Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Today's Fascinating Amputee Fact: There is a Patron Saint for those with missing limbs -- St Anthony of Padua.

Quite what the connection is between the 13th century Franciscan priest and people who have had their legs chopped off remains unclear. I suspect it may have been a bit of an afterthought because St Anthony would seem to be the busiest saint in Christendom. He is also the patron saint of (wait for it)....

Against shipwrecks, against starvation, American Indians, animals, asses, barrenness, boatmen, Brazil, domestic animals, elderly people, expectant mothers, faith in the Blessed Sacrament, fishermen, harvests, horses, Lisbon, lost articles, lower animals, mail, mariners, oppressed people, Padua, Italy, paupers, poor people, Portugal, pregnant women, sailors, seekers of lost articles, shipwrecks, swineherds, Tigua Indians, travel hostesses, travellers, watermen.

Does the man ever sleep?

So, I'm in esteemed company along with Tonto, Ronaldo, gypsies, pensioners, Desert Orchid, air hostesses, your pet dog Rover...oh yes, and the good people of Lisbon. I feel so much better knowing that. And while I'm at it, can anyone explain to me what a "lower animal" is? And how can mail have its own patron saint? Does a letter from the Reader's Digest, informing you that you've won $50,000 really need spiritual guidance?

As a Catholic schoolboy I was always told to pray to Saint Anthony when I lost something and he would intervene to help me find it. Taking this to its logical conclusion I assume this means that if I pray to him now he'll help me find my missing foot. Cheers, St A, but I already know where it is. It's in a sack of contaminated surgical waste in the bins behind the BUPA hospital in Cardiff.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Belatedly, because I haven't got around to scanning them before now, here are a couple of recent newspaper articles based on interviews I've given:

Sunday Express
The Mirror

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Anyone who watched Fox News during the war will understand just how scarily close to the mark this spoof from The Onion is:

The Onion -- New Fox Reality Show To Determine Ruler of Iraq

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

As if a get well card from the Welsh First Minister Rhodri Morgan wasn't enough, this morning I received a hand-written letter from the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw. I am most definitely not worthy.

Jack Straw Letter Page 1
Jack Straw Letter Page 2

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This blog can now be accessed through the easier to remember URL (although it'll download with annoying banner ads because I'm too much of a cheapskate to pay to have them removed.)

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

A riveting docco on BBC4 last night about Robert Capa, the war photographer who famously said that "if your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough."

BBC4's Capa minisite is well worth exploring.

I've been meaning to mention Robert Capa for a while now because the links between him and Kaveh are striking. Not only was Kav a huge Capa fan but he was also awarded the Robert Capa Gold Medal in 1979 for his coverage of the Iranian revolution for Time magazine.

The most tragic irony of all is that Capa and Kaveh ultimately met the same fate. Both died in war zones after stepping on a landmine.

"This is going to be a beautiful story," Capa said just hours before he was killed by a mine in Vietnam. Those words could just as easily have been Kaveh's.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Soren Ryherd of Providence, Rhode Island, points out that Hossein Derakshan, the author of the BBC Persian Service article about this blog is an Iranian living in Toronto. He runs the Editor: Myself weblog, covering "Iran, technology and pop culture."

Hossein is closely monitoring the case of Sina Motallebi, a journalist who's being detained by the Iranian authorities.

Hossein's article Weblogs, an Iranian perspective is a fascinating insight into how the internet is having an impact on Iranian society and culture.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

On March 3rd I vented my spleen about the peace activists who travelled to Baghdad to volunteer as human shields -- then swiftly high-tailed it when they realised that Baghdad at that time was actually quite a dangerous place to be. I came in for a fair bit of flak over my comments.

Nearly two months on, Kim Sengupta catches up with the muesli munchers in today's Independent. Their protest seems just as futile to me now as it did then.

I don't normally read the Indy that closely but also of interest in today's paper is a piece about the war of words between the BBC and the right-wing press over the Corporation's coverage of the War.

What I really can't work up any excitement about, though, is the Guardian's front page story about the chocolate firm Cadbury's launching a promotion whereby tokens can be exchanged for sporting goods. I felt the opening paragraph: "The chocolate manufacturer Cadbury is launching a £9m campaign to persuade children to buy 160m chocolate bars, containing nearly 2m kg of fat, in exchange for "free" sports equipment for their schools. It says the initiative will help to tackle obesity." was really stretching it. Pass the Dairy Milk, will you.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

A strange thing has happened over the last 48 hours.

Me and Mr Stumpy (or is it Mr Stumpy and I?) have started getting on with one another. I won't claim I'm delighted that he's a part of my life. I'd be much happier if I'd never clapped eyes of him. But, slowly, very slowly, I'm coming to accept him.

A few weeks ago the mere sight of my residual limb had me recoiling. Now, my response is a resigned shrug of the shoulders.

I'm still trying not to think too far ahead. The thought of waking up every morning -- in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years time -- without a foot is still too much to contemplate. But on a day to day basis I'm coping. At first, the simple things were the hardest -- looking at the injury, touching it, pulling on a pair of trousers and seeing just one foot poke through the bottom. With time, all these things are becoming more natural. Not quite second nature yet, but getting there.

Here's a record of our latest encounter, which comes with the usual "not for the squeamish" health warning.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

Monday, April 28, 2003

As a patriotic Welshman, it's not a telegram from the Queen that makes me glow with pride, it's the arrival of a get well card from Wales's First Minister Rhodri Morgan. I'm going to frame it and hang it on the wall next to my signed photo of Max Boyce.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

BBC News Online reports that Prima ballerina Darcey Bussell will miss the rest of the Royal Ballet's Covent Garden season because she has to undergo an operation on her foot.

The Northern Iraq and Beyond weblog can confirm that club-footed toss pot Stuart Hughes will also miss the rest of the Royal Ballet's Covent Garden season because he has undergone an operation on his foot, which has resulted in it going missing.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

A wealth of top class, timely articles in today's Guardian.

Michael Howard's report on the landmine situation in Northern Iraq is essential reading, even if the Daily Mirror did the same story a week ago. Howard reports that "In the two weeks after the cessation of hostilities on the northern frontline, which divided the Kurdish self-rule area from government-controlled territory, as many as 80 civilians have died and more than 500 have been injured (because of landmines)." Tell me about it.

Also of interest is the piece by the ubiquitous Dr Raj Persaud on incidents of post-traumatic stress among journalists. It's a thought-provoking read, although I disagree with his possible explanation for the increasing number of fatalities among war correspondents. He says that: "One theory is that journalists are driven to take greater risks by rising competitive pressures." As I said in the piece I wrote after the accident, the media market is extremely competitive but the correspondents I have worked with in hostile environments take calculated risks where necessary without putting their lives or the lives of local staff at risk.

