in lieu of radio ...

a somewhat random collection of pages and thoughts started sept 16 2001. now that i'm not on the radio 6 hours every day, blogger allows all of us to harangue...

Saturday, April 26, 2003

First Ammendment Absolutists Take note: FIRE Declares War on Speech Codes Lawsuit Opens Systematic Assault on Censorship in Higher Education

A federal judge in Los Angeles has handed a stunning court victory to file-swapping services Streamcast Networks and Grokster, dismissing much of the record industry and movie studios' lawsuit against the two companies. Link: Judge: File-swapping tools are legal (
BUT... :
A U.S district court on Thursday ruled for a second time that Verizon Communications must give up the identity of an anonymous Internet subscriber accused of swapping music files online. Link: Verizon gets 14 days to ID file-swapper (>

Thursday, April 24, 2003

In pursuit of security and service, we are submitting ourselves to a proliferation of monitoring technologies. But a loss of privacy is not inevitable. Excellent artice from MIT Tech Review. Surveillance Nation

For some reason, I have been told that this is me!

I dunno what they're talking about!! (Thanks to for the link.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Despite the rather dodgy title (guaranteed to generate cries of anti-semitism), MSNBC has a very good interactive map of WMD in Israel. Syria's delightful little proposal that the entire mid-east be made a WMD-free zone seems petty in comparison. Link: Strategic Israel : The Secret Arsenal of the Jewish State (MSNBC!)

Monday, April 14, 2003

Iraq’s prison secrets now blowing in the wind

By David Fox

BAGHDAD, April 11 (Reuters) - If walls had ears, the only sounds a drab
brown building in Baghdad would have heard for the last 10 years would have
been the anguished cries of Saddam Hussein’s enemies.

“This is a place where people came and were never seen again,” said Yousef
Khamis on Saturday as he picked his way through the debris left behind after looters
descended on the headquarters of the Iraqi Intelligence Service.

“People used to come here to ask about their relatives. But if you asked too much,
you also might be put inside.”

With Saddam Hussein’s regime toppled and the administration vanished, looters
have descended on government buildings across the capital to cart off furniture,
stores and fittings.

But thousands of Iraqis have also flooded into some of the regime’s more notorious
prisons and security agencies to try to find information about relatives and friends
who have been missing -- some for decades.
The tragic irony is that Saddam’s downfall will probably ensure they’ll never
discover their real fate.


The carefully kept paperwork of years of systematic, state-organised oppression
is now blowing through the streets of Baghdad, the result of the looting spree that
started when coalition forces seized the capital.

“My husband, he was taken. My son, he was taken. My brother, he was taken,”
one woman told Reuters at the headquarters of the Iraqi Military Intelligence agency.

“I am looking for their papers. Have you seen their papers?”

t the Intelligence Service headquarters, the ground floor appeared much like any
other government office in any other developing nation -- rickety furniture, but a pot
plant here or there adding an air of humanity.

In the administration section, piles of documents attested to the perverse mundanity
of Saddam’s intelligence gathering. Appraisal forms for his operatives were gathering
dust in a corner.

One listed Nathim Hashim Abbas Zabar as working for Unit 1 of the M7 group,
active in M6. There was space on the form for his Ba’ath Party superior to add his
comments. Under a section headed “What inducements have been offered” was written “none".

At the end of a corridor, a narrow, dank staircase led to three floors of cramped,
bare cells around 2 metres by 2 metres (six foot by six foot) in size.

Each cell had a tap and hole in the floor for ablutions, but contained nothing else --
no bunk, chair or light. They had clearly been recently occupied as many also contained
a few rolls of stale bread.

The walls of most cells had been engraved with the sufferings of the inhabitants.

“It has been three months I think. The days and nights are one,” was scratched
into the door of one cell. “I now say ‘yes’ to Saddam Hussein. Always Saddam Hussein,”
on another.

The saddest of all was a carefully drawn portrait of a family -- a women, two girls,
a boy and a baby wrapped in swaddling.

Scratched low on the wall closest to the door -- where it couldn’t be spotted by a
guard checking on a prisoner through the spy hole -- it was dated 1998 and signed “love".

At the Military Intelligence headquarters across town, there was pandemonium when
two sacks containing passports, ID cards and other documents were discovered in a cupboard.

Most were for foreigners such as the photocopy of a Kuwaiti passport of Zayed Salman
Muttar, listed as born in 1945 with a social security number of 05601/26.

