- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2003

Meeting in Nasiriyah
There was never any doubt that we would have coverage of the meeting of officials from a half-dozen Iraqi factions who convened under U.S. auspices last week near Nasiriyah to begin planning the future of their country.
A small pool of reporters had been chosen from among the press corps based at Central Command headquarters in Doha, Qatar, to be flown into the southern Iraqi city for the meeting hosted by retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner.
Paul Martin, who had been covering for us in Doha, had not been invited into the pool and in any case had flown off to Kuwait City a few days before in hopes of getting an interview with Gen. Garner an interview that appeared on our front page about a week ago.
But the major wire agencies were bound to be there, and indeed Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press, among others, produced first-rate copy about the session with ample reference to the historic significance of the meeting site near the ancient city of Ur.
Generally, we are perfectly happy to publish a good wire story. But we were, so far as I know, the first newspaper to report that this meeting was being planned, and we had taken a proprietary interest in it. We wanted to have our own reporter there.
Betsy Pisik, who was embedded with a U.S. Army civil affairs unit in Umm Qasr before moving on to Baghdad over the weekend, considered driving there with photographer Maya Alleruzzo. But with her unit getting ready to leave for Baghdad on short notice, it would have required the two of them to drive back alone over still dangerous territory at night. We did not think it was worth the risk.
That decision was vindicated on the morning of the meeting, Tuesday. On my car radio as I drove to work that day I listened to a reporter from National Public Radio discussing the meeting from a mile away outside the perimeter fence of the Tallil Air Base where the meeting was held the nearest any of the reporters who drove up from Kuwait or southern Iraq had been allowed to get.
Persistence and ingenuity
So I was delighted when I sat down at my desk and quickly received a phone call from Mr. Martin, who opened with a cheery "Guess where I am?"
"Baghdad?" I asked, knowing he had been trying to hitch a ride along with a group of television reporters who had been working for more than a week to arrange an airlift to the Iraqi capital.
"No, Nasiriyah," he said. "I'm sitting here now inside the tent waiting for the briefing to begin."
As I said, I was delighted, but not entirely surprised. Mr. Martin has consistently displayed remarkable persistence and ingenuity in getting himself to the scene of the action, whether in Iraq or the West bank, Bosnia or Beirut.
This reporter, I learned later, had indeed gone with the television crew to a military airport in Kuwait the night before, seeking a ride to Baghdad aboard a C-130 transport plane. But a group of generals showed up at the last minute and bumped the journalists off the flight.
The television crew went off to a hotel for the night, planning to try again Tuesday morning. But Mr. Martin says he made friends with an American pilot who had just flown in from another location, and asked him if there were planes going anywhere else in Iraq.
The pilot checked his flight list and mentioned there was a flight to something called Tallil Air Base. "Oh, well, if that's the only choice, I'm happy to go even there," Mr. Martin replied.
The flight got Mr. Martin in to the air base early on Tuesday morning, hours ahead of the press pool from Doha and even ahead of Gen. Garner himself.
On the tarmac, he found three journalists who had been embedded with military units nearby and had managed to get themselves escorted onto the base.
The public affairs people at the air base were less than thrilled at the presence of the reporters, and those who came later on the pool from Doha were even less happy to see that some journalists had gotten there before them.
But after some deliberation, Jim Wilkinson, the media strategy chief to Gen. Tommy Franks who remembered Mr. Martin from an earlier interview in Doha agreed to let our reporter and the three embeds into the tent.

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is djones@washingtontimes.com.

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