- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 20, 2006

Good Iraq news

Reporter Sharon Behn, who recently returned to Iraq for her seventh or eighth visit to cover the formation of a new government, sent an e-mail with an idea for an uplifting story that seemed to offer some relief from the daily diet of violence and misery.

She had learned that a number of foreign-born U.S. soldiers were about to be sworn in as U.S. citizens at a ceremony at Camp Anaconda, a U.S. base located about 2 hours drive northwest of Baghdad.

She proposed to cover the ceremony and use it as a vehicle to examine the broader question — especially relevant with a debate over immigration raging in Washington — over whether some people were using the military as a route to U.S. citizenship.

But she quickly ran into the kind of obstacles that seem too often to frustrate any attempt to write a “good news” story from Iraq.

First, Mrs. Behn was warned by her security team that it was unsafe for her to try to travel by car to the military base; civilian cars and convoys passing over that road come in for daily insurgent attacks and there would be no way for her security escorts to stay overnight at the base.

She asked, therefore, if the U.S. military could give her a ride on a military helicopter to the site of the ceremony. She was promised a seat on a space-available basis, but told there would be no guarantee of when she could be flown back. She might be stuck at the base for a few days.

In any case, the issue became moot as no one from the military got back to her about the ride before it was too late.

Undeterred, she decided to try to get the story anyway. The military offered to provide her with photographs from the ceremony and make two or three of the new citizens available to be interviewed by telephone. This was not as good as being there, but we decided we would try to make it work.

A military officer at the base e-mailed Mrs. Behn saying he would have soldiers ready to call her and asking her for a number where she could be reached on the dedicated military phone system. Mrs. Behn e-mailed back that she had no access to the military system and provided her number on the “Iraqna” cell phone system.

Her next e-mail from the military at Camp Anaconda read as follows: “Unfortunately the three soldiers left, so I don’t have any interviewees around right now and probably couldn’t get them back until sometime tomorrow. The phone is also a challenge that I’m not sure how to work around. We don’t have any means to call an Iraqna phone number.”

The military went on to offer to write the story for us, an offer that we declined.

A common name

The Turkish Embassy in Washington has been in touch with us seeking to avoid any possibility of confusion over an article by our Cyprus-based reporter Andrew Borowiec, which appeared in mid-April.

Toward the bottom of his article about rising violence between Kurds and the military in Turkey, Mr. Borowiec quoted Hikmet Cetin, writing in the pro-Kurdish newspaper Ozgur Politika, saying: “We should not forget that the identity of the Kurds has always been denied and that efforts have always been made to annihilate them.”

That was fine as far as it went, but it so happens that NATO’s most senior civilian representative in Afghanistan is also named Hikmet Cetin and is regularly quoted in the international press. The Turkish Embassy did not want our readers to think we were quoting NATO’s Hikmet Cetin, a former Turkish diplomat who does not share the views of the writer.

Mr. Borowiec found the original article in Ozgur Politika through a press clipping service that he monitors. He has been able to determine that the Hikmet Cetin he wrote about is a Turkish expatriate, presumably of Kurdish origin, now living in Europe. It is certainly not the same Hikmet Cetin as the U.N. official in Afghanistan.

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

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