Reporters on the Job

HIGHWAY ROBBERY IN IRAQ: Reporter Philip Smucker left Iraq earlier this week, but not without getting "stuck up" by a gang of highway bandits on the road from Baghdad to Amman, Jordan.

He left Baghdad by car early Monday morning, along with his Jordanian interpreter and two Jordanian students. They had almost reached the first major city along the route, Ramadi, when trouble arrived.

"A four-door silver Nissan sedan suddenly swerved in front of us," says Philip. "I sped up and passed him in our Pajero. Unfortunately, we only had four cylinders. He passed us and cut us off a second time and a man flashed a gun out the passenger window."

Philip pulled over. He and his interpreter were forced at gunpoint to get into the backseat of the Nissan. "A big fat guy in the front seat said, 'Don't worry, we're just going to search your car for stolen antiquities.' "

One of the gunmen took the wheel of Philip's car, and the two cars drove off the highway, behind a dune. Philip and his companions were forced to get out and kneel in the desert. "We were about 200 meters from the highway and out of sight of anyone," says Philip. "It was Saddam's birthday, and I thought to myself that this was it. I'd be shot, buried in the deserts of Arabia, and never heard from again.

"When they asked us for our money, I immediately surrendered $1,400 and I told my interpreter, Montasser, to do the same," he says. "They ransacked our Pajero, but all they wanted was hard cash, and $1,800 was all we had. They left my computer, digital camera, and satellite phone, but took a miniature tape recorder. They didn't take any of our Iraqi dinars, because they're basically worthless.

"When they finished, one of the young thugs, who had a long dagger tucked in his waist, grabbed my interpreter's cigarette pack and emptied out half for himself and stuck the rest back. Then, we jumped in our car and drove off as fast as we could.

"About two hours later, we came across a US Army patrol - the only US military presence during our six-hour drive. We gave them a full description of our muggers," says Philip.

When he arrived at the border, Jordanian officials confiscated a videotape of Iraqi police torturing someone and some of the Iraqi documents (this page) that Philip had collected in Baghdad.

THE RELIEF OF CLOSURE: The Monitor's Peter Ford was most struck by how relieved Iraqis were when they confirmed the deaths of family members from recently discovered secret police archives (page 1). It reminded him of the unextinguished grief that the mothers of disappeared prisoners in Argentina felt. There, few records of the fate of the "disappeareds" have been found, and relatives have lived with a lifetime of uncertainty.

David Clark Scott
World editor

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