NEAR FALLUJAH, Iraq, Nov. 3 -- His two wives and three children cried when he left Baghdad the night before. Now he was kneeling on a flattened piece of cardboard to pray outside the dirt-floor tent where he slept in his clothes under a scratchy green blanket donated by the U.S. Marines.
But someone had to be here, Muddhir Karim Zhary said in English, as he straightened his blue sweater vest and dusted off his trousers. Zhary, a correspondent with al-Sabah, a U.S.-funded newspaper in Iraq, translated his words into Arabic, and the five men standing with him around a large wooden cable spool, their makeshift breakfast table, nodded in agreement.
Zhary was one of six Iraqi journalists who signed up to follow the Marines and Iraqi security forces if they go into battle in the insurgent-held city of Fallujah.
None of the six had embedded before with the U.S. military, and they had no idea what to expect.
They had arrived at this military outpost near the city on Monday night without sleeping bags, boots, flashlights or bug spray -- some of the items on the gear list the Marines sent out to journalists embedding with the military for the potential offensive.
The Iraqis brought only their Army-issued flak jackets and helmets. On Tuesday morning, they emerged from their tents in full battle gear with questions about how to connect to the Internet, where to get breakfast, how to fix a pair of broken glasses and where to plug in their cell phones.
"Of course it will be dangerous," said Zhary, who was a journalist under the deposed Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein. "There will be killing. But I am ready for anything. I want to take the truth from Fallujah to the people."
Khadher Zen Aibedir, a cameraman for the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. whom the others called "officer" because he was in the Iraqi army for more than two decades, said Hussein invited journalists to embed with his military but did not allow them to take photos or shoot video. And when they traveled to military camps, they stayed in first-class accommodations, Aibedir said.
In other words, they did not eat prepackaged rations.
So in one of the first orders of business Tuesday, the Iraqi journalists learned how to heat their meals-ready-to-eat by pouring water into a green plastic bag and massaging the food package against the chemical heat packet to warm it evenly.
They picked through packages of chicken in Thai sauce, beef stew and chili macaroni until they found the candy and fruit bars.
Two private contractors traveled with the journalists to help them settle at the Marine camp but declined to say who they worked for or if they were under contract with the U.S. government.
When pressed, one of the two, Chuck Fowler, said that they had been hired by an Iraqi media organization.
"My job is to facilitate these guys getting here," said Fowler, who spoke in the manner of a diplomat. "The Iraqi people need information from someone other than the Saudi Arabian, Jordanian or American media. They need their own people to report what's going on."