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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Furtive Franks misses out on kebabs in Palestine Hotel

Furtive Franks misses out on kebabs in Palestine Hotel


The elusive Sheikh Yaíerbuti spotted outside a Baghdad palace belonging to the even more elusive Saddam Hussein.

Editor's note: The Post's energetic yet slightly weary senior Iraq correspondent,

Sheikh Ya'erbuti, writes in his final missive from Iraq about the post-war preparations,

Palestine Airlines, and Waqil, who has resurfaced after several weeks in the desert.

He filed this piece on April 21.

BAGHDAD: In one corner, combatants of the self-styled militia known as the Free Iraq

Forces are holding court. A Muslim cleric and his entourage sweep past soldiers in

full battledress while a middle-aged man hustles whisky out of a plastic bag.

A marine yells: "Clear a path," as General James Mattis tries to leave.

But the order is ignored by the hundreds who fill the hotel lobby. His bodyguards

deploy the butts of their M-16 assault rifles to force an exit.

Cameras flash and journalists shove microphones under the noses of ranking military

in the hope of securing an elusive quote. No one is quite sure whether General Tommy

Franks will pop in for a kebab.

A mix of cigarette smoke and the aroma of Turkish coffee fill the air as a bleary-eyed

soldier twinkles the ivories on a beaten up piano. He attempts As Time Goes By, then

settles for Chopsticks.

It's rush hour at the Palestine Hotel, where the end of war in Iraq has delivered

a circus of characters that would test the imagination of any Hollywood scriptwriter.

The Palestine is not quite the Ritz in Paris after World War II, but its atmosphere

is comparable with the al-Rashid in the first Gulf War, or even Saigon's Continental

or Phnom Penh's Le Royal during the Vietnam War era.

It is, however, a little more dangerous: gunfire is common, there are looters aplenty,

and nobody is riding the elevators that tend to free-fall between the third and 15th

floors and have been rather aptly dubbed Palestine Airlines.

Between those floors, self-interest is the fastest horse. One Iraqi has declared

himself mayor of Baghdad, another the governor of Iraq. Neither has told the US military

but they argue their positions were authenticated by interviews they gave on CNN

where veteran correspondent Peter Arnett has been seen hanging around since NBC relieved

him of his last command. Arnett was most recently seen freelancing for a Greek television


Outside the Marines have pitched their tents and are giving themselves a pat on the

back for a job well done. Except for Colonel Joe Dowdy, who I can say was relieved

of his post for failing to "combine all the elements of a combat regiment and

running it at a tempo comparable to the war".

That's according to his boss. I guess Colonel Dowdy failed to impose his will.

My subversive friend Waqil, last spotted in northern Kuwait, is now selling over-fermented

beer at seven bucks a can which he stores in Spit's camel bag. Spit proved rather

popular among the British officers in Basra and is undecided about leaving. Waqil

is demanding four months backpay - cheeky sod doesn't appreciate my best wishes.

But pleasingly, this war is drawing to a close.

You know how I can tell? Those detestable do-gooders have started showing up, disguised

as NGOs with their usual opinions, well-honed from the backpacker hostels on Kao

Sanh Road in Bangkok.

For the military, our main point of contact for the entire war is now a Corporal

John Hoellwarth who at 22, some people argue, is a little young for the post. I like

the lad, but did raise an eyebrow when a lovely 16-year-old sauntered past prompting

John to quip: "Wow, she looks just like Jasmine in the cartoon series Aladdin."

He then confirmed that a string of Saddam's henchmen had been arrested, no weapons

of mass destruction had been found, and more civilians were killed. But he couldn't

restore the nearest electricity grid first to allow us a hot bath.

Once again it is chic to be anti-American and anti-war. That is a good thing for

the folks in Syria and North Korea, though I remain uncertain whether Iraq's ousted

strongman Saddam Hussein is still grateful for their previous efforts.

Thus I have packed my bags and booked myself on the next flight to Beirut. Waqil

shan't be needed unless he apologizes for being greedy. Spit shall follow: I simply

won't allow those Brits in Basra to take advantage of his sensitive side.

Speaking of sensitive sides, I do remember Colonel Rick Thomas (he who cannot be

quoted) telling me at the start of all this that we would be embedded with the military

for life and the current noises about Syria are irritating. Ricky and I will not

meet again. Next time I shall ensure total coverage, from the Hotel Maurice in Paris.

Until next time, dear readers - and there will be a next time, perhaps Cambodia for

the elections? - I bid you a fond farewell and look forward to meeting the legions

in your fine capital's bars. S.Y.



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