Reporters on the Job

TENSION IN NAJAF: Entering the city of Najaf the morning after a bomb blast killed a top Iraqi Shiite cleric was rather tense for Western journalists, says the Monitor's Scott Peterson.

"The police stopped us about 600 yards from the mosque, and said 'There is no chance you will get out alive, and forget about taking any photography equipment - it's full of thieves in there,' " says Scott. He and a colleague stripped down Scott's camera gear, hid it in a shoulder bag, and struck up a conversation with a sheikh walking toward the site. They joined more than a dozen other journalists and photographers who had taken up positions on the roofs of nearby buildings to watch the clean-up operation.

The only problem was getting out. "The relatively calm atmosphere changed in a second," Scott says. Loud complaints about a "Wahabi" by one noisy man brought a mob together, sealing off their exit from the hotel. "For 30 minutes we were trapped, as the hotel owner - who had been charging us $25 each for the pleasure of standing on his roof - tried to calm the mob," Scott says.

Eventually a crowd of chanting mourners pushed the mob aside just long enough for Scott and his interpreter to escape out the front door.

JUMPY IN BAGHDAD: The Monitor's Ilene Prusher says that US soldiers are as jumpy as the locals now. She went to the headquarters of the Coalition Provisional Authority for a 7 p.m. interview. As her car inspection continued for more than 15 minutes, Ilene called ahead to let her interviewee know she would be late.

"I was told that the interview had been rescheduled for the next morning. Then, the press officer asked me if could wait at the gate and give another US reporter a ride back to the hotel? Sure, I said."

Just as the soldiers motioned Ilene to go ahead through the gates, "I told the soldiers that my interview had been cancelled and I had been asked to wait here for another reporter."

"Ma'am, pull your car away and leave right now!" one of the soldiers ordered.

"Um, could I just explain to you what happened? My interview was cancelled and they asked me to wait here..."

"Leave! Leave right now! I don't want to have to tell you again," shouted a captain. "This isn't a parking lot! Get out of here now!" said another soldier.

US troops are so nervous here, says Ilene, that "when they get the littlest whiff of something they suspect could be fishy, they get really belligerent. It was unsettling, but understandable considering the security situation here."

David Clark Scott
World editor

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