- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2003

The wait in Kuwait
"If I read one more 'Kuwait on the brink of war' story, I am going to wash my eyes out with sand," writes our correspondent Betsy Pisik from her hotel room in Kuwait City.
Indeed, with about 1,300 reporters from around the world trying to justify their hotel bills while waiting for the war to start, its getting harder and harder to find a subject or angle that hasn't been done to death. Some reporters have been in the country for two months now and seldom leave their hotels at all anymore.
"There are the Americans, clad in khaki, sometimes boisterous, usually animated and appearing in a hurry," said Richard Tomkins of United Press International in an article last week.
"Then there are the French reporters and photographers, decked out in chi-chi jeans or khaki cargo trousers. One male photographer cut a smart profile indeed in his black jumpsuit, black combat boots, shaved head and Palestinian scarf.
"And there are the Germans, who appear shy, almost tentative, speaking quietly, as if not standing out."
Most are housed either downtown in the Sheraton, where the government press office is located, or 30 minutes out of town at a Hilton resort where the American military is set up. There are few decent alternatives though some long-timers have moved into apartments.
The Hilton, sealed off behind stiff security measures, "is a sprawling resort [with] shallow pools that flow through walls to the sea vista, plinky music, walls of undulating plastic squares that change color, floating staircases," Miss Pisik says.
"It's kind of environment where you expect to see skinny women in black dresses, not the U.S. Marines."
The Sheraton, Miss Pisik says, "is far more Arab feeling, with big yet fussy furniture, loud piped-in music, and chain-smoking reporters." The biggest thing distinguishing it from journalist hotels before and during other wars is the lack of a lively bar scene in a country where alcohol is banned.
Looking for wheels
The hotel traffic thinned out substantially last week when most of the roughly 700 "embedded" journalists went off to the Kuwaiti desert to join the military units with which they will eat, sleep and travel for the duration of the war.
"The swagger was gone. So was the bravado," Mr. Tomkins wrote. "The devil-may-care, war correspondent wannabes had been replaced by the quieter, more sober disposition of the old hands among them who had a better idea of what may lie ahead."
One group still to hook up with their American military hosts, we hear, is a crew from Qatar-based Al Jazeera television. The talk is that the reporters, whose satellite station has become Osama bin Laden's medium of choice, have been denied Kuwaiti visas and are waiting in the Iraqi city of Basra for the invading American troops to reach them.
Most of the "non-embedded" reporters, ours included, hope to follow the troops northward to Baghdad on their own, enjoying the freedom of movement to interview civilians and follow the hottest action.
These are dealing with issues of chemical-weapons suits, anthrax and smallpox vaccinations, self-injecting syringes and antibiotics that simply never existed for the generations of journalists covering World War II and Vietnam.
Unlike the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where Kevlar accoutrements were de rigueur when Miss Pisik and photographer Maya Alleruzzo last worked together abroad, "I don't see anyone modeling war-whore chic in hotel lobbies, nor even talking about it much," Miss Pisik says.
"I don't know if it's because it's a decision that's already been made, or because no one understands the gear they've got. Or maybe no one can comprehend using it."
The biggest challenge, Miss Pisik says, lies in finding transportation for the trip north.
Miss Alleruzzo took on the task of finding a four-wheel-drive vehicle to rent and after a solid week of searching, landed a beaten-up Pajero.
"It's dinged up, a panel is falling off, the aircon blows sand and dust, the floor mats are shredded. They didn't even wash it for us," Miss Pisik says.
"It's been ridden hard and put up dusty, no doubt about it. But it's heavy enough to lope over the dunes if necessary and big enough to haul our gear and sleep in."
It looks like it's going to be home for a while.

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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