Thirdly in today's fun-packed Guardian is Armando Iannucci's analysis of the media's role in Gulf War 2. Iannucci's argument: "The decision to embed reporters with troops led to great footage but lousy reportage. No reporter, his or her life literally being protected by the military round them, was going to file a report saying "the troops I'm living with are disgruntled. Their equipment doesn't work, they're probably blowing up children, and one or two of them are going to die." Instead, objectivity melted faster than a division of the Republican Guard, and these seekers of the truth were reduced to gasping excited commentaries such as "over there, some bastard Iraqis are firing on us. If, in a few minutes' time, some of these wonderful men of Britannia to whom I've pledged my daughter don't shoot them in the guts, then I'm damn well going to do it myself."

Good stuff.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

Been there, done that....

Reading about and watching National Geographic's 50th anniversary coverage of the first ascent of Everest got me wondering. What about the first ever amputee ascent of the world's highest peak? Nice idea -- and like all the best ideas it has already been done. On May 27th 1998, Tom Whittaker, who lost his foot in a car accident, got to the top -- becoming the first "disabled" person to do so.

ESPN -- Overcoming Everest: Disabled Climber Tom Whittaker Reflects

If that weren't enough, Tom Whittaker is also from Wales!! And another Celtic Everest Connection....Chomolungma was named Mount Everest in 1865 after Sir George Everest, surveyor general of India, who've guessed it.....Welsh! From Gwernvale in Breconshire to be precise.

Whittaker was followed 3 years later by Erik Weihenmayer from Denver, Colorado who at the age of 32 became the first blind person to reach the summit of Everest. Erik lists his hobbies as "rock climbing, diving, wrestling and dirt bikes." Just thinking about him exhausts me.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

Sunday, April 27, 2003

In a couple of recent postings I've mentioned America's failure to sign the Ottawa Treaty on the production, stockpiling and use of landmines as well of reports of American involvement in landmine production.

However, last May the BBC pointed to a British connection in the landmine trade.

A Today programme investigation claimed that a Derbyshire company, PW defence Limited offered to sell a reporter a batch of fragmentation grenades and trip wires, which are banned under the Ottawa Convention and outlawed in the UK under the 1998 Land Mines Act.

In response to the investigation, PW Defence's owners, the Chemring Group, issued the following statement:
"Chemring maintains policies and procedures to ensure compliance with all applicable regulatory requirements, including proper vetting of proposed sales. Chemring ceased manufacture and sale of this type of tripwire five years ago. We subsequently ceased manufacture of this type of fragmentation grenade and the final sale was made in May 1999."

However, the campaign group Landmine Action said: “We have solid proof that at the very least PW Defence have been actively marketing anti-personnel landmines....That a British company should flout this ban is not only criminal but also inhumane." Landmine Action also accused the British government of not doing enough to implement the UK's obligations under the Ottawa Treaty.

Related Articles
BBC News Online -- Police to probe landmine 'sales'
Guardian -- UK firm accused of selling landmines
Landmine Action Press Release -- ‘Attempt to sell illegal landmines’ – new evidence contradicts UK company’s claims

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

Thanks to Shirin Sadeghi, who answered my call for a translation of the article about the blog on the BBC Persian Service website.

Ominously for me, the article ends with the sentence: "His readers can email him in order to publicly express their opinions of his writings." Note to all Persian readers -- spare yourselves the trouble. You don't have to e-mail me to tell me my writings are crap. I'm already well aware of the fact.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

Saturday, April 26, 2003

As if I hadn't suffered enough already, I got to spend the afternoon watching Cardiff City hold Wigan to a nil-nil draw at Ninian Park. In the rain.

Photo at Ninian Park

My favourite Cardiff player -- Andy Legg (geddit?!)

South Wales Echo -- Bluebirds seal play-off spot

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

I think I may have started something.

Nephew Ben, delighted at seeing his last work displayed on the blog, has been hard at work on a new canvas of his limbless uncle:

Not only that but he's taken to mimicing my every move. I hop across the lounge between wheelchair and sofa -- he hitches up his right foot and copies me. I slide up and down the stairs on my backside -- he follows suit. Far from being scared by my predicament, he now seems to find it rather cool.

Not to be outdone, Ben's 12 year old brother Alessandro has also been depicting my amputation through the medium of art. I was particularly taken by the scar on my face. When I asked him why I was saying that my ears were ringing he explained that: "it's because you stepped on a landmine and the explosion has made you deaf." At least I think that's what he said. I couldn't quite hear him because I stepped on a landmine and the explosion has made me deaf.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

The pain starts as soon as I lie down.

It's usually a burning sensation, like someone's doused my foot in petrol and set it alight. Except the foot's not there any more.

It's followed by a sharp stabbing, six inch nails being driven through the soles of my absent foot.

Sometimes the pain is less intense and it's more like pins and needles or cramp, as though I've kept my leg in the same position for too long.

I press lightly on the bottom of my stump and the sensations start to ease, as though the nerve endings have been given something to occupy their attention.

I fall asleep with my stump cradled between my hands.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

One of the main priorities since my accident has been to get back on the road.

My stick-shift Citroen isn't suited to life with one leg, so yesterday I went for a preparatory assessment to see what car I'll need now the number of feet available to drive has been halved.

The assessor told me I'll need an automatic with the pedals switched round so I can operate them with my left foot instead of my right.

My choice of replacement vehicle to reflect my changed circumstances -- the General Motors Hummer H2, based on the US Army Humvee.

A snip at $55,000 and boasting a gutsy 10 miles per gallon it's as well suited to the narrow country lanes of Britain as it is to the highways of Iraq. It sends out a message: GET OUT OF MY WAY. I MAY ONLY HAVE ONE FOOT BUT I'M STILL A MAN. I CAN RUN YOU OFF THE ROAD ANY TIME I FUCKING CHOOSE.

What I need to find out now is whether the pedals on it can be modified for one-legged drivers.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond
I knew I should have paid more attention during those Persian lessons in school because the BBC Persian Service has picked up on the blog. A translation from any Farsi speakers out there would be very welcome....

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

Friday, April 25, 2003

So you wanna be a snapper?

This photo was taken by Patrick Baz from Agence France Presse in Baghdad's Palestine Hotel on 8th April. 5 people, including a Spanish cameraman and 3 Reuters staff were wounded when the hotel was hit during fighting between Iraqi and US troops.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond
Claire H points out that my Fox News colleagues have been rootin' rootin' and a-lootin' their way around Iraq:

BBC News Online -- Newsman on Iraq looting charge

Guess this means I should take Saddam's teak humidor and Uday's tennis racket off E-Bay. Damn.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond


For refusing to quit despite having his leg gnawed off by Delphinapterus leucas, my very first Amputee of the Week award goes to the ass-kicking Cap'n Ahab from Moby Dick.