Kuwait has been pressing Iraq for more than a decade to account for over 600 of its citizens
still missing from the Gulf War, but there was no way of telling if those files could settle their fate
as they were swiftly tossed aside and trampled underfoot.

As their search yielded no news of missing relatives, many there turned their wrath on
the coalition forces for allowing the intelligence agencies’ files to be so unsystematically trashed.

“Why are the Americans not preserving these places so that we can check carefully,”
asked Mohammed Afrin, whose tattered business card listed him as being a member of the
Baghdad Chamber of Commerce.

Dozens of people in the crown shouted agreement. All clamouring to be heard.

“There is no administration here now. Why have the Americans not brought an administration to look after these things,” he said

(Written by David Fox, Iraq tel: +882 Editing by XYZ)

Is this freedom? ask Iraqis, as Baghdad descends into chaos
By David Fox
BAGHDAD, April 11 (Reuters) - The Iraqi capital was descending into
chaos and anarchy on Friday as residents went on a looting spree in full view
of coalition force.

With U.S. troops were still battling to contain pockets of Iraqi militiamen
and feyadeen scattered around the city, thousands of ordinary citizens were
helping themselves to anything they could lay their hands on in shops, factories,
schools, hospitals and government buildings

Young and old, men and women took advantage of the Friday Muslim holiday
to rifle through scores of buildings damaged in the battles for Baghdad, but
looting was taking place even in areas unaffected by fighting.

“Is this your liberation?” screamed one frustrated shopkeeper at the crew
of a U.S. Abrams tank as a gang of youths helped themselves to everything in
his small hardware store and carted booty off in the wheelbarrows that had
also been on sale.

“Hell, it ‘aint my job to stop them,” drawled one young Marine, lighting a
cigarette as he watched the spectacle. “Goddamm Iraqis will steal anything
if you let them. Look at them"

But for those not helping themselves to their new-found freedom, mounting
anger was being directed at the coalition forces for doing nothing to stop the frenzy.

“For God’s sake. How can they just let them do this. This is my life,” one
old man cried as a gang used crowbars to remove the security mesh from the
Anwar electrical repair shop near the centre of town and began carting off
dozens of dilapidated air conditioners that were being fixed inside.

To Iraqis, coalition authorities appear not to have given any thought to the power
vacuum they would create by removing Saddam Hussein.

Saddam’s trickle-down system of patronage meant that anyone in any position
of authority -- from traffic police to government functionaries -- have been tainted
by association and have melted into the population.

Some have taken to looting themselves, knowing where the best stuff is.

“She worked here, she can’t have it, she worked here…” shouted one women
as she wrestled another for roll of material in government supply office

In some neighbourhoods, residents were erecting makeshift roadblocks and trying
to form local watch groups to prevent looters from descending on them.

But some looters were telling coalition forces that the roadblocks had been erected
by militiamen, prompting tanks to crash through them and sometimes opening fire
on houses where neighbourhood watch groups were gathered.

The city’s hospitals were overflowing with civilians injured by what they said was
U.S. shelling or firing and at one, the dead were being buried in the facilities’ gardens.

Dozens of corpses were on Friday still lying rotting by roadsides or in cars blown
up by coalition forces as they captured Baghdad.

Near the airport, volunteers wearing face masks and rubber gloves were using
shovels to scrape human remains from the burnt out wrecks of cars, trucks and
buses, just metres (yards) away from U.S. forces idling their tanks by the roadside.

With no possibility of identification, the corpses were being buried in shallow
graves by the roadside.

“This is going to cause a major problem for sanitation and the water system,”
a U.S. army engineer officer told Reuters.

“The water table is very low here and what goes in the ground, goes in the
water,” he said.

Nearby, the corpse of an airport worker rolled around in the current of a
pool created when a U.S. bomb struck a water mains.

“That’s ‘bubbling Bob’,” said one soldier. “Been there a while. I ‘aint
gonna fish him out. Let the Iraqis do it.”
(David Fox, Iraq)

Saturday, April 12, 2003

From our correspondent now in Bagdad. How did he get there you might ask....

Subject: School holidays Part II
Date: Sat, 12 Apr 2003 20:17:45 +0800
Organization: Reuters

Dear all

I feel like a contestant in one of those reality TV shows which, in this
case, the object has been to overcome a series of hurdles and be the first
to reach a destination -- in this case, Baghdad. But now that we're here, I
realise that although we may have won the race, we may also have missed the
real objective. The story seems to have taken second place to the odyssey.

