Reporters on the Job

A Boy Named Ali: When reporter Howard LaFranchi visited the northern Iraqi town of Qaraqosh on Dec. 3 on a trip organized by the US Embassy in Baghdad, there was little opportunity for contact with local Iraqis. Nine journalists, including Howard, rode the 20 miles from Mosul to the conference in a US military Stryker - a windowless vehicle topped by gunners.

When they arrived in Qaraqosh, the journalists were quickly ushered into the conference building under heavily armed escort. They were allowed to speak to some of the women, but the women were there to listen to the proceedings, not chat with reporters. Howard decided to snap some photos but discovered his camera batteries were dying. "We had been instructed that under no circumstances were we to step out of the conference room, so a stroll down the street was out of the question," says Howard.

His US guide, Maj. Mark Heid, an Army community relations specialist, suggested he send out a small boy who was hanging out nearby. That's how he met Ali. "Through a combination of sign language, Arabic, and English, I got across to the 10-year-old what I needed," says Howard. "Ali's eyes lit up when I handed him a 10,000-dinar note [about $7] and I briefly wondered if I'd see Ali or the money again. But soon he returned, beaming, and presented me with a pack of batteries and change. Unfortunately the batteries were a knockoff brand that wouldn't power up the camera. So I wrote out three good brand names on a piece of paper and sent my messenger back out. He returned shaking his head: The shops were closed for lunch."

As he left, Ali accompanied Howard out the door, clearly proud to be accompanying the foreigners. "I said goodbye and climbed into the Stryker. The last view I had of Qaraqosh was of a busy street scene framing one small boy waving, smiling, and saying goodbye."

David Clark Scott
World editor

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