• ASK THE TAXI DRIVERS: As Nicholas Blanford reported in today's story about Syria offering to send troops to Iraq, he had heard that US soldiers in Iraq were taking bribes at the border. He was also told that the US had imposed new security restrictions, banning all 18- to 49-year-old men from crossing from Syria into Iraq. Confirming those reports would be hard: "The border is a 10-hour drive, and the moment I stepped out of the car, Syrian officials would throw me in jail or send me back," says Nick. "They don't like foreign reporters poking around there." But there might be another source.
Nick went to visit a Shiite shrine on the outskirts of Damascus. Nearby, several thousand Iraqi Shiites had lived in exile during Saddam Hussein's regime. There he found Iraqi taxi drivers who regularly drive between Baghdad and Damascus. "They were quite disgruntled about not being able to return to Iraq. They gave me an earful about being cut off from their families and their livelihood," says Nick. Word on the street was that US soldiers could be bribed to allow semi-trucks carrying goods enter Iraq, but wouldn't let the taxi drivers through.
• SIM CITY IN IRAQ: When the Monitor's Ann Scott Tyson traveled to Mosul, she was struck by the sheer versatility of some 101st Airborne Division troops. After fighting their way north to Mosul, they switched from warfighting to nation building. No blueprint exists for such vital tasks as creating local governments, and Army officers are making it up as they go along - albeit in close consultation with Iraqis. The results are not perfect. Some Baath Party holdovers slipped onto councils who should have been banned. And US officers are grasping any tool possible to help them oversee the city of 2 million people. Lt. Col. Steve Bruch told Ann he wanted to find a copy of the computer game "Sim City." "It's a daily experiment," he said. "How do you get the most bang for the buck to fix things up."
David Clark Scott