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Reporters on the Job

PEDAL TO THE METAL: Security in Iraq continues to be a pressing issue for correspondents and Iraqis alike. For Peter Ford (page 8), the most recent test came as he left Baghdad last week to head home via Jordan.

The road to Amman, Peter notes, is infested with armed bandits, and travelers are held up regularly. So Peter organized a convoy of seven vehicles that offered more security than a lone car on the 12-hour journey through the desert.

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Unfortunately, the taxi company from which he rented three GMC Suburbans proved less than reliable: One car quickly broke down, so its passengers had to take spare seats in another vehicle, and another driver refused to go more than 78 m.p.h., which meant he kept falling behind the convoy traveling at a standard 95 m.p.h. along the empty highway. Eventually, after several arguments, Peter grew so frustrated that he sacked the man, and the convoy's passengers had to re-distribute themselves again. "I am not accustomed to dismissing drivers in the middle of nowhere," says Peter. "But experience has shown there is nothing so vulnerable on that road as a carload of reporters separated from its convoy."

WE'LL ASK THE QUESTIONS: The Monitor's Ilene Prusher, who has just gone into Baghdad, went to the police station for her story today on the US policy of making Iraqis hand in much of their weaponry (page 1). There she was confronted by the officer in charge, Maj. Kadh Hassan Ashumari, who insisted that the Americans were intentionally allowing the chaos to continue, so that they could stay on longer as occupiers.

"People think it's a deliberate act," he told Ilene. "And now they're making these announcements so people would bring in their weapons. Do you think real terrorists and criminals would ever obey this?"

The major wouldn't let Ilene continue her interviews until she weighed in on the issues, which she did, stating that she didn't agree this was a purposeful scheme to stay in Iraq longer.

"He didn't believe me when I said that any amount of crime or chaos in Iraq at this point makes the US look bad. Another man in the office said the Americans were confiscating guns for souvenirs. Their opinions were a window into why people are upset about this policy, and made me realize how hard it will be to implement."

Her most recent evidence on that point? "The day I checked into my hotel, The man at the front desk opened up the drawer, and it was like part of the office furniture: stapler, paper clips, calculator - pistol. He was just reaching for a receipt."

Amelia Newcomb
Deputy world editor