Summer 2004

‘Avoiding the Cross Hairs’: Excerpts

By Rod Nordland

Newsweek, April 12, 2004

“They live in hiding. They move around Baghdad by stealth. They sneak into and out of the country by gloom of night, and when challenged by strangers for their nationality, they’re ready with a practiced lie. Asked where they live, they name any old hotel rather than their safe house, which is littered with guns of a half-dozen types. They even resort to disguise and camouflage. Perhaps this is what it’s like to be a terrorist hunted by the American military; I can’t say. But for sure this is what it’s like for those of us who are American civilians living and working in Iraq. …

“In the last few weeks, terrorists have repeatedly attacked Iraqis working for Western journalists, killing translators for both Time and Voice of America. The assassins of VOA translator Selwan Niemi were so savage they also murdered his 5-year-old daughter and his mother. At the funeral, banners were draped on the mosque threatening his grieving wife as well. …

“And yet there’s something uncomfortably sleazy about telling strangers you’re a Dane, which was my cover story until an Iraqi replied to me in perfect Danish. I muttered the only two words I knew, “kroner” and “skol,” and edged away. (Now I say I’m a Spaniard.) … It’s a shame because Baghdad is a big, bustling metropolis of five million people, and most Iraqis are genuinely friendly toward Americans. Outside of a few hard-core places, like Fallujah, the bad guys are a small minority. But they’re a minority with lots of explosives, and no scruples at all. …

“No place can be fully safe. Mortars sometimes even hit the heavily protected Green Zone; one killed a Bechtel employee recently. The Blackwater Security guards killed last week in Fallujah were by reputation some of the best in the business—ex-SEAL’s and Special Forces types—yet they couldn’t even save themselves. My colleagues debate this all the time: Is it wiser to bring along ever more armed guards and raise our target profile, or stay low to the ground and just slink around? Whichever, it’s a hell of a way to cover a country.”

From Newsweek, April 12 © 2004 Newsweek, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.


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