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Reporters on the Job

RUNNING AN ANGRY GANTLET: Iraqi suspicion that Al Qaeda supporters are coming into Iraq is particularly strong in Shiite areas of the south, which practice a different form of Islam from the radical Sunni Wahhabis of Al Qaeda.

The Monitor's Scott Peterson experienced that suspicion recently in the aftermath of the Aug. 29 bombing in Najaf that killed Shiite cleric Ayatollah Mohammed Bakr al-Hakim. Believing that no Iraqi Muslim, Sunni or Shiite, would desecrate the Imam Ali shrine with such an act, locals blamed foreigners.

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The day after the bombing, Scott and his new interpreter - a bushy-bearded, long-haired man who wore a red kaffiyeh (head scarf) that day, in the Saudi style - were fingered by an Iraqi who shouted "Wahhabi!" The two were trapped briefly on a hotel roof by an angry mob. As the exited the hotel, they were met by Iraqi police.

"Iraqi police had heeded the mob's call and chased us with their guns down a narrow alley," says Scott. "But as the police were marching us back toward the main road, the mob spotted my interpreter and surged toward us, shouting."

The police pushed Scott and his interpreter into a spartan three-story concrete building. "The crowd tried climbing the gate to get at the interpreter, as the police checked our identities and questioned us. The police yelled out that we were journalists, in an effort to calm the crowd." It didn't work.

They waited in a third-floor room, away from the windows. About 45 minutes later, police reinforcements arrived. The anger on the street was still seething.

Scott was asked to wrap his arms around the interpreter, then they were escorted through the crowd, shielded by a ring of Iraqi police wearing bullet-proof armored plates and brandishing assault rifles. "We ran the jeering gantlet the last 20 yards to the road and jumped into a police car," says Scott.

The police car was rocked by the crowd, before whisking Scott and his colleague to safety.

David Clark Scott
World editor


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