Sunday, July 1, 2007
Beast of Baghdad
The Jerusalem press corps notes the departure of a familiar Farrell Beast, specifically Stephen Farrell, former Middle East correspondent for the London Times, who has just joined the New York Times as a veteran reinforcement for their Baghdad bureau. It recently underwent a major overhaul, with Dexter Filkins and John Burns back to civilization of sorts (although with car bombs planted in the UK, Burns' new patch of Londonistan is none too calm.)
This alpha male was famously kidnapped at gunpoint by bandits near Fallujah, then re-kidnapped by Baathist insurgents, interrogated as a suspected CIA spy and released after 8 hours. The kidnappers discovered that both their captives had been based in Israel, and things looked pretty hairy for awhile.
"See, not soldier. Just bald," the shaved-headed Farrell joked to the second lot of gunmen, to convince them there was no threat. Dinner then was served to Farrell and his petite female colleague, freelancer and fluent Arabic speaker Orly Halpern, before they were blindfolded and driven to Baghdad.
Steve manages to keep his head down a bit more these days, but has a great nose for news and a knack for danger.
Well, Farrell is back for more Iraq hi-jinks, full-on. He did not exactly slink away from the Holy Land hotspot. The send-off party at his Jerusalem apartment, for which he donned his ratty Iraq t-shirt, was classic. Sushi was served and the press corps was roasted with "Golden Bollocks" awards for ace blunders. The winner was a strapping Scandinavian hack who, when grilled by agents at the Ben Gurion airport, had managed to leave them sputtering and speechless. "Did you have contact with any Arabs?" they had asked, attempting to assess whether he was a threat to the Nation of Israel. "Well,Arabs, Jews, whatever... I can't really tell you guys apart," he had replied. Doh! They must have been rough with him.
James Hider, who is assuming Farrell's old beat at the London Times, is also an old Baghdad hand. It's a beastly business.