heavily guarded Green Zone or the offices of political parties that have already pledged allegiance to the occupying forces. Not that Baghdad has always been the most hospitable place, but being confined to the block immediately around my hotel is a little like being in prison. Another journalist invited half a dozen people to dinner one night last week, but only three showed up - two of the invitees, US contractors working on election polls, had been barred by their security adviser from attending. This was despite the fact that their house is literally a stone's throw from the hotel. At that point, the other journalist who had made it to the dinner with me asked the most frightening question I've heard yet: 'What are we going to do when the real chaos breaks out?'