- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 19, 2005

Our man in Baghdad

Borzou Daragahi, the most reliable of the freelance correspondents who have filed to us from Iraq over the past two years, is back in Baghdad, and just in time.

In less than a week, Mr. Daragahi has contributed two stories on the historic first session of the new Iraqi legislature and a front-page special report today examining how the lives of ordinary Iraqis have changed since the American invasion.

Some of you also will have heard his reports on National Public Radio. To me, it is a mark of his professionalism and objectivity that two organizations as ideologically diverse as NPR and ourselves are happy to use his work.

A quick Google search shows that his reporting has also appeared in more than a dozen newspapers ranging from the New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor to the South China Morning Post. His broadcast outlets range from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. to Radio Vatican.

Mr. Daragahi had already returned to his home base in Tehran by the time the final returns from the Iraqi elections were announced in mid-February, but even watching from there he was able to help us avoid a major error.

The wire agencies, and major newspapers on their Web sites, all were reporting that the main Shi’ite coalition had received a little more than 48 percent of the vote and had fallen short of a majority in the new National Assembly.

But Mr. Borzou promptly e-mailed to point out that some of the ballots would be thrown out because they had gone to candidates who did not receive enough votes to get into the Assembly. The Shi’ite coalition would have a little more than half of the remaining votes and a narrow Assembly majority, he said.

That was indeed the way it turned out and we were one of the few newspapers to get it right.

Another close call

Most of our reporting from Iraq lately has been about the political process of forming a new government, with the daily list of terror attacks left to the bottom of the stories or left out entirely.

This is mainly because the attacks have become so common that they have lost their ability to shock and horrify. We are always looking for something new to report, and we find more novelty in the politics.

But a recent letter that Mr. Daragahi e-mailed to friends, relatives and editors reminds us that Iraq is still an incredibly dangerous place for a reporter to operate. The following is from his letter:

“‘We’re being followed,’ my translator Nadeem said, repeating the message that Mohammad, the driver of our ‘chase’ or second car, had just relayed via walkie-talkie.

“Our would-be pursuer, driving a flashy gray Nissan SUV with red rally stripes, had been behind us since we left the hotel. He spoke into either a walkie-talkie or satellite phone as he cut across several lanes of traffic to follow us off an exit ramp and stayed close behind our two-car convoy as we wound our way through the Qadasiya district.

“I was almost too frightened to speak or panic. Indeed, I felt strangely calm, vaguely wondering if this would turn out to be another close call or something more ominous. Foreigners are frequently targeted by both insurgents and kidnappers.

“But before I had much time to think, Abbas, the driver of the lead car, and Mohammad coordinated a lightning-quick left onto a side street where several security guards stood in front of some Iraqi VIP’s home. The Nissan slowed down as if to contemplate following us, but continued down the road.

“We all breathed a sigh of relief, and found our way to a friendly teahouse where we decompressed.

“I added another close call to a list which includes a car bomb that blew out my hotel windows, death threats to my translator and numerous roadside bombs, and I again put to myself a question that becomes more urgent with each visit to this country since the war two years ago: Should I even be here?”

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

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