I think I have got a couple more weeks left in me at least to turn that
around and re-focus on why I am here rather than survive being here. It is
an important distinction, and if I lose sight of it again, I know it will be
the time to pull the plug and head back for Singapore.

This epiphany came as I moved into a room at the Palestine hotel previously
occupied by a Reuters colleague, Shamir, of whom more later. I had just
helped carry her on a stretcher to a U.S. army ambulance to be taken to the
airport and evacuated to Germany. She had been taken back to the hotel room
just a day after undergoing brain surgery to remove shrapnel from her head
at an Iraqi hospital. Conditions at the hospital were so bad that we thought
her chances for survival would be better if we looked after her at the

If the last three weeks have been a roller coaster, the last few days must
be the climax of all rides -- and it ended with a descent into hell.

The three of us are fine, and trusty Brenda has pulled us through situations
that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. But is has been so nerve-wracking,
that I don't think I could squeeze even an atom of adrenaline out of my
system if I hear another bomb, mortar or bullet go off right next to me in
the next 24 hours.

The final leg of our journey began around five days ago when Brenda's
air-conditioning gave up. You may think stopping to fix it was a bit of a
luxury, but an armoured car is fully sealed with inch thick plate. You can't
wind the windows down and the temperature outside is above 44 degrees
Celsius. We were literally boiling.

We got it fixed, and then had to leave the south and race up to Baghdad,
where things were changing very quickly. Saddam's "elite" Republican guard
was crumbling and U.S. troops had already seized control of the airport and
were making forays into the heart of the city.

There are basically three routes into Baghdad from the south: the central
main highway, the southern access and the northern route. U.S. Marines had
stormed up the northern route and crossed the Tigris at the main bridge at
Numan, around 100 kms from the city. The U.S. infantry 3rd Division took the
southern route -- running into stiff opposition at Kholar before bursting
across the Euphrates. We tried to follow the Marines, and through a
combination of stealth, luck and bullshit (and a grueling non-stop 16 hour
drive through the most inhospitable landscape I have ever seen in the middle
of the worst sandstorm I've encountered) made it to Numan before we were
caught and could go no further. We tried everything we could to get across
the bridge, but the military want nothing to do with unilateral journalists
so we were turned away.

Trying the southern route -- even though it was only around 100 kms west of
us -- would have meant going back on our tracks almost as far as Kuwait -- a
journey of around three days. It was as low as we had been on the trip. We
had got less than 100 kms from Baghdad and would have to drive 1,000 kms
through the desert just to get 100 kms away in a different direction. In
addition, we were hearing through the satphone that no journalists were
getting access through that route anyway.

The central highway was uncharted territory. Although it is one of the best
roads in Iraq, it was also reported to be the best defended and as a result
the coalition forces didn't use it, choosing instead a pincer movement
either side. No-one had driven down that road. We had to decide what to do.
Try the north again, do the epic journey and try the south, or just take our
chances and plunge through the middle.

That night as we camped near an oasis near a town called Hillal, we heard
shocking news. Our fellow Reuters colleagues Tarus, a Polish cameraman, had
been killed in Baghdad and Pascal and Shamir (both producers) seriously
injured. They were just sitting in Tarus's room in Baghdad when a U.S. tank
fired a shell straight into it. Tarus, who made it through the Balkans,
Chechnya and Afghanistan, held on for an hour before dying. Pascal and
Shamir were both very badly hurt and for a long time were touch and go.

At first the U.S. denied all responsibility, then they finally admitted it
was one of their tanks, but claimed there had been a sniper on the balcony.
Two days later they finally "regretted" what they said had been "unfortunate
accident caused by friendly fire". Fourteen journalists have been killed in
this war so far. All but two of them by hideously misnamed "friendly fire".

There were five other Reuters staffers in Baghdad and had been for two
months, throughout the U.S. bombing, doing sterling work. They had endured
three weeks of nights without sleep because the Palestine hotel where they
were staying is right in the heart of the government district which was
being targeted by cruise missiles and B52's every night. They had endured
constant scrutiny by the Iraqi authorities who were looking for any excuse
to throw them out. They had grown very close, and Tarus's death knocked them
out. Suddenly there was even more urgency for us to get to Baghdad.

