Daily News reporter Rich Mauer is on special assignment for six weeks to the McClatchy Newspapers Baghdad bureau. For Mauer, who has reported on politics, the oil industry, military and other topics in his 23 years at the Daily News, it is a return to a region he covered as a much younger free-lancer in 1981-2, including the civil war in Lebanon. In this blog, he'll provide snapshots from his reporting.
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Posted: January 22, 2007 - 4:10 am
AMMAN, Jan. 22 — I finally met Nancy Youssef at breakfast at the Four Seasons, the magnificent hotel on Amman’s Fifth Circle. It’s the same place where President Bush was snubbed by Iraq Prime Minister al-Maliki last year, but those vibes were long gone. Nancy’s welcome was warm.
Until a couple weeks ago, Nancy was the chief of McClatchy’s Baghdad bureau, a tough job she held for nearly two years.
She had been the cops-and-courts reporter at the Detroit Free Press in 2003 as the American attack was brewing. The Free Press was a Knight Ridder paper, and the call came from the chain’s large Washington bureau for reporters who might want to cover the conflict.
Posted: January 21, 2007 - 1:15 pm
AMMAN, Jan. 21 — The plane just landed and there’s Marwan, a very dapper man in his 50s or 60s, carrying my name on a sign.
“How did you know my name?” he asked.
“Nancy told me.”
Nancy is Nancy Youssef, the outgoing bureau chief in Baghdad. I’ll catch up with her in Amman before she returns to the States to be McClatchy’s Pentagon correspondent. Her place in Baghdad has been taken by Leila Fadel, recently of the Fort Worth paper.
Marwan, a fixer extraordinaire, zips me through the visa line, immigration and customs, and deposits me with my driver. I asked him what languages he spoke. “English, Croatian, and of course, Arabic.” Croatian? He spent time there, when Tito was still in power and it was part of Yugoslavia. He remembered it fondly. “Whenever you live some place for a while, you always have good thoughts about it,” he said.
Posted: January 20, 2007 - 1:12 pm
SOMEWHERE OVER THE ATLANTIQUE, Jan. 20 — I’m on the red eye from JFK to Paris. I’m so deep in sleep I’m not dreaming. Someone is shaking my shoulders. Rather violently.
I open my eyes. All I can do is blink. The cabin is as bright as a fast-food restaurant. One of the flight attendants is asking me, “feesh or chicken?”
I shake my head, “no, no.” He almost looks angry.
I look at my watch. It’s 1 a.m. in New York. It’s 7 a.m. in Paris. It may be dinnertime somewhere, but it’s not dinnertime here.
But this is an Air France flight to Paris, not Alaska Airlines to Seattle. Everyone is eating and talking. OK, I call him back and ask for the chicken. He’s happy. The food is terrific. He comes back with the basket of bread and hands me a perfectly crusted mini-French bread. Did they just bake it in the galley? I eat it with the huge chunk of camembert on my tray. I pass on the wine.
Posted: January 19, 2007 - 12:56 pm
ON AN AMTRAK TRAIN TO NEW YORK, Jan. 19 — One of the senior editors in the McClatchy Washington bureau waved me into his office from across the big newsroom yesterday afternoon. Thus summoned, I sat down in a comfortable chair. He was the last editor I needed to speak to before I left for Baghdad.
“What are you expectations for me in Iraq?” I asked.
“Do you know how to shoot?” he asked. “Paul or Kevin will want to know that.”
Those were the names of our British security detail, but I wasn’t thinking about them. I was thinking that I had just heard the most unexpected question I’d ever been asked by an editor.