Journalist Ghaith Abdul Ahad reflects on 20 years of reporting from conflict areas including Yemen and Afghanistan. Recalling the 2003 US invasion of Iraq that made him leave his former career as an architect, he reveals how he once talked his way into Saddam Hussein’s palace and what it’s like to sit across the table from people who committed atrocities. He also reflects on the challenges of mediation – arguing that people are often less concerned with ideological narratives than sheer survival and how armoured convoys and green zones can get in the way of real connection with people on the ground.