We decided to take the direct route early the next morning, and I never want
to have to drive through something like that again. About 150 kms south of
the city, we passed a final U.S. checkpoint and were told that there were no
further coalition forces until the airport in Baghdad. "We wouldn't do that
journey in our tanks," was what one commander told us.

We have always operated on the basis that if one of us feels uneasy about a
situation and doesn't want to do it, they rest have to listen to the lowest
common denominator and also bail out. After about ten minutes of debate, we
agreed to try. If we didn't make it, we'd head back to Kuwait and give up.
We were tired -- exhausted really. We hadn't washed for three weeks. We were
hungry and thirsty. We were frustrated and depressed at the news from
Baghdad. In retrospect, it probably wasn't the best circumstances under
which to be making such a decision.

For the first half hour, we didn't see a single vehicle along the
double-lane dual carriageway, then we drove past the still-smouldering wreck
of a Russian T-54 tank which had been hit by something so big that its
turret and gun barrel -- which weigh three tons had been blown 200 metres up
the road.

From then on it was a procession of ruin. Every mile or so or so we would
pass another bombed tank, or armoured personnel carrier or artillery piece
or missile carrier or army truck. There were also wrecked civilian cars --
Toyotas, Ladas, Nissans -- and buses and tractors and donkey carts.

It became very clear what had happened. Although coalition forces had not
gone down that road, they had flown over it about a day earlier and blitzed
everything along it. It is testimony to incredible accuracy of modern
weaponry that the overwhelming majority of the around 200 vehicles we passed
had been military ones, but it was clear there had been "collateral damage".

One bus we passed had been hit from behind by a depleted-uranium tipped
rocket that shot down the aisle, before blasting the engine into millions of
fragments. Depleted uranium is so dense that one inch of it is the
equivalent of six feet of steel, so imagine the force behind a rocket only
as big as a fire extinguisher made of that material fired at nearly 1,000
kmh through a bus. The material is so dense that anything it touches is
crushed as it passes. It is so dense that as it flies, it creates a
super-heated vacuum around it that incinerates everything within a 20 foot
radius. Almost every seat of that bus still contained a corpse, still
sitting upright, caught completely unawares. From the piles of fly-blown,
blackened flesh, it was clear there were men, women and children aboard.

As we carried on, we saw the first Iraqi bunkers. Then more. Then more. On
both sides of the road. Piles of sand had been bulldozed onto the highway by
the Iraqis to create a series of chicanes that forced the car to a crawl. It
is almost impossible to describe the feeling of driving, slowly, the only
car on the road, towards what from the front looks like a fortified bunker,
every second expecting to see a flash of light as whoever was in it opened
fire, only to drive past and from behind see it was empty. Every kilometre
or so this shocking, debilitating build-up and release would repeat itself.
It was the most excruciating thing I have ever done. I kept having to force
myself to release my grip on the steering wheel. The air conditioner was
going at full blast, and the three of us were drenched in sweat. We were all
chain-smoking, lighting one from another. We had a Faithless CD on full
volume on the stereo in the hope that if we were going to blasted into
eternity, we wouldn't hear it coming. Ridiculous. Basic science tells you
that you never will anyway.

Fedja finally cracked. I've never seen the Serbian Bear scared before, but
from the back of the car came a slow, painful "Fuuuuuuuuck!" and I looked
around to see him white with shock. "Fox, my friend. I have bad feeling."
Chris looked at me and said in that understated Canadian way of his: "Mmmm,
I'm not sure about this, what do you think?". Well I was scared shitless,
but there was no fucking way that I wanted to go back. We had driven nearly
5,000 kms in the last three weeks and Baghdad was so tantalisingly close. We
drove on -- to stop and talk about it was inviting disaster; we had to keep
moving, in any direction -- and I argued that the Americans had clearly hit
every single piece of heavy hardware along the route and so we were not in
danger from that. Chris pointed out that we were in an armoured car and were
safe from light machinegun and rifle fire. The biggest hazard was an attack
from a rocket propelled grenade. At a snail's pace driving through those
bunkered chicanes, it would have been like shooting a barn door from two
paces. Although we have always agreed the lowest common denominator should
prevail without debate or argument, Chris and I argued with Fedja until he
finally said: "Fuck it. Lets go on."

