Reporters on the Job

• JOURNEY TO A NEW FRONT: When reporter Catherine Taylor first arrived in northern Iraq, she was told not to travel to Halabja. The mountain villages surrounding the city were under the control of Ansar al-Islam, a militant Islamic group with reputed ties to Al Qaeda (page 1). Locals said it was too dangerous for a foreign woman to wander around. But Catherine had a story to report.

"In the end we struck a deal – I could visit Halabja, and the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) would provide me with armed guards for protection. We went by four-wheel drive on a steep and slippery climb through stunning mountain scenery," she says. "I was welcomed by a disheveled group of PUK fighters huddled around a tiny kerosene heater. They led me to the front line and pointed to a hill a few hundred meters away, where Ansar al-Islam guerrillas were hiding. The presence of a Taliban-style regime in this area is a double tragedy for these people. In 1988, the Iraqi Army pounded Halabja and the villages nearby with chemical bombs, killing more than 5,000 people." On the trip back, her guards pointed out abandoned villages and the remnants of the bomb shells sent by Saddam Hussein.

• BACK IN THE USA: The Monitor's Ilene Prusher got a taste of culture shock when she visited the Bagram airbase, outside Kabul. "One minute you're in rural Afghanistan, and the next minute, you're on Anybase, USA. You find super-friendly Americans, each of whom say, 'Hey, how ya doin?' as they walk past.

She interviewed several soldiers (this page) just back from the front as they sat around a makeshift fireplace in cheap wooden chairs, with U2 playing on a satellite radio. "I felt like I'd walked onto a set for 'M.A.S.H. meets Afghanistan.' " About 4 p.m., many of the troops went jogging or weight-lifting. "The real shock was seeing women in shorts and T-shirts. It's such a radically different image than what I'm used to seeing when I'm in Afghanistan that I felt a bit disoriented."

• WHERE'S THE AUDIENCE? As the Monitor's Peter Ford watched Slobodan Milosevic defend himself at The Hague (page 7), he remembered how much Milosevic enjoys the spotlight – and must be a little disappointed by the low turnout of journalists covering his trial. "When the trial began a month ago, the former Yugoslavian president would often turn to appraise the crowd of reporters packing the press gallery on the other side of a bulletproof window. On Wednesday, he scarcely glanced at the handful of us scattered among rows of empty seats," says Peter.

– David Clark Scott
World editor

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