Reporters on the Job

Baghdad or Bogotá? Staff writer Howard LaFranchi says that returning to Baghdad - and finding a number of sources he had spoken to last November had either left the country or were reluctant to speak because of the security situation - was a little reminiscent of reporting in Colombia in the late 1990s.

"In Baghdad I discovered some contacts had had enough of the killings and kidnappings of prominent people and had fled to safer climes, while others worried about my safety if I visited them - or their own if they were seen in the street with a foreigner. That brought me back to Bogotá, where I recalled sitting bewildered in a hotel room as I called a list of sources and found several of them had either fled the drug trade's assassins or had gone underground.

Back in Baghdad, one source told Howard that even in the time of Saddam Hussein he had been able to welcome CBS newscaster Dan Rather to his apartment. But now the area he lives in is too dangerous for a foreigner to visit.

In fact, his neighborhood is not far from Saddamiat al Kharkh, a residential zone Saddam built to house some of his friends and intelligence officers. He told Howard, "Every few days these very scary young men carrying all kinds of weapons invade the nearby streets and declare they are ruling the area, and they stay until the American soldiers come in. I don't want you to get caught in that."

"He knew what he was talking about," says Howard. Sunday morning the Sunni insurgents in his Haifa Street neighborhood attacked an American Bradley fighting vehicle in the area. That prompted the US to send in helicopters to fire on the attackers. At least 13 people were killed and 55 wounded - some of them when a US helicopter fired at crowds around the burning vehicle. An Arab television journalist was one of those killed. Children were seen dancing on the burning Bradley (see story).

David Clark Scott
World editor

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