It carried on, four hours of agonising build-up, release. Build-up, release.
Build-up, release. I wanted to scream. Chris offered to drive for a while,
but I selfishly refused. I wanted something to do and if we were going to be
ambushed, I wanted control and I wanted to blame no-one for what followed
but myself.

Build-up, release. Build-up, release. Build-up, release. Smoking, smoking,
smoking. Then Chris just started laughing. "This is fucking ridiculous. We
are fucking insane and we are fucking going to get away with it." Fedja
started laughing. "Fox, my friend. You crazy motherfucker. We all crazy
motherfuckers. I started laughing. "Well it was a calculated risk," I said,
and they both raced to get out the inevitable response. "Calculated to get
us killed, motherfucker!!!!"

As we neared Baghdad, the chicanes started petering out. Still no sign of
another car on the road. No sign of anyone along the route. The soldiers had
all fled. Every one of them. All that remained was the hulks of dead tanks,
APCs, artillery pieces, cars, trucks. Chicanes and bunkers. Smoke rising
from the city in the distance. The inside of the car clouded by smoke. Music
blasting out. Us laughing, almost hysterically.

Then in the distance we saw movement for the first time. Two tanks blocking
the road about a km ahead, but the turrets of both moving, their gun barrels
swinging around and aiming straight at us. Through his binoculars, Chris
could make out they were both big American Abrams tanks. We slowed to a
crawl. Middle of the road. Let them see us clearly. Let them look through
their binoculars and see Brenda. British plates. Battleship grey. Friendly
vehicle. Please, please, please, not friendly fire.

Then madness. Suddenly we all made the same whimpering "eee" sound as a
flash of light came from the barrel of one tank followed almost instantly by
an astonishing noise like nothing I have heard before. It was almost a
non-noise, as if all noise had been obliterated. And then the car swayed
from side to side like it was being blown by wind.

Both Chris and Fedja screamed "stop" at the moment I was slamming on brakes.
Fedja started bellowing "Jesus fucking Christ. Jesus Fucking Christ." Chris
repeating "Bad fucking shit, bad fucking shit.". Me repeating "No fucking
way, motherfuckers. No fucking way."

We sat there, scarcely daring to look ahead in case we saw another flash.
Seconds passed. Two hundred yards ahead, we could see the tank commander
peering at us through binoculars. Chris and I slowly raised our hands and
pressed them to the windscreen. Fedja in the back, chanting "Jesus Fucking
Christ. Jesus Fucking Christ". Then Chris said he was getting out. Slowly.
And he did. Arms above his head and started walking, slowly, towards them.
As he got close, the tank commander pulled himself out of the turret and
climbed down. Then we saw them shaking hands. Then Chris waved us to come

"You guys are dammed lucky I fired over your heads," said the tank
commander, who couldn't have been more than 25. "Aint no-one come down that
road since we took it out. Kind of caught us by surprise."

We were in Baghdad.

Footnote: The night before this happened, as we were driving to where we
camped, we saw a jackal -- a desert fox -- trot across the road in front of
us. "A good omen," I told Chris and Fedja.

Love and stuff


Friday, April 11, 2003

Yay!! New issue of get your war on

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Seminar urges deleting Internet histories and shredding sign-up sheets Libraries learn how to protect patrons from Patriot Act (Star-Ledger, thank to L for the link)

Here's what the folks in Santa Cruz say...

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Well, here's a surprise... (And my congressman is one of the running-dogs. Arrrggghhh!) (NYT via SF Gate). Also Slashdot comment thread
(with quite a bit OT)

Monday, April 07, 2003

Comprehensive round-up and thoughtful piece on Al-Jazeera's problems getting an English website up. Details on the Akamai issue and thoughts on what free speech means on the net Al Jazeera and the Net - free speech, but don't say that (Register UK)

Saturday, April 05, 2003

Margaret Atwood:
Perhaps that's been my difficulty in writing you this letter: I'm not sure I know what's really going on. Anyway, you have a huge posse of experienced entrail-sifters who do nothing but analyze your every vein and lobe. What can I tell you about yourself that you don't already know?
Quite a lot, as it turns out... (she's Canadian, by the way)
A Letter To America March 28 2003 (IHT via Globe and Mail)
In case above link goes away: (same thing) (at Common Dreams)

Friday, April 04, 2003

Oddly tuned Fisk on contrasts on the ground ion Iraq: Robert Fisk: Saddam's masters of concealment dig in, ready for battle (Fisk, Independent UK)

Thursday April 3 2003 we recieved our first personal email from our correspondent in Iraq):

Dear all
Apologies for round robin nature of note, but pretty busy and no time to personalise.

