- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 2, 2003

Making war plans
Here, as in other newsrooms around the country, we are well advanced in deciding how to deploy our reporters for the expected war against Iraq.
The planning process was probably simpler for us than for some of our competitors, if only because our smaller budget leaves us with fewer reporters to send.
Many organizations are already set up in Doha in Qatar, Baghdad and other regional capitals, where reporters are spending hundreds of dollars a day mostly to sit and wait for the action to begin.
We have been trying since last fall to send a reporter to Baghdad, with special urgency since the U.N. weapons inspectors arrived there in December. But as we watch others build up their coverage from the Iraqi capital, we are still waiting and hoping for a visa.
Our U.N. bureau chief, Betsy Pisik, was issued a visa last fall to cover a referendum, in which more than 99 percent of Iraqis were reported to have endorsed the rule of President Saddam Hussein.
But shortly before she was to depart, the Iraqis began to expel journalists and refuse entry to others in response to reports on public demonstrations sparked by the release of large numbers of prisoners.
Miss Pisik was advised that her visa would not be honored and told that another visa would be issued later. So far, none has been forthcoming, despite assurances from the Iraqi Interests Section in Washington that our request has been forwarded with a favorable recommendation.
We can't help but suspect that the Iraqis, having read our editorial pages, are afraid that we are hostile to their government and would use the visa to build support for President Bush's war plans. The truth is that they might find their viewpoint better reflected in our pages if they let us come to Baghdad.
In any case, the diplomatic phase of the campaign against Saddam is clearly nearing an end and we are beginning to look at other ways of getting to Baghdad, if only in the trail of American troops.
On to Baghdad
There are three or four main elements to our strategy for covering the war, beginning with plans to "embed" a reporter and a photographer with the U.S. troops.
For some weeks now, the Pentagon has been running weeklong training courses for journalists wishing to cover the war in this way. Each will be attached to a military unit and eat, sleep and travel with it wherever it goes in the war.
There is a bit of the luck of the draw attached to this approach. We could end up with a frontline unit and be with it when it marched into Baghdad. Or we could end up in a support unit watching ammunition being loaded onto trucks far behind the front lines.
Metro reporter Guy Taylor will get the first such slot offered to The Washington Times, followed by photographer Gerald Herbert, who covered the Afghan war for us. Deputy Foreign Editor Willis Witter, who was in Afghanistan with Mr. Herbert, undergoes his military training next week and will be the backup.
Separately, we plan to have Miss Pisik and photographer Maya Alleruzzo travel to the region on their own and be free to chase after the story wherever it takes them. The two will start out in Kuwait in mid-February and hopefully be able to follow the U.S. troops' northward advance through Basra and up the Euphrates.
Miss Pisik already has had a week of hostile-environment training at the hands of former British commandos working through a private company in Virginia. She and Miss Alleruzzo also have their flak jackets and helmets from covering the worst of the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank last year.
We had considered basing the two in Doha, Qatar, where the U.S. military will be based and holding daily briefings. But with a limited presence in the region, we have decided that the same information will be available to our Pentagon reporters Rowan Scarborough and Bill Gertz here in Washington.
The final element of our coverage strategy is to make the best possible use of free-lancers. Several of our regular contributors are already making their way to the region, particularly to Turkey, in hopes of getting into the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq.
Access to the area has been severely restricted until now, with Turkey and Syria both keeping the border sealed, but we believe it may open up once the shooting begins.
David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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