This exchange between the Captain and the ship's carpenter, who is fashioning him a new artificial leg, uncannily reminds me of a conversation I had with my prosthetist just the other day:

"Look ye, carpenter, I dare say thou callest thyself a right good workmanlike workman, eh? Well, then, will it speak thoroughly well for thy work, if, when I come to mount this leg thou makest, I shall nevertheless feel another leg in the same identical place with it; that is, carpenter, my old lost leg; the flesh and blood one, I mean. Canst thou not drive that old Adam away?" "Truly, sir, I begin to understand somewhat now. Yes, I have heard something curious on that score, sir; how that a dismasted man never entirely loses the feeling of his old spar, but it will still be pricking him at times. May I humbly ask if it really be so, sir?"

Cap'n Ahab -- you rock.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

"Non-lethal" landmines, anyone?

AFP: And now for...electric shock landmines

and Jordan takes action to destroy the last of its landmines produced in guess which country?

Kingdom detonates 5,790 mines in last stockpile clearing effort

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Big thanks to Xeni Jardin for inviting me to take part this evening in the Emerging Technology Conference seminar on the Warblogging phenomenon. Hell, I've never been part of a phenomenon before.

Anyway, now the war's all but over, surely the phenomenon -- such as it was -- is so last month. The next big thing.....Amputee Blogging.

And Xeni, as I'm on the subject....while you're editing The Reverse Cowgirl's Blog you really need to explore the amputee devotee scene. Actually, on second thoughts, you really don't.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

Art therapy for my five year old nephew, Ben, who has proved just how adaptable kids are.

We've been careful with him, getting him used to his new-look uncle slowly so as not to scare him.

When I was in hospital I kept Mr S tucked beneath a blanket so he couldn't see it. We just wanted him to know I was still the same person as before.

When I was discharged I kept the plaster cast hidden under my trouser leg. I asked him if he wanted to look at the cast but he backed off, afraid of the unknown. Aileen came up with the brilliant idea of drawing a face on the cast to make it more approachable. Within minutes, Ben had got his felt tip pen out and was happily writing his name on it.

Now, a week after the cast was removed, you'd have thought nothing had happened. When he comes over he gleefully shouts "UNCLE STUART HAS ONLY GOT ONE FOOT. THE OTHER ONE WAS BLOWN OFF IN THE WAR. HA! HA! HA! HA!" He's right, of course, and it doesn't seem to bother him one bit.

In fact, he's even drawn a picture of me, on crutches, complete with missing foot. I like the fact that he's drawn me with a smiley face.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Dr Hughes is in. Today's case.

A trip to the Betty Ford Clinic is overdue for Cindy C, who reports that she's "addicted" to this weblog.

Cindy Writes:
"It is my daily reality check, and one which I highly recommend to those who spend all their time whining and complaining and bitching because they didn't get the raise they wanted, or didn't get the VP position, or didn't buy the right cell phone, or the girl at the deli had a snarky attitude this morning."

Cindy...if you're using me as a reality gauge you need urgent medical help. Take two of these tablets and go sit in a darkened room until you feel better.

Next patient please.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

Vicky came to call this afternoon. She took a look at Mr S and gave him a gentle squeeze.

Vicky reckons the stump looks and feels like a woman's breast -- and a nice one at that.

Now she mentions it, she's absolutely why am I treating it so warily?! I should be giving it a damn good fondle.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

Phantom sensations.

People just can't stop asking about it. In fact, some people are obsessed with the subject in a "Legless Stu's World of the Strange" sort of a way. If you're that interested get you're own fucking foot chopped off and then you'll know what it's like!!

OK, OK. Phanton sensations. A guide for the two-legged.

Let's start with yet another definition. The Amputee Coalition of America (membership $30 per annum) describes phantom sensations as "any type of sensation which the amputee experiences in the portion of the limb that has been removed. It can include: tingling, warmth, cold, pain, cramping, constriction, and any other imaginable sensation."

Close your eyes. Think about your feet. What are they doing? Are they itching? Tickling? Sore? If I close my eyes I can feel exactly the same things -- except in my case I've only got one foot. If I were to try to locate the sensations I'd say they were at the bottom of my leg in my heel/ankle/toes. Except they're not there any more. It's the strangest thing. My head knows the foot's not there but it still interprets the sensations as though it were.

Apparently this really freaks some people out. To be honest, it doesn't bother me that much. I've been given all sorts of useless advice like "if you get phantom sensations in your missing foot, scratch the other foot instead." This was probably dreamt up by the person who said "don't pull a face because if the wind changes you'll be stuck like that forever." It doesn't help one bit.

What is weird is when I instruct my brain to make my toes wiggle. I know they're wiggling, even if no one else does.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

Another unexpected benefit of only having one foot comes in an e-mail from Gavin Bell who notes that "annoying sounds of toenail clipping will be reduced by 50%" A fair point well made.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

A day of small steps, giant leaps....and a new acronym to add to my increasingly bulging dictionary of amputee-speak.

Today's new word -- a "PPAM," defined thus: "A Pneumatic Post Amputation Mobility Aid is an inflatable device (not a prosthesis) that is used in the UK by physiotherapists as part of the rehabilitation programme prior to prosthetic rehabilitation." I hope you're keeping up. There'll be a test later.

Basically a PPAM is a cross between a sock and a bicycle inner tube. It sounds and looks ridiculous, but that's part of the fun of it.

Jo my physio stuffed the thing over old Mr S, gave it a few puffs with a bicycle pump and instructed me to rise from my chariot. For the first time in three weeks I was able to walk on two feet (or one foot and a great big marigold glove to be more precise). It looked absurd but felt fantastic. For the first time since the operation I was able to think "aha, I WILL walk again", although hopefully in time it'll be with something more graceful than a PPAM.

Despite these small triumphs, me and Mr S still aren't seeing completely eye to eye. I'm trying to make friends with him but it's taking time. I still treat him warily. My foot's been replaced by a smooth, round.....hate the word but I'm going to saying it anyway....stump. It's actually quite aesthetically pleasing. The nurses coo over how healthy and well it looks. Still, it's not my foot. I know I'm still grieving for my lost limb. Over the weekend we played the popular amputee parlour game "how much would you pay to get your leg back?" I'd pay almost anything -- but it's not going to happen.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

Nurse, where's my soapbox.
(Sound of box being dragged stage left)
Thank you.

Right then.

If you've been following the blog for any length of time you'll be aware that landmines are Not Cool.

Even so, what's happening in Northern Iraq at the moment is shocking. In fact, it's downright grotesque.

According to my friends at the Mines Advisory Group, 52 people have been killed and 63 injured by landmines and unexploded ordnance in Kirkuk -- near to where I was injured -- in just one week. Most of the deaths and injuries involve children.

This photo is heart-breaking -- but it's the true face of what landmines are doing to children in warzones around the world. Nine-year old Arkin found a landmine near his house. Not knowing what it was, he picked it up and it exploded. The blast destroyed an arm, a hand and both eyes. Doctors doubt he will survive. What's happened to him makes my injury look like flesh wound.

MAG is the only mine clearance organisation working in Northern Iraq. They need your help.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

An entry in Lisa English's blog makes me howl with laughter, perhaps not intentionally.

She describes this blog as "warm, no bullshit and funny, in that lovely sort of post-landmine macabre way." Oh yes THAT lovely sort of post-landmine macabre way, how could I have forgotten. You think it's funny -- I haven't stopped pissing myself since the amputation (he said with a large dollop of irony.)

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

My top ten choice of optional attachments for my new leg:
10. Water Pistol
9. Periscope
8. Shovel
7. Golf club
6. Fishing Rod
5. Circular Saw
4. Lawn Strimmer
3. Dust Buster
2. Vibrator
1. Kebab

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

Monday, April 21, 2003

The Daily Mirror has an excellent double page spread today about the landmine situation in Northern Iraq, along with a couple of quotes from me.

In the past week, 52 people have been killed and 63 injured by mines and unexploded munitions around Kirkuk.

Read the article -- then get off your arse and do something!

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

The reason I haven't written much this past weekend:

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

Thanks to Whiterook for putting the following link on the message board.

Pieces of Eight Skydiving Team.

What he doesn't make clear is whether these guys were missing limbs BEFORE they started skydiving!

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

Spent the afternoon at the National Gallery in Cardiff.

I was particularly impressed by Rodin's sculpture "Female Trans-Tibial Amputee Checks Out Her Stump" -- at least I THINK that's what it was called.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

I'm learning a whole new vocabulary, a secret lexicon known only to amputees and prosthetists. A few weeks ago I didn't know my AK (above knee) from my BK (below knee), a symes (an amputation at the ankle or through the foot) from a neuroma (the end of a nerve left after amputation.) Now I'm becoming fluent in amp-speak.

I learnt today that I'm a BK or "trans-tibial" amputee and, like a new washing machine, I come with my own instruction manual. It seems that more than 50% of amputations are below the knee. I'm as common as muck.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond
Please don't think I'm turning into Michael Moore. My sense of humour is still intact and the usual light-hearted dispatches on life as an amputee landmine victim will return soon enough. However, as part as my "Stu gets up to speed on landmine issues" crusade I've been reading up on the Ottawa Treaty, the "convention on the prohibition of the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of antipersonnel mines and on their destruction." It became part of international law on March 1st 1999.

Some facts:
* It is estimated that more than 110 million active mines are scattered in 68 countries with an equal number stockpiled around the world waiting to be planted.
* Landmines maim or kill one person every 22 minutes. That's more than 20,000 people a year.
* 30 to 40% of landmine victims are children.
* For every mine cleared, 20 are laid.
* Anti-personnel mines are priced at $3 to $30 each. The cost to the international community of neutralizing them ranges from $300 to $1000.

(source United Nations.)

Article 1 of the Ottawa Treaty commits countries never under any circumstances:
* To use anti-personnel mines.
* To develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer to anyone, directly or indirectly, anti-personnel mines
* To destroy or ensure the destruction of all anti-personnel mines.

As of April 1st 2003, 146 countries had signed the Ottawa Treaty (source Landmine Survivors Network)

Countries which have not signed the Ottawa Treaty include Russia, China, India, Pakistan.....oh yes, and the United States (source United Nations.)

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

Can you believe this T-shirt?!

It's this Spring's essential fashion item.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Especially for the ice hockey crowd, I think I may have found what I'm looking for here and here!

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

Doing some research into landmine producers I came across a delightful American company called Alliant Techsystems, based in Minnesota.

Alliant Techsystems (ATK) says it is "a $2.1 billion aerospace and defense company with leading positions in propulsion, composite structures, munitions, and precision capabilities."

On its website, ATK publishes its values statement, "developed," it says, " by employees across the company to help capture the essence of the spirit that drives our work performance."

The values are:

Always Ethical
We are committed to conducting business in an ethically and socially responsible manner. Our constituents — customers, shareholders, colleagues, and communities — can depend on us to deliver what we forecast, what we predict, and what we promise.

Target Excellence
We are dedicated to excellence and continuous improvement in ourselves and our products, processes, technologies, and systems — quality in everything we do.

Customer Satisfaction
We provide value to our customers by helping them achieve 100-percent mission success.

Shareholder Value
We make ATK our business by acting, thinking, and making decisions as owners. We pursue efficiencies to be competitive and promote financial growth for employees and shareholders.

Key on Employees
Employee performance is the driving force behind our business success. As the most valuable of company assets, employees are recognized and rewarded for their intellect, creativity, and contributions to our success.

Our first consideration is the safety of our employees. We are committed to ensuring that our facilities are in order, procedures are accurate, employees are trained, and attitudes are solid for safety.

We value and respect all people for who they are, for their differing opinions and viewpoints, for the way they think, and for the way they do things. Our goal is to build on the strengths of our differences.

Corporate Citizenship
It is our duty and privilege to invest and volunteer in the communities in which we live and do business. We are committed to protecting the environment in all of our business activities.

One of the products produced by ATK is the Volcano, a "modular mine delivery system for dispensing of antitank mines from a variety of five-ton dump and cargo trucks, the UH-60 helicopter, and the M548A1 tracked cargo carrier."

According to the Minnesota Medical Association, ATK is the major producer of landmines in the United States.

In a Human Rights Watch Report, ATK was identified as a "recalcitrant producer," one of 30 US companies which rejected HRW's humanitarian appeal to forego any future production of antipersonnel mine components. HRW says that "Alliant was awarded DoD antipersonnel and antitank landmine production contracts worth $336 million in 1985-95; its Wisconsin subsidiary Accudyne Corp. was awarded similar contracts worth $150 million in 1985-95; and its New Jersey subsidiary Ferrulmatic was awarded a $72,000 contract in 1985 for the M128 Volcano landmine dispenser."

The CEO of ATK insisted some years ago that "It is irresponsible to imply in any way that companies such as Alliant Techsystems have contributed to the world's landmine problems. To do so wrongly maligns responsible U.S. citizens, and diverts resources that could be applied toward stigmatizing the governments that violate international law."

On April 2nd, Kaveh Golestan was killed in Northern Iraq by an anti-tank mine of unknown origin. On the same day, shares in ATK closed at $53.08.

Read more at Minnesota Alliant Action.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

I'm boycotting the Personal Exercise Program put together by my physiotherapist due to its blatant foot-ist bias.

Take the following examples:

"Lift the upper leg straight up with ankle flexed and the heel leading the movement." What ankle? What heel?

"Lift lower leg 10-20cm from the floor keeping toes pointed forward." If I had toes to point, they'd be facing forward but unfortunately they were cut off a fortnight ago.

