Sorry, No Surrenders: The Starter’s Whistle Hasn’t Blown

Editor’s note: in this issue, the Phnom Penh Post’s man in Kuwait, the indefatigable Sheikh Ya’erbuti, attends a raucous public holiday (along with his nervous camel), runs into a brace of drunken journalists, and wakes up near the Iraqi border.

SOMEWHERE IN SOUTHERN IRAQ, March 14 — It was a merry party. Kuwaitis celebrating their 12th Liberation Day with the prospect that Saddam Hussein won’t be around for another year. Black Label flowed (legal exemptions were made for friends of the Emir) and roasted camel was delivered on a 30-foot silver platter, all served by Waqil whom I had lent to my hosts at the Hilton for the evening. My camel was none too impressed by dinner and left.

Then, disaster. In bumbled – albeit in a BMW limousine complete with driver, on-board computers, television and Global Positioning Systems – the notorious hacks Lindsay Murdoch and Luke Hunt. Both had discarded the comforts of reporting from five-star retreats embedded with the Marines and were plotting to catch up with the equally uncouth friend of the Phnom Penh Post Nate Thayer, whom I am told is residing in my room at the al-Rashid Hotel in Baghdad.

The rest is fog. The two Australians stole my Chivas and forced me into toasting the silly fools with betrothed war brides. Murdoch is getting married to Miss Feni Hawati, and another occasional Cambodian drop-in Karl Malakunas will wed Miss Amy Chung – once that blight Saddam is removed.

I vaguely remember Hunt offering the 32nd toast and asking a guest, Captain Jacov of the Marines, if he expected to make Major soon. Then nothing.

I woke up Shanghai-ed, parked under an Abrams tank somewhere in the deserts of northern Kuwait, with a tongue that tasted like lino glue. Waqil at my boot, and my camel, who has since been dubbed Spit after escaping roast dinner, nearby.

Obviously, I asked for directions to the Hilton but was told “Nothin’ doin’, Sir.” Murdoch and company had crossed my t’s and dumped me with a Marine combat unit within a hand grenade’s throw of the border.

Even my good friends, the Emir and Colonel Ricky Thomas (who can’t be quoted), failed me and now I’m a Marine, with a shiny badge.

Ricky’s friends said not to worry, the war will start immediately after that nuisance of a deadline, March 17, passes and a celebration feast will be held within a few days. As another tawdry Marine wrote on his helmet: “There’s beer in Baghdad.”

A drop of mellow red would be preferable, but by living with the Marines one does pick up on the odd item that would normally escape the halls of my usual comforts. Here’s one: the 82nd Airborne captain who was conducting a live-fire operation on the border when he noticed a jeep with a white flag billowing from the back and making an approach from the wrong side of the border.

An Iraqi officer disembarked and they met. The Iraqi and his three men wanted to give themselves up, but were told they were “too early”as the starter’s whistle hadn’t blown. The hapless chaps were compelled to go, but invited to come back once the bombing started.

So they left. The 82nd were also delighted after the Iraqi officer pointed out on his departure a clean trail through what they had assumed was a heavily-mined section of Iraqi soil.

My camel, Spit, and my subversive friend, Waqil, were equally thrilled with the news, and so I have promised them it is the demined path the three of us shall tread on our seemingly inexorable journey to Baghdad. Until next time, dear readers, farewell. SY.

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Luke Hunt is a foreign correspondent, author and occasional photographer who has covered much of Asia fr the last 30 years.

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