Reporters on the Job

Whistling Bullets: Staff writer Scott Baldauf says that while reporting in Najaf, Iraq, today, he learned the sound of a bullet whistling by overhead.

When Scott, photographer Kael Alford, and their interpreter approached the fighting between US forces and Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army (this page), some civilians waved their car over. "We were about a 100 yards from the fighting, and could hear it all around us," says Scott. "Some guys on the street were telling drivers to turn around. We pulled over and started talking to them. Then the legendary Shiite hospitality kicked in. One suggested we stay where we were. Another offered to get us lunch. He ran to his yard, held up a live chicken, and gave it to his wife to slaughter and cook."

After lunch, Scott went outside, into his new friend's courtyard, to get a better signal for his satellite phone. As he was talking to one of the editors in Boston, he heard a whistling sound.

"I didn't hear the crack of a gun. But I also couldn't tell what breed of bird might make that noise," says Scott. "I wasn't sure what it was until about an hour later."

Another neighbor offered to let the visiting journalists spend the night in his house, which was empty because it was still under construction. "The first and second floors were covered with debris and the floors were chipped. But the roof was clean. It's where you sleep on a hot desert night," says Scott. "But we were worried about bullets falling on us. The fighting was still going on."

Standing on the roof, their local guide assured them that wouldn't happen. He explained that the gunfire is "all lateral," parallel to the ground. Nothing would be raining down on them. "He'd just about persuaded us when we heard the whistling noise again, passing over our heads. That was enough to persuade all of us that we would sleep downstairs. We got a broom and laid out some woolen mats."

David Clark Scott
World editor

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