Friday, March 28, 2003

1130: Our first sighting of US Special Forces. We've come across a convoy of 8 heavily armed Humvees near the village of Sayyid Sadiq. Villagers are waving at them and smiling as they speed along the road. The Specials seem to be heading towards the moutains above Halabja we visited earlier this week to spearhead the offensive against Ansar Al-Islam, the militant group allegedly linked to Al Qaeda. We’ve overtaken and are a few clicks ahead of them. We tried to stop and film them but were prevented from doing so by a Land Cruiser full of PUK Peshmerga.

1215: We’re creeping up a switchback near the Ansar Al Islam front line. Peshmerga on either side of the road are packing heavy machine guns, anti-aircraft rockets and mortars. The Thuraya satphone rings. It’s London, asking whether Jim can go live. I explain that our position is somewhat hairy. Stopping two jeeps with “TV” written on them in bright orange letters might not be such a good idea. I’ll call in when it’s safer. London’s tone suggests they’re put out, as though we’re being deliberately awkward. Welcome to the 24 hour news age.

1600: I’m sitting in the jeep in the village of Ahmed Awa, next to what remains of a former military headquarters for the Islamic group Komola. The Komola forces left yesterday and this morning PUK Peshmerga moved in. The Australian cameraman Paul Moran was killed at a checkpoint just a few hundred yards away, although when he was here the area was under Islamist control. Now, the Ansar and Komola fighters have moved further back into the hills behind me. They’re being pounded from the air and from the ground by PUK mortars. The valley is echoing with a steady boom. Every once in a while, Land Cruisers full of Peshmerga come down the mountain road, carrying their wounded. The Peshmerga are in celebratory mood, though. With the support of US planes and special forces they believe Ansar is doomed.

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