News

DATE=10/4/1999 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=REPORTERS NOTEBOOK-ROAD TO BAGHDAD NUMBER=5-44406 BYLINE=SCOTT BOBB DATELINE=BAGHDAD CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Iraq has been cut off from the rest of the world for nearly a decade, isolated by economic trade sanctions and a ban on virtually all air travel. Commercial flights to Iraq have been cancelled and most of the country's air space is in a no-fly zone enforced by United States and British warplanes. As a result, people going to Iraq must travel overland from Amman, Jordan's capital. It is a one-thousand- kilometer that takes 12-hours or more across the desert. Correspondent Scott Bobb made the trip recently and has some pages from his notebook on the road to Baghdad. TEXT: It is midnight and most of Amman is asleep when we load up the heavy, U-S made (Suburban) station wagons. A throaty rumble comes from the eight- cylinder, seven-liter engines as we motor out of town and into the desert. Once on the highway, the drivers accelerate to cruising speed, 160-kilometers per hour, but the road wagons are steady on their large tires. Many passengers sleep. Others settle back to watch the desert roll by under a rising crescent moon. When we make our first stop, it is still the middle of the night. But the roadside restaurants in this village are wide open and well lit, serving tea and coffee. Shops are also open, selling water, cookies, cigarettes and other sundries that until recently were not readily available in Iraq. Another few hours on the moonlit highway and we arrive at the border post. It is just before sunrise and the sky is turning from black to ever-paler shades of blue. The guards at the Jordanian post check and stamp our passports. It takes a half-hour. We then enter the no-man's land separating the Hashemite kingdom from revolutionary Iraq. At the Iraqi post, the guards show us into the V-I-P lounge, which is well-appointed with carpets and couches and dominated by a wall-size portrait of The Leader, President Saddam Hussein. /// OPT /// As our passports are processed, the guards check our equipment. Mobile (cellular) telephones are not allowed and are held at the post until we leave Iraq. Computers are allowed, but the modems to communicate with the outside world are not. Satellite telephones are sealed and may only be opened in Baghdad with government permission. Some radios are also impounded. The guards do not explain why, but we are later told that radio scanners, like mobile and satellite phones, can be used as homing devices for enemy missiles. But many believe the real reason is to restrict communications with the outside world. /// END OPT /// Several-hours later, we complete our formalities, undergo one last passport check and we are in Iraq. The first thing the drivers do is pull into a gas station, conveniently located just outside the border post. Why? Gasoline in Jordan costs nearly one-dollar per liter. But in Iraq a dollar will fill up the entire tank. At two-cents a liter, this is the cheapest gas in the world. What was a narrow, two-lane road in Jordan, now becomes a four-lane superhighway, complete with guardrails and emergency shoulders. However, it seems unfinished. There are virtually no road signs, and the concrete bridges that pass over the highway are connected only to tire tracks in the desert. /// OPT /// As the sun rises higher in the sky, the monotony of the desert induces a fascination. Drivers often fall asleep, hypnotized by the endless brown expanse and the asphalt pike pointing toward the horizon. There are scores of tanker trucks carrying Iraqi oil to Jordan. In Iraq they have their own highway, which runs like a black stream of oil, to our side. The tankers are called rolling bombs, because every now and then, one of them crashes and explodes, turning the vehicle into a roadside bonfire. /// END OPT /// It is late morning when we cross the Euphrates River and enter the ancient land of Mesopotamia. There are more settlements now, some large villas, and palm trees laden with bright-yellow dates. We arrive in Baghdad shortly after noon, faces burned by the sun and the wind, and thinking only of a shower and a rest. The traffic, the pedestrians, the hustle and bustle of the big city jar the nerves, after the empty expanse of the desert and the road to Baghdad. (SIGNED) NEB/SB/GE/RAE 04-Oct-1999 10:51 AM LOC (04-Oct-1999 1451 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .