Accessibility links

Breaking News

Iraq: Desert Dispatch -- RFE/RL Correspondent Leaves Safwan After Threats Against Journalists

Safwan, Iraq; 24 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel -- who has been based in Kuwait City -- crossed the Kuwaiti border into the southern Iraqi village of Safwan over the weekend in the wake of invading U.S. and British troops. Last night, however, he was forced to evacuate the town because of a suspected attack on his encampment. He filed this report around 0600 today from southern Iraq:

QUESTION: Can you explain what happened to you overnight?

RECKNAGEL: "The security vacuum in southern Iraq caused by the rapid advance of allied forces is making it difficult for news media not embedded with the military to report from the region. Here in Safwan, just across from the Kuwaiti border, I and some 60 other reporters had to be evacuated overnight by British forces after a group of some 10 supporters of Iraq's ruling Ba'ath Party were believed to be preparing an attack on the journalists' encampment near a British military post.

"The British forces ordered us to break camp on five minutes' notice and drive without lights westward for some 20 kilometers from Safwan into the desert. There, we spent hours sheltering under a highway overpass, which was manned by a British unit guarding the route for military convoys. The guard unit was itself on full alert over a separate threat caused by the presence of an Iraqi military [fedayeen] squad detected in their sector [militia forces pledged to fight to the death for Saddam].

"We were ordered to don flak jackets and helmets and take cover in a roadside ditch if fighting broke out. Later, we were sent another 20 kilometers further west, deep into the Rumaila oil fields to an area fully under the control of coalition forces. As of this morning, nonembedded journalists look set to be evacuated with guards back to Kuwait to await improved conditions. The events underline the fact that as coalition forces advance rapidly north toward Baghdad, they are securing highways for military supply transports but not establishing their authority in the towns en route.

"People in Safwan told us earlier that Iraqi police left the town along with government officials when U.S. troops attacked from Kuwait four days ago, and no new local authority has been established to fill the security vacuum created by their flight."