- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 16, 2003

A letter from Iraq
Borzou Daragahi was an honors graduate from the Columbia School of Journalism in 1994 and worked for various financial publications in New York until 2001, when he picked up and established himself as a journalist in Tehran. He moved into northern Iraq to cover the war a few weeks ago and has been writing mainly for one of the major news agencies and for us. Here is a letter he recently sent to friends and colleagues about getting ready for war:
Dear all,
The long-promised chemical protective gear as well as a bulletproof jacket and helmet has finally arrived. They're sitting in my hotel room in Sulaymaniyah, northern Iraq. The problem is that I don't know how to use the stuff. I mean, it all seems so heavy to lug around and complicated to wear. And I can imagine few scenarios in which I'd actually use them.
If I get word that there's actual fighting going on somewhere nearby, the last thing I'm going to do is hop into a car and head over there. I'd wait a couple hours until I'm sure the fighting has subsided, or I'd go to the hospital and interview the survivors.
If I happen to be somewhere and hear shots firing, I promise you, I'm going to get on my belly like a reptile. Or not move an inch. There won't be any time for me to go to the trunk and wrestle with a huge bulletproof jacket.
And as for the chemical suit and gas mask, just imagine this scenario: I'm sitting in a hotel lobby with a bunch of Kurds. Word comes that there's a chemical or biological attack on the city.
"Well, guys," I say, "I'm gonna go suit up. Too bad my well-funded, Western-based employer had enough money to get me a gas mask but not you. But I'll be sure to get the word out about the unbelievable tragedy that's about to befall you." It would be downright unethical. Not to mention the fact that someone would probably kill me for the suit.
The only situation in which I can foresee using the suit and gas mask might be if I'm about to head to an area that's just been hit by a chemical attack, or a hospital treating biological weapons victims.
I get constant e-mails from the brass at headquarters in New York asking me to detail what sorts of precautions I'm taking and whether I personally feel safe. Three of their journalists have died over the last two years, and I'm told they're very sensitive about the "safety thing." I've also gotten a few e-mails from friends; one wisely suggested that I have a scheme for getting out of northern Iraq should all hell break loose.
Don't worry. I have an exit plan, and it involves fleeing rapidly, running for the mountainous borders of Iran and Turkey, just like all the Kurds will. I've thought long and hard about this. There's a reason why the Kurds abandon their lives and turn into penniless refugees every time war breaks out here. It's because there's no other choice.
There are a number of scenarios under which the region where I am living and working could be the site of a man-made catastrophe. The one that's least frightening and most plausible is that once the war starts, Saddam Hussein will fire off one or two or three missiles with chemical warheads at the Kurdish cities to create a massive refugee crisis to clog up the roads and slow an American invasion.
The odds that one of those missiles could hit little old me are just too fantastic to fathom. I'm not worried. And besides, all Saddam would have to do is drop a bag of flour in the middle of downtown Sulaymaniyah to send the whole country fleeing for their lives.
Another scenario is that an American missile hits one of Saddam's alleged weapons plants, allowing the wind to spread poison all around. A blazing chemical- and biological-weapons plant spewing toxic chemicals is a horrifying thought.
But the most awful scenario doesn't involve chemical or biological weapons, but oil: a massive series of oil fires triggered by booby traps and dynamite rigged to the massive underground seas of crude beneath the earth at Kirkuk and Mosul, a noxious cloud of black smoke an evil scourge filling the sky coating the green pastures and ambling cows and friendly villagers with soot, stink, poison and even more misery.
I know it's macabre, but I would love to hear more likely scenarios for possible disasters here and how I should prepare for them. Please send me your thoughts.
Warm regards,
David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is djones@washingtontimes.com.

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