News from the front.

I am in Umm Qasr, in southern Iraq, for today in order to get my “tank” fixed. We took some shrapnel in the front wheel earlier yesterday -­ a jagged six inch piece of a U.S. laser guided rocket that missed its target by quite a long way (I hope) ­- and I am waiting for a spare tyre to be sent from Kuwait.

It has been an astonishing roller coaster of a last two weeks. I can’t believe the war has gone on for that long already. The Americans said it would be over in a matter of days, but this is completely different from the first Gulf War. The Americans seem not to have realised that they are not kicking the Iraqis out of another country, but rather invading their own country, and the Iraqis don’t like that one bit. We really are caught in the middle here. The Iraqis don’t particularly like us or if they do they are too scared to show it because Saddam Hussein’s spies are still everywhere. The American and British military definitely don’t like us because we are reporting things they can’t control. We are having to live very, very roughly and in very difficult circumstances. It is a real struggle, but a tremendous reward just to get through each day. I have to remind myself all the time that there are people worse off than us and that they don’t have any choice in the matter.

The war for us started a couple of days before the invasion itself. The Americans basically took over the whole of Kuwait and closed off the whole of the Iraqi border area, but we managed to sneak through all sorts of roadblocks by disguising the tank as a British army vehicle and we then convinced a Kuwaiti farmer on the border to allow us to stay in a shed overlooking the frontier.

I am with Chris Helgren, my fantastic Canadian photographer and Fedja Stanisic, a giant bear of a Serbian cameraman about the size of two normal people. Brenda is our tank. We were the only people to manage to sneak through to the border, so we had a world first when the invasion started as we managed to send footage via satellite phone of tanks and troops crossing over as well as sensational pictures of the beginning of the bombing campaign. The next morning, we sneaked behind a column of British tanks crossing the border and were also the first independent journalists into Iraq. From then on it was wild. We have been shot at, machine-gunned, mortared, bombed, beaten up and threatened nearly every day, but we are still at it. We were also the first journalists into Basra, Iraq’s second biggest city, but we had to leave as we came under a very severe mortar attack and were very lucky to make it out alive, never mind unscathed. Six Italian journalists followed us about half an hour later and were arrested by the Iraqis.

The first couple of days were absolute chaos. Three colleagues from ITN were killed about half a mile from us by British troops who mistook them for Iraqis. Then two more journalists were blown up by Iraqis in a place about half an hour after we had been there. Two more journalists have been killed in northern Iraq and three more are missing presumed dead. The main problem has been a lot of very inexperienced journalists have come here thinking they are going on a picnic, but have discovered very quickly just how dangerous it is. The three of us, fortunately, have a lot of experience between us so we are managing to keep going.

Most of the other independent journalists have left, which I am glad off because many were hopeless amateurs. Conditions are very tough. The British and American troops are officially not allowed to help us in any way, so every day is a struggle to find a safe place to spend the night. We can’t stay more than once in one place, because word will spread very quickly and we will almost certainly be attacked by the Iraqis. Food and Water are very scarce, but we have become experts at stealing from soldiers and haven’t been caught yet. I also stole a brand new car from the port of Umm Qasr after the Americans captured it. The Americans raided a warehouse containing hundreds of new cars that had been imported from Dubai and were driving around in them, so I decided to ”liberate” one as well and we drove it around as a back up vehicle until it ran out of petrol.

Brenda has served us well so far, but is very crowded as she has to carry all our equipment, food, water, tents etc. It takes about half an hour to pack up every morning, and then we drive around looking for stories until later afternoon when we then have to find a place to camp. We are absolutely filthy having not showered for two weeks and it has been back to the mountain pine air freshner spray all over instead of a bath.

