Iraq's 'Guest's News': reluctant video postcards from hostages

October 01, 1990|By Carol Morello | Carol Morello,Knight-Ridder News Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- In a ghoulish routine, Iraqi television airs a short program called "Guest's News" every night.

In what amounts to video postcards, three foreign hostages each get a minute to say hello to their loved ones and at the same time answer a few questions from an off-the-air interviewer.

Their set faces and grim tones belie their reassuring words.

"Hi, Loren. Glenn here," said a graying man wearing a blue T-shirt and identified as Glenn Wynwood of the United Kingdom.

"How's the hospitality?" a voice behind the camera asks.

"Well, it's great," he replied. "We've got plenty of food. The accommodations are good.

"Our hosts," he continued, his voice seeming to add quotation marks around the word, "have been pretty good. We play volleyball against them."

Then he paused ever so briefly before adding with a harder edge to his voice: "And beat 'em."

At the approach of the crucial month of October, when military strength in the Persian Gulf will reach its peak, Iraq is betting that the United States and its allies do not have the moral strength to risk thousands of casualties by attacking Iraq.

Glenn Wynwood and 3,000 others like him are Iraq's war insurance. They are scattered around the country at factories, military bases, dams, electrical plants, even Saddam International Airport -- all likely bombing targets.

Diplomats said the Iraqis have been reshuffling the foreign hostages in recent days, mixing nationalities and taking people away to other installations their presence is designed to protect.

The effect is that any U.S. bombing raid would be certain to kill not only American hostages but also those of U.S. allies -- a tactic which is apparently aimed at getting the allies to pressure the United States out of attacking.

But foreign diplomats here, in effect themselves hostages who cannot leave as long as their country's nationals are being held as human shields, are convinced that war looks inevitable.

"War has gone from being a possibility to a probability," said one diplomat.

Another diplomat, bitter and hostile after almost two months of tension, growled of the Iraqis:

"These guys are courting vaporization."

In the Iraqi news media, however, there is no hint of the damage that could be inflicted to Iraqi nation. Instead, Iraqi citizens are fed a steady news diet of Arab shows of solidarity with Iraq.

"People here don't have any idea what's arrayed in the Saudi desert," said a foreign analyst.

Amid all the dire talk of war, there are surreal moments that would be laughable were they not so poignant.

Several thousand young children were bused Saturday to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad for an orchestrated demonstration urging President Bush to call off the troops.

At the end, four teachers escorted 15 toddlers, ages 18 months to 2 years, to the side door. Like hens with their chicks, they fluttered around their charges and made them hold hands so they would not be separated.

One young boy wearing a Mickey and Minnie Mouse T-shirt carried a sign reading in English, "No to British decision to blockade Iraq."

Another boy, who was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the word "American" spelled out in red, white and blue colors, carried an olive branch.

At the door, the children giggled and squirmed while one of the teachers handed an embassy official a statement calling for the United States to end the economic blockade.

The official smiled and said, "Thank you."

Then one of the teachers instructed the children, "Wave bye-bye."

As the official turned to walk back into the embassy, the children chorused, "Bye-bye. Bye-bye."

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