"Bend your ankles and push your knees down firmly against the bed." Surely that should read ankle SINGULAR?!

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

News of another landmine victim from Iraq here.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

Some unexpected benefits of only having one foot:
1) My feet only smell half as much.
2) I don't have to wash my socks as often.
3) Half price pedicures.
4) Less fluff collects between my toes.
5) I'll no longer trip people up in cinemas by blocking the aisles with my lanky right leg.
6) Less need for legroom on aircraft = more room for bags of duty free.
7) Wearing two left shoes won't feel uncomfortable.
8) Bottles of L'Oreal Leg Firming Gel will last a third longer.
9) Significant tactical advantages when playing hopscotch.
10) Fewer toes to stub.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

Saturday, April 19, 2003

BREAKING NEWS. American special forces locate Iraqi President in Las Vegas cabaret lounge. Exclusive pictures here.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

Friday, April 18, 2003

Physical vulnerability.

That’s what’s affecting me at the moment.

During my teens and twenties I’d consider an action, send it to my brain and my body would react enthusiastically. Suddenly, that’s no longer the case. I can no longer rely on my body to carry out the wishes of my brain. The two are now frosty neighbours rather than the close friends they once were.

My body feels older somehow, like a battered and slightly unreliable car. When you put your key in the ignition you’re never quite sure whether it’s going to start first time and rev contentedly or sputter, give off a plume of acrid black smoke and then fall silent.

Mentally, I’m still the same person as before. Physically, though, I’ve changed and I’m just starting to realise how much.

SE says on the discussion board that “usually we’re so symmetrical.” That’s exactly it. Where once the two halves of my body felt identical, now I’m lop-sided. On one side my leg slips effortlessly down into an ankle and foot, which hugs the ground. On the other side it halts abruptly in mid-air.

Since the accident I’ve felt fallible, damaged, dare I say it……mortal.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Aileen's arrived for the weekend and she deserves a little attention after everything that's happened.

She's sitting next to me, reading BBC Wildlife magazine and has an answer to the pressing question -- why do catfish wink?

According to scientists, drawing the iris down helps the catfish to hide. The iris has a camoflagued surface and by winking the stark black outline is replaced with colouration that matches the catfish's body and the riverbed on which it lives. So now you know. Also, did you know that 100,000 hedgehogs are killed every year on the roads of Britain. The majority of roadkills in the mating season are of males seeking females. Male hedgehogs are known to become more reckless when seeking a mate, which will come as no surprise to female readers.

Here's something I've been meaning to post for a couple of days. It's Jim's tribute to Kaveh, written for an Iranian magazine. It made me laugh and cry -- it's just a wonderful, wonderful portrait of the man.

Jim Muir -- My Kaveh Golestan

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

In preparation for the interview I'm doing this morning for the Sunday Express, I read over the fact sheets I've been sent by the Mines Advisory Group (of whom much, much more to come.) I was drawn to one paragraph:

Following the PUK advance on Government of Iraq territory in the Kirkuk region, MAG sent Emergency Survey teams into the area to evaluate the mine situation. They found that:
* Extremely large and densely-laid minefields have been placed by Iraqi forces along and between main routes, and around their now abandoned military positions
* Limited clearance has been undertaken by Kurdish forces to enable them to advance on Iraqi positions. However this clearance has not reduced the level of threat to civilian populations and relief agencies as it was aimed at facilitating the military advance.
* MAG has identified the following mines: Valmara 69 (anti-personnel bounding fragmentation mine), PMN (anti-personnel blast mine) and VS 1.6 (anti-tank mine). These have been laid extensively to protect Iraqi front lines, across nearly all roads and access routes, and around key strategic points including many buildings and villages. which the voice in my head screamed "that'll teach you! Don't say you weren't warned." Yes, little voice, but I didn't read that a fortnight ago, did I?

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

The cast came off today -- but the elation at having the itchy plaster shell removed was soon replaced by a stomach-wrenching reality check.

Wrapped in his swaddling bands, it was somehow easier to pretend that Mr Stumpy wasn't really there. He was part of me but somehow detached. Once he'd broken free of his shackles though, standing there as naked as the day he was born, the truth was harder to deny. For the first time since the accident my brain clocked the fact: "YOU HAVE LOST YOUR FOOT. IT WILL NOT COME BACK. EVER." My gut reaction wasn't disgust or revulsion. I didn't feel the urge to run out of the room screaming "I'm a freak, I'm a freak" (not that I could have done much running if I'd wanted to.) It was just sheer, deep shock, pure as vodka. Where for the past 31 years there has been an unattractive, bony but functional foot and ankle, now there's nothing. I couldn't have prepared myself for the feeling if I'd tried.

Maybe it's voyeuristic, maybe tasteless, but I've tried to be honest since the day I started this blog. If people complain, I'll take it off without hestitation but for my own therapeutic purposes if nothing else, here's where I'm at. Please don't open the link if you're easily upset. If you're a regular reader you should know that I'm not out to shock but seeing as I make a living telling other peoples real-life stories it's only fair that I take the same approach with my own.

The nurse soon put Mr S back in his place (same health warning as before) but I still spent most of the afternoon shaking. Today's been a thousand times harder to cope with than the accident.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond
Maybe I've got a sick sense of humour but I find the following article absolutely hilarious:

BBC News Online -- Playboy son Uday's life of luxury

I've got visions of these US marines going back to their CO:
CO: "So, did ya get the enriched plutonium and the chemical weapons?"
Marine: "No Sir, but we got ourselves a humvee full of cuban cigars, heroin and pictures of prostitutes downloaded off the internet."
CO: "Yeah, but what about the evidence of a link with al Qaeda?"
Marine: "Never mind that, Sir. Major Rideout's got all the liquor you can drink -- and a whole bunch of Lladro porcelain. We're sorted for gifts to take home to the wife and the gold-plated Kalashnikovs are WAY cool."

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Wise words in an e-mail from Mary Wareham, Landmine Monitor with Human Rights Watch. She writes:

"You were quite fortunate in a number of ways. Someone was there to take you to the nearest emergency clinic; we still believe that half of the people who fall casualty to this weapon die within the first five minutes, usually from loss of blood and often because they are alone at the time of the incident (herding cattle, fetching water, etc). The town actually had a medical clinic and there was a real ambulance that took you to a hospital that I presume was able to treat your injuries; a lot of casualties don't have access to adequate transportation or medical facilities, especially if they are civilian.

I have several friends who have received terrible injuries to their feet as result of mine explosions, only to then undergo dozens more surgeries and a lifetime of difficulties. And then, after years, they have given up and opted for amputation, as it is really is often the best solution available. I understand that using a prosthetic limb can take some getting used to, but even with that you are lucky you’ll get one and probably a very nice one! I’ve seen some incredible makeshift limbs that survivors have made themselves since there was nothing available to them."

