KATIE COURIC didn't mince words about her stand on going to Iraq to cover the war.

Just after being hired last year as the first female solo anchor of a nightly newscast, Couric told interviewers that as the single parent of two children, she had no intention of going to Iraq because of the danger of getting killed or hurt.

Now anchoring the No. 3 network news show, Couric has changed her tune. Beginning tonight and Wednesday, Couric will anchor "CBS Evening News" from Baghdad, and then go on for an additional two nights of anchoring duties from Damascus, Syria.

There's little doubt that this move has everything to do with boosting low ratings and showing she's as tough as the boys — and little to do with the news value of having her hanging out in a country where more than 100 journalists have already been killed and many more wounded.

CBS, along with other network news organizations, has been skittish when it comes to putting journalists into war zones. CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier was reporting from Iraq last year when she and her crew fell victim to a car bomb attack that killed cameraman Paul Douglas and soundman James Brolan.

ABC's Bob Woodruff replaced Peter Jennings as the co-anchor of "World News Tonight" in January 2006, and promptly left later that month to cover the war. He became the first American news anchor to be wounded in a war zone after nearly being killed by a roadside bomb.

NBC's Brian Williams went

to Iraq last spring. His network newscast is in the No. 2 position. Charles Gibson, who anchors the No.


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1 newscast, has no plans to visit Iraq.

The news value of having an anchor in a war zone is dubious at best. We're not talking about a veteran front-line reporter like Christiane Amanpour, who knows the ropes and the risks involved to report a story that needs to be told. There's no reason for an anchor to go except to boost ratings. And to score interviews with people who normally shy away from the reporters in the trenches.

Seems like no one is immune to the celebrity stardust, and her producer have told various interviewers that Couric has opened doors to interviews.

Officially, the purpose of the trip is to check out the current climate in Iraq before the Sept. 15 release of Gen.

David Petraeus' status report on Iraq. The much-anticipated report is expected to bring a harsh spotlight to President George Bush's war policy.

But we wonder about the personal risk being taken by Couric, who is the only surviving parent of two daughters, ages 16 and 11.

Cynthia McFadden of ABC's "Nightline" says it's difficult being a mom, especially a single mom, in this business. McFadden has a 9-year-old son, Spencer.

"They asked me if I wanted to go and I said no. Of course, I wanted desperately to go as a journalist, but the risk was too much for what would be gained," McFadden says. "It's very dangerous and it's difficult to gain access even when you are working there."

As a journalist, or any working mother, McFadden says you do what you need to do.

"It's in our DNA to play with the big boys, to be first and all of that, but it changes when you have to take your personal life into consideration," McFadden says. "Barbara Walters once said that you cannot be a great wife, a great mother and have a great career. If you're lucky, you can get two out of three. I don't know if that's true, but I know for me I can't do parts of this job that I could do if I wasn't thinking about what was best for my child."

You can reach TV columnist Susan Young at syoung@bayareanewsgroup.com, call 925-416-4820 or 925-945-4705.