Our best and worst day has been when we got into Basra for the first time, last Friday. We crossed the bridge over the Euphrates river, which is the entrance to the city, on foot and just walked into town behind two British tanks, but they came under a ferocious mortar attack and turned back. We were really stuck in hell -­ bombs going off all over the place; you can’t imagine the noise of metal zinging through the air. Chris and Fedja took cover under a blown up Iraqi T54 tank, but there wasn’t room for all of us, so I decided to run back and get Brenda so I could drive back and get them out. I had to go back about one km, then get over the bridge ­ about another km ­ and then to the car, about another km. Well I sprinted the first km and there was just metal flying everywhere. By the time I got to the bridge, I was fucked (20 Malboro Red a day will do that to you ….). The tanks were long gone ahead of me, and the mortars were following them, but some were still landing short, but I just decided “Fuck it” and walked. It was really weird, as if some strange invisible protective cloak came all over me. I just walked up the bridge with mortars going off around 30 yards away from me every 30 seconds or so, strolled through two British tanks parked up to the other side, got into Brenda and drove back. The soldiers in the tanks tried to stop me from going, but I told them “would you leave your friends there?” and they let me through. Well the Iraqis started targetting me as I went across, but Brenda also seemed protected by divine intervention. I pulled up to the dead Iraqi tank, Chris and Fedja scrambled in and we turned around and drove out. The British soldiers were cheering and whistling as we went through and for the first time were good to us, giving us boxes of army rations and a big box of water. We were laughing like lunatics. Chris’s pictures of the attack (of a family running away) were on the front page of every newspaper in the world and Fedja’s footage will almost certainly win him one of the top awards for a cameraman. I was interviewed live on BBC, CNN, NBC, ABS and almost every other network you can imagine. World famous for about five minutes!!

Today we were over the bridge again ­ the British have pushed about another km further ­ and has we were coming out we got hit by a huge piece of shrapnel in my front tyre which blew the wheel out. We had to change the tyre there and then with all this shit going on, because the Iraqis had spotted us and started zeroing in. Fortunately the Brits were also after them so they kept them pinned down with machine guns which put off their aim. We changed that tyre faster than it take a formula one motor racing team to change in the pits, I tell you!!!! I have got the piece of shrapnel as a souvenir. It will make a very good paperweight.

Am holed up near the Kuwait border for today on the prowl to see if I can steal a tyre from the Brits to replace our damaged one. I managed to buy a bottle of Iraqi whisky in Basra, so I’ll probably trade some squaddie for it.

All good fun and grist for the never ending book I’m still writing.

Love and stuff

(Desert) Fox

snipped email and contact address

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

welcome to iraq
(thanks to E)

Long, serious, affecting, description of the anguish, coldness and confusion of troops and civilians thrown into a situation where the only sure thing seems to be the law of unintended consequences... US Marines Turn Fire on Civilians at the Bridge of Death (Sunday 30 March 2003, Times UK via Truthout)

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Confusion Reigns at Basra's Bridge Too Far
Sat March 29, 2003 08:55 AM ET

By David Fox
OUTSIDE BASRA, Iraq (Reuters) - For many Iraqis trying to make their way into the besieged city of Basra, the final sweep of highway arching over the Euphrates river is proving to be a bridge too far.

Thousands of people were gathered on both sides of the bridge leading to the south of the city on Saturday, most trying to escape to find food and water, but others trying to get in.

There were scenes of pandemonium as a logjam of vehicles formed in front of two hulking British Challenger tanks guarding the bridge.

Ponies drawing carts piled high with vegetables reared and spilled their load as their masters tried to whip them through the crowd. Drivers gesticulated wildly and swore at each other.

"You dog. You son of a dog," bellowed one burly bus driver as a pick-up truck piled with ripe tomatoes cut him off.
The British soldiers guarding the approach, members of the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, let fly with a few choice swearwords of their own as the crush of people tried to get between the tanks.

"Get away with you, you smelly Arab," shouted one in a Scots accent as thick as the black smoke billowing above the city.

Soldiers manning the checkpoints were mostly calm and good-natured but when the crush of the crowd got too much they appeared jittery.

"I don't blame them," said one soldier of the mass of people. "What if your family had no food and water and you were stuck on either side of the bridge. But orders are orders."

Women, children and old men were being allowed to cross freely in either direction, but men "of fighting age" were reportedly not being allowed back into the city once they left.

Unfortunately those same men are usually the ones families send to find food and water outside the city, leaving relatives still without both, and also then worried for their safety.

"I have been trying to get back to Basra for two days," said Esam, a government clerk. "Why won't they let us go home? What right do they have?"

His words were echoed by dozens of men being denied access to the city, but their resentment appeared caused by the disruption the invasion has caused to their daily lives rather than the actual presence of British and U.S. forces.

Basra is surrounded by a ring of steel in the form of a vast army of British and U.S. tanks, artillery pieces, armored personnel carriers and thousands of troops.