As Mary rightly points out, things could have been much, much worse. You can read more about Human Rights Watch's campaign to ban landmines here. The specific landmine situation in Iraq is covered here.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

My first session at the hideously named Artificial Limb and Appliance Centre, which sounds like a cross between a hospital and branch of Currys. Frankly, what they don't know about false limbs ain't worth knowing -- and by the time they're done with me I'll probably know it too.

Did you know, for example, that Dame Heather Mills-McCartney or whatever she calls herself nowadays buys her bespoke nail-varnished tootsies from Dorset Orthopaedic who are, it would seem, the Rigby and Peller of the amputee scene. Neither did I. Their website's bizarre -- a mixture of Sir Hardy Amies, Douglas Bader and Ann Summers.

According to another company, "amputation can be very stressful for the amputee as well as family and friends." No shit. I'm glad you warned me.

It's a whole different world, one I couldn't even have dreamt of being part of just a fortnight ago. But here I am. I was never one for sports cars or state of the art titanium golf clubs but I'm finding myself spending hours looking at brochures for Carbon X prostheses with Truly Active Heel, Active Tibial Progression and Proportional Response. I really REALLY want one -- all my friends have got one.

My hero du jour is Van Phillips, inventor of the magnificent Flex Foot. He's a revolutionary in the field of lower limb prosthetics, don't you know. Sorry, am I boring you?

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

Lest We Forget -- Journalists Killed In Iraq
Jose Couso, Tele Cinco cameraman
Taras Protsyuk, Reuters cameraman
Tareq Ayyoub, Al-Jazeera cameraman
Julio Anguita Parrado, reporter for Spanish newspaper El Mundo
Christian Liebig, journalist for German Focus magazine
Terry Lloyd, ITN correspondent
Paul Moran, freelance Australian cameraman
Kaveh Golestan, BBC cameraman
Michael Kelly American journalist and Washington Post columnist
Kamaran Abdurazaq Muhamed, BBC translator
Gaby Rado, Channel 4 News foreign affairs correspondent
David Bloom, NBC TV correspondent

"From time to time, God causes men to be born - and thou art one of them - who have a lust to go abroad at the risk of their lives and discover news - today it may be far-off things, tomorrow of some hidden mountain, and the next day of some near-by men who have done a foolishness against the state. These souls are very few; and of these few, not more than ten are of the best." -- Rudyard Kipling

Please consider helping:
The Rory Peck Trust
7 Southwick Mews
W2 1JG

"The Rory Peck Trust is the only charity in the world dedicated to promoting the work, safety and security of freelance media workers in news and current affairs broadcasting worldwide. The Trust subsidises training in hostile environments for freelancers, advises them on insurance and provides financial support to the families of those killed or seriously injured during the course of their work."

There, I'll stop rattling my collecting tin now.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

Many thanks to Xeni Jardin, Jason Goldman, Jason Shellen and the lovely human beings at Blogger, who -- I'm assured -- have upgraded my account after I threw my toys out of the pram yesterday. I send you warm greetings from the bottom of my residual limb!

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

I was in hospital when it was printed so thanks to Vicky for cutting out Jim's beautiful tribute to Kaveh in the Independent:

Kaveh Golestan -- Independent Obituary

Amid the tragedy, Kaveh's quote shines out. "I am a war photographer. It is in situations like this that I am truly me."

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

I'd Better Get Well Soon. Looks like the Axis of Evil roadshow could be heading towards Damascus soon. Can't we have a rest from touring? You guys are worse than the Grateful Dead. -- White House steps up criticism of Syria

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

Monday, April 14, 2003

The accident. Oh yes, the accident. I knew there was something I'd forgotten.

Taking a quick look at the site it dawned at me that one day I was farting about in Sulaymaniyah and the next I was lying in a hospital bed bemoaning my fate sans pied. Not much of a story teller, am I?

I should fill in the gaps, but the story's quite straightforward. Welshman wakes up, goes to work, steps on landmine, makes a mess, goes home and feels sorry for himself, to be continued.

I'll refrain from giving you my version, not because I'm too traumatised but because Jim's already told it exactly like it was in this article. I've got little to add except to the piece I wrote in hospital last week, which is here. If you need to know more, follow the links below. What am I -- your researcher?!

Media Guardian -- BBC producer has foot amputated
BBC -- Iraq journalist's leg amputated
Press Association -- Welsh Iraq journalist has leg amputated
Western Mail feature
Reuters -- BBC Cameraman Killed by Land mine in Iraq
BBC -- BBC cameraman dies in Iraq

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

The Spring blossom’s out in Cardiff.

Vicky came over from Bristol with a gift of fine Cuban cigars (US readers please note – I’m not supporting their economy, I’m burning their fields) and took me for a spin in Bute Park – my first outing beyond four hospital walls or the back garden. Very adventurous! It quickly became clear I need to trade in my wheelchair for a 4x4 model – mine’s hopeless off-road. Typical NHS – when’s New Labour going to start issuing SUV wheelchairs etc. etc. etc.

I also need to do something urgently about my sparrow-like biceps to enable to me wheel myself more than 50 yards without taking a rest. Hopeless.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond
A new name for the blog?

The Northern Iraq bit is just part of the story and hopefully, in time, the "beyond" bit will become more relevant. Happier too, I hope.

I'll give the whole site a fresh lick of paint with a new template when I get time -- not this week, I suspect.

Which reminds me....I've been e-mailing Blogger for days to try and get my subscription upgraded to a bigger, faster server but they haven't replied. Is there anyone out there with enough clout who can shame them into sorting out my upgrade to Blog*Spot 100??!!

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond

A disturbing thought from nowhere.

Am I now disabled?

It hadn’t occured to me for a second before. I had a bad accident, I’m recovering, and one day I’ll be well again. Except for one thing – that length of skin and bone that once stretched from midway down my right leg before taking a 90 degree turn and terminating in five stubby, hairy toes. It’s gone, never to return.

I never liked those toes very much anyway….but will they now define who I am? In the short term, almost certainly yes. For a while I’ll be a “wheelchair user” and am fully expecting to shout, in a loud voice “I’M NOT MENTALLY RETARDED. I JUST HAD BY FOOT BLOWN OFF BY AN IRAQI LAND MINE. I HAVE A DEGREE AND EVERYTHING AND I’M LEARNING ARABIC” at people on more than one occasion in the coming weeks.

But what about after that? If I were to enter the London Marathon (the chances of which were remote even BEFORE the accident) would I be labelled a disabled runner? My car will have an orange badge – a considerable perk in and around London for sure but another obvious label. I’ll be entitled to some sort of disability benefit from the state so I MUST be disabled, right? Maybe, but I’m not going to accept it. Anyone who calls me disabled gets struck off my Christmas card list ---- for life.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond
This e-mail from Marcelo in Brazil:

"Your case is very, very similar to one that occurred in the Vietnam war with Brazilian journalist José Hamílton Ribeiro, who by then worked at Realidade magazine. He is still active, and now he walks well with a prosthesis.

