• Tea and Biscuits in Basra: Reporter James Brandon was in Basra, Iraq, Thursday contributing to today's story about the Iraqi prime minister's bid to regain control of Najaf, as other regions seem to be spinning out of his orbit (page 1). He says that after spending time with other insurgents across Iraq, one of the first things he noticed in Basra was that the foot soldiers in the Mahdi Army are very much a part of the local community.
"For instance, unlike those in Najaf or Sadr City, the fighters in Basra don't cover their faces, or feel any need to poke guns at local people," says James. "I was interviewing a couple of fighters on a residential street in Basra when a women came out of a nearby house to give them cups of tea, and a plate full of biscuits and homemade cake. In the middle of a semi-war zone it was an unexpectedly kind and honest gesture that it suddenly reminded me of home. True to Arab hospitality, the fighters then tried to give the refreshments all to me."
• Subtle Signals: Correspondent Mike Ceaser says that in Venezuela there are echoes of the polarized political environment seen in the US. But he says that as Sunday's referendum approaches, views are hardening and turning violent.
"Here it's visceral and emotional. [President Hugo] Chávez is a god and can do nothing wrong, or he's a devil," says Mike. He is conscious of that when he goes to do interviews. "Most of the media are against Chávez, but there are a few pro-Chávez newspapers. I'm careful to buy a copy of the politically correct newspaper and tuck it under my arm when I do interviews with partisans. Or sometimes, I'll put the 'wrong' newspaper away in my backpack," he says.
David Clark Scott