But stubborn resistance from pro-Saddam Hussein loyalists still makes the city unsafe for occupation.

British officers say handfuls of Iraqi fighters are using civilian vehicles to move mortar launchers around the city and their mobility makes it difficult to pin them down.

"Why don't they just come in, there is no one there," said Faisal Ali. "The people they are fighting are few."

But dangers persist. One British officer told Reuters that some British soldiers had been "kidnapped" on the outskirts of the city, although a military spokesman in Qatar said he had no knowledge of such an incident.

In the city itself, residents were open and friendly when a Reuters team visited the southern suburbs.

"Please, you are welcome," said one man. "But you must stay. If you stay then they (the militia) will realize it is useless and give up."

Residents of the mostly Shi'ite city have bitter memories of when they rose up against Saddam after the 1991 Gulf War, hoping Western forces who drove Iraq from Kuwait would support them.

When that backing failed to materialize, Saddam brutally crushed the revolt, leaving Basra's residents wondering if they might suffer the same fate this time.

U.S. Troops' Tough Approach Wins Few Iraqi Friends
Sun March 30, 2003 01:10 AM ET

By David Fox
UMM QASR, Iraq (Reuters) - Fresh graffiti on a building in this port town in southern Iraq reads "Down with USA" -- painted over the original "Down with Iraq" slogan from before the U.S.-led invasion.

Residents here say the change, in the predominantly Shi'ite Muslim south noted for its opposition to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, has been fueled by U.S. troops' rough handling of civilians which now poses problems for their British allies.

During the Vietnam war, a popular response to the mantra of winning over the civilian population was "grab them by the balls, and their hearts and minds will follow."

That appears to be the tactics of the forces leading the war in Iraq, except it is U.S. forces who are attacking Iraq's underbelly and British troops being left to make friends after.

The southern Shi'ites also remember how the United States urged them in 1991 to rise up against Saddam's largely Sunni leadership only to abandon them to brutal suppression of their revolt.

The suspicions are not being allayed by the attitude of many of the U.S. troops here.

A regular complaint heard in the vast swathe of southern Iraq already under occupation is that U.S. forces -- mostly at the front of advances through the country -- are rude and hostile to civilians caught up in the conflict.

"Are they fighting us or are they fighting Saddam?" asked teacher Mohammed Salik when questioned on what he thought of the U.S. servicemen he had encountered.

An army the size of that moving through Iraq was never going to creep unnoticed into Baghdad and there is no doubt that the invading forces are seriously disrupting the lives of ordinary civilians.

But U.S. forces who took the port of Umm Qasr won few friends among the civilian population and some British troops now charged with setting up a transitional authority complain they are having to undo damage caused by the Americans.

One British officer being given an escort by Marines to his headquarters expressed alarm when they let loose with a volley of rifle fire at a house on the outskirts of the [t]own.

"They said they had been sniped at from there a few days ago so they like to give them a warning every now and then," he told Reuters.

"That is something we would never condone," he said. "You really aren't going to make any friends doing that."

A U.S. special forces officer in Umm Qasr told Reuters it was sometimes difficult to contain the exuberance of men doing the actual fighting and sometimes they could overstep the mark.

"You got to realize these guys are single-minded in their training. In the military it is look after yourself and your buddies. Full stop. How do we know who the enemy is," he said.

Are the invading forces against Iraq or just the regime? "Some of my guys have difficulty telling the difference," the special forces officer said, "The average grunt (soldier) is no more or less educated than the average American and some of them don't know what is going on over here.

"But we are doing the main fighting here. There is no room for us to let down our guard," he added.

That role is being left to the British forces who, in the main, are taking up positions once U.S. troops move through.

At many roadblocks mounted by U.S. forces, civilians and journalists moving independently to cover the conflict are dismissed without a word. Surly Marines gesture them to turn away and refuse to answer any questions or confer with their superiors.

The British, however, have generally been polite and helpful where possible. Soldiers chat amiably with civilians -- even though neither party has a clue what the other is saying.

"I think it is a question of training," one British officer said. "American soldiers have all the benefits of technology and unbelievable training. They are single-minded in their approach.

"But British soldiers tend for a more human approach -- perhaps it is because we are more used to things like Northern Ireland where we are treated by many as an occupying army.

"The differences are a bit like national stereotypes," he added.