Once a dumb reporter asked him how was it like to keep working without a leg, and he said, spirituously: 'Not as easy as with both, but far easier than with four!'"

Jose sounds like the sort of guy I should find out more about.

Discuss Northern Iraq -- and Beyond
I'd like you all to meet my new friend, Mr Stumpy. He looks a little scary at first but once you get to know him you'll see that he's actually real friendly. He prefers being calls a "residual limb" but I don't go in for all that PC crap.

Discuss Northern Iraq Weblog

Sunday, April 13, 2003

There are some deeply moving photos of Kaveh's funeral online here, which give some sense of how loved he was and how much he'll be missed. I strongly urge you to take a look.

Discuss Northern Iraq Weblog
A bad night. As soon as my head hit the pillow the ants came out to play, setting up a five-a-side soccer tournament inside my plaster cast.

The itching became unbearable despite my frantic efforts to ease the pain while avoiding stabbing myself in the leg with a foot-long shoe horn. How those Egyptian Mummies managed, encased in the stuff for thousands of years in hot sarcophagi I just don't know.

Finally, I was forced to take a sleeping tablet in an attempt to stop myself from going completely insane. Thankfully, it worked. Roll on Wednesday -- cast removal day.

Discuss Northern Iraq Weblog

Saturday, April 12, 2003

Home at last -- of which, more tomorrow I'm sure. Right now I hope you'll understand if I spend 24 hours with my family rather than chained to the computer. You'll hear the whole story soon enough.

Before leaving hospital I took a sneaky peek at my medical records. For the past week I’ve been unable to face the thought of looking at my x-rays. They just seemed too gruesome to contemplate. When I did finally flick through them I was struck by just how much of my foot was still intact after the accident; the toes, metatarsals, all those other bones I should have learned about during biology GCSE.

Everything was still there except for the triangle of bone where my heel once was. For the first time I asked myself “did the surgeon really HAVE to take the foot off?” It seems like such a brutal procedure for such a small injured area. Such thinking will get me nowhere, though. Like the electrical items you get for Christmas, stuffed with cables, leads, bags, warranties and cardboard – once you’ve unpacked them all, they’ll never go back in the box again.

My patient notes made fascinating reading. I felt like a school pupil getting my end of term report. One recurring sentence is “patient has passed good volumes of urine,” which is nurse-speak for “patient has a hamster bladder and cannot sit through so much as an ad break without needing to take a piss.” Which is why I always ask for an aisle seat when I go to the cinema. I’m not sure why they had to write this down as they only had to ask Aileen and she would have told them. If they’re going to mention my propsensity for frequent whizzing they might as well go the whole hog and draw attention to my not altogether healthy fondness for Kate Winslet.

My other favourite entries:

6th April: “Mr O’Doherty and patient told about the decision to have lower leg amputated, as reconstructive surgery not in patient’s best interests…..patient very upset.” And the Pulitzer Prize for Stating the Bleedin’ Obvious Goes To…..

11th April “Satisfactiory PM. Spent 4 hours in pub this afternoon.” I’d say that 4 hours spent in a pub could safely be regarded as satisfactory, regardless of one’s medical condition. Thank you Professor Jeremy Cooke of Jerusalem and Dr William Guinness of Dublin for your part in my recuperation.

One ominous entry, though.

11th April. “Mood a little falsely bright.” I’m hoping this is nurse-speak for “Patient returned from pub pissed on only 1½ pints and then fell out of wheelchair,” which is my recollection of the event.

Discuss Northern Iraq Weblog

That long awaited drink finally came on Thursday. It was postponed from Wednesday due to a heavy intake of antibiotics.

We cracked open a bottle of Bollinger (thanks Derek!) and raised a glass in Kaveh’s memory – the first time I’ve been able to do something to mark and mourn his passing.

Then I swigged back the champers and gave thought about all the fantastic things that I’ve still got; my family, Aileen, most of my health and a set of friends who have come through in the past week in a way I never thought possible.

Life could be worse, eh?

Discuss Northern Iraq Weblog

Thursday, April 10, 2003

It seems so strange lying here watching the jubliant masses running amok on the streets of Kirkuk.

Just over a week ago I was crouching on a ridge a few kms away, watching the gas burn-off and the shimmer of the city through binoculars. Now, it looks as though anyone with a four wheel drive and a half decent sense of direction can stroll straight in.

In the past week my life, and those of millions of Iraqis, have changed beyond recognition. But the story I lived and breathed for two months doesn’t seem so important now.

Well yesterday’s entry was a bit self-pitying, wasn’t it?!

Yesterday the enormity of what’s happened and what’s still ahead came crashing down on me like a bronze statue of Saddam Hussein in the middle of Baghdad.

What’s got me through this far and what will continue to help me through are the cards, flowers, e-mails and discussion board entries from old friends and people I’ve never met. I’ve been so pumped full of drugs (see – there ARE some benefits to being in hospital) these last few days that I’ve only just begun to work my way through the good wishes. But every single one is very, very special. I don’t want to get slushy but I feel loved up – and it’s a wonderful feeling.

You’ll have to bear with me for a couple of days before I can start writing at any length and replying to the questions that are piling up. The absence of an internet connection is probably good for my recuperation but it’s driving me crazier than the itchy plaster cast at the end of my right leg. As soon as I get back to my parents (hopefully within the next couple of days), I’ll start work in earnest. I’m particularly keen to start exploring the various forms of anti-landmine activism I could get involved with, details of which will follow in due course.

Sadly the black dog that was snapping at my one remaining heel yesterday came back for a second bite this morning. He didn’t stay around for long, though. I think my brain just doesn’t know how to process all that’s been thrown at it this last week. From accident in Iraq to amputation in Wales in eight days is a lot for a tiny mind like mine to deal with. From time to time it flails out in a strange direction. I’m just trying to let it do its thing at the moment.

My boss from London came down from London this morning with presents, cards and – perhaps most importantly – words of reassurance. My job is there for me if I want to return to it…..and at the moment I do, although in what form it’s a little early to say. I think I may have had my fill of wars for a while.

Discuss Northern Iraq Weblog

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

In the early hours of this morning the strength that had kept me going for the past week evaporated.

Until now, the sheer fact of being home, alive, kept my morale high and my spirit strong. Now, for the first time, I’m faltering.

Last night as I slept I dreamed everyday dreams – I can’t even remember now what they were. But in all of them I was walking around with my full complement of limbs. When I woke up it was the reality of my situation – in hospital, drips in each arm, with a plaster cast around the stump that used to be my right foot, that seemed more dream like.

As dawn broke, so did the realisation that the road to full recovery will be long and tough, starting with two months in a wheelchair. I won’t be going back to work on crutches in a week and I’ll be reliant on those around me for a long time to come. And, as far as I’m aware, feet aren’t like tree branches. They don’t grow back.

Discuss Northern Iraq Weblog

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Today I said goodbye to an old friend, who’s supported me and been around me for the past 31 years. He never did get me into the Welsh football squad but even so I hadn’t planned for our parting to be so sudden. Sometimes, though, life takes an unexpected course.

For the past 24 hours I’ve jumped (well, hopped really) at every form of sedation and medication available to try to make the hours pass as hazily as possible. Yesterday felt like waiting for an exam; that sick foreboding feeling in the pit of the stomach. Now, at least, it’s over and tomorrow – when I’m assured I’ll be allowed alcohol – I’ll open a bottle of champagne and celebrate life.

I’ve been avoiding using one word until now because it scares me but I think now’s the time to say it. Amputation. It’s such a brutal word, conjuring up images of below-deck surgery in blood-spattered operating theatres on navy tallships. But that’s what’s happened to me and now it’s over it doesn’t seem so bad. Rather than months of hobbling around on crutches and scores of slow and painful operations, hopefully it means a swift return to normality. So I’ll say it – a little gingerly for now but with increasing confidence. Amputation.

Discuss Northern Iraq Weblog

Sunday, April 06, 2003

Just woken and had breakfast and the first moment of bleakness since the accident has descended.

Until now the thought of getting home, seeing friends and family and hugging my girlfriend was enough to tide me over. Now, the real prospect of what lies ahead is beginning to dawn. It still doesn’t feel like all this has happened to me. It’s as though I’m in a dream that I’ll soon wake up from. Deep down, though, I know that’s not the case.

The value of the support I’ve received from family and colleagues has been immeasurable. I’ve felt buoyed up on a cushion of good wishes. Reading the cards, e-mails and messages has given me great strength.

Ultimately, though, I know there’ll be dark days ahead. At the moment it looks as though I’ll lose the foot and part of the leg. It could be worse, but it’s not great. I’m steeling myself for what’s to come and hoping I have the inner strength to deal with it. Then there’s the issue of learning to walk again, drive a car, stupid bureaucratic things like compensation. Just writing this helps.

Kaveh’s funeral is taking place today in Tehran. He’s foremost in my mind. He’ll be missed terribly. There could quite easily have been two funerals taking place and I thank whoever’s looking after me up there that I made it through. I was lucky. Very lucky.

Saw the surgeon this afternoon and the die has been cast; the foot goes tomorrow. He said when he opened up the wound yesterday he knew he had no options. There’s no soft tissue left to connect any new vessels onto, so the decision’s been made for him. Obviously it’s a heart-breaking thing to come to terms with but in a way it’s been made easier by the fact that there are no options to consider. The saddest thing is that I have five perfectly perky toes held in place with a meccano set of pins and bolts but, in medical terms, that’s not enough to save my ballrooom dancing career. Like a killer virus, the landmine has done what it’s designed to do with perfect precision. I feel no bitterness but I hope whoever manufactures the things is pleased with their handiwork.

And today, more devastating news; a “friendly fire” incident involving my BBC colleagues near Arbil, in which one of our translators was killed and a driver seriously wounded.) Just in case the Iraqis weren’t adept enough at killing innocent civilians, the Americans are helping them along (having said that, I’m enormously grateful for the wonderful treatment I received from US Special Forces at their field hospital in Sulaymaniyah.) This war becomes more ghastly by the day.

So, a tough day ahead tomorrow. How I’ll feel afterwards, I just don’t know but I hope that soon afterwards the rebuilding can begin. I urge you all to read Jim’s accurate and unvarnished account of what happened.

Discuss Northern Iraq Weblog

Here is a link to an article written by Jim Muir after the tragic death of Kaveh Golestan.
Link to article by Jim Muir on the last moments of Kaveh Golestan

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

As the conflict enters its second week it's beginning to take its toll on the personal lives of some of the journalists based here in Sulaymaniyah.

Over dinner, two members of the press pack tell me they've split up with their girlfriends by phone or e-mail in recent days. With no end to the assignment in sight and no return date, some loved ones have had enough.

It's dawning on some us that even if we wanted to go home, we couldn't. The borders with Turkey, Iran and Syria are sealed, making movement in and out difficult if not impossible. One colleague chose the most drastic option -- being Med-Evac'd out. Although he didn't tell his managers, the death of the Autralian cameraman Paul Moran hit him hard and he wanted out. Other colleagues are pondering possible escape routes, either because they've had enough or because the Northern Front is shaping up to be a mere shadow of what we originally expected.

Discuss Northern Iraq Weblog
Yesterday's problems in downloading pictures should have been fixed but if anyone's still having problems please let me know via the discussion board.

I'm also thinking of changing the template for the weblog but am a complete HTML dunce. If anyone is able to design a suitable template, e-mail it to me and you'll be forever in my debt.

Discuss Northern Iraq Weblog

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

With Ansar Al Islam flushed out of their strongholds and pushed into the mountains of the Iranian border, families who fled their homes because of the fighting are coming back home.

Tractors, trucks and cars loaded with possessions are rolling along the road to the town of Khormal.

This family left ten days ago when the operation to “liquidate” (the word used by the Special Forces) Ansar began. Now, they feel it’s safe to return.

While filming I passed the checkpoint where the Australian cameraman Paul Moran was killed in an Ansar suicide bombing a couple of weeks ago. The burnt out and twisted remains of the car that blew up still lies there. I chose not to linger.

Discuss Northern Iraq Weblog

The American propaganda machine has arrived in Northern Iraq.

We were summoned this morning to a press conference in Halabja in which members of the US Special Forces, who refused to give us their names, patted themselves on the back over the success of their operation to rout Ansar Al Islam.

It was a classic exercise in Army Speak, in which lots of words come out of someone’s mouth but nothing is actually said. Efforts to ascertain concrete information are met with bland replies and you come away none the wiser. Now I know how my colleagues stuck at the As Saliyah base in Qatar must feel every day, trooping in and out of CENTCOM briefings to hear Tommy Franks and Co say absolutely nothing.

Here’s the audio headline clip from the press conference:

“There were things that we found on site that presented themselves and at least in my mind and to my opinion confirmed many of the reports that you’ve seen over the last eight months that this site was indeed being used for some type of chem or bio production. BUT THAT IS NOT CONFIRMED.”

The capitals are mine. Let me just check I’ve got this straight. He’s certain Ansar were preparing chemical and biological weapons but he has no proof. Hmmm. I’m not sure that would stand up in a court of law. But hey – they’re just terrorist towelheads and we’re honest Americans so no one’s going to question whether we’re telling the truth, right?

Discuss Northern Iraq Weblog