Cable News Network correspondent Peter Arnett was America's last remaining link with Iraq yesterday, but the conditions under which he was allowed to stay raised questions about whether he had been made the voice of Baghdad.
Arnett, a veteran war correspondent, could file only when Iraqi officials let him and could say only what they permitted.
He had been expected to join Saturday's caravan of nearly 40 other foreign journalists, including about a dozen Americans, from Baghdad across the Iraqi desert to Amman, Jordan, after Iraq had ordered them out of the country.
But the Iraqi government invited Arnett and a CNN producer and cameraman to remain because the network was considered "fair and unbiased," according to CNN spokeswoman Eileen Murphy. A camera operator for London-based Worldwide Television News was also allowed to stay, Murphy said.
Arnett's scratchy telephone reports yesterday, which were repeated several times during the day, were accompanied by his photograph and the disclaimer: "Cleared by Iraqi Censors." They consisted largely of descriptions of Iraqi television and newspaper coverage of developments in the war with the United States and had little independent reporting.
Arnett, for instance, gave a detailed description of an Iraqi television broadcast purporting to show captured American pilots. But when anchor Reid Collins asked Arnett about the effects of allied bombing in Baghdad, Arnett quickly said: "I've been advised that I must end this broadcast, Reid."
Reporting for a U.S.-based news organization from the capital of a nation at war with America presents special problems. Arnett may call only when Iraqi officials let him, and CNN is unable to reach him on its own. "We remain under the thumb of the censor," CNN Executive Vice President Ed Turner acknowledged yesterday.
But Turner pointed out that other reporters in the region, including those in Israel and on U.S. Defense Department-escorted pools, are also subject to censorship. "CNN will look through any window made available to us to see -- even if darkly -- something of what is going on," he said.
In a report that described how Iraqi anti-missile batteries intercepted a Tomahawk cruise missile in Baghdad, Arnett said his script had been submitted to Iraqi censors but hadn't been altered. "The impact of the explosion blasted the CNN workplace in the al-Rashid Hotel bar," he noted.
Arnett also told of the Iraqi pride in being able to attack Israel with Scud missiles despite the barrage of allied air power. "They were ... very proud at having got those missiles off," he said. He quoted yesterday's ruling Baath party newspaper al-Thawra as telling Palestinians: "We are coming to liberate you."
Stephen Hess, who studies the relationship between the press and the government from his post at the Brookings Institution, said yesterday that Arnett's reports serve a purpose by telling Americans what the Iraqi government wants its citizens to know about the war.
"It's different, but it's a service," Hess said. "There's no reason to believe we're being misinformed."
Last week, rival networks groused because the Iraqi government had permitted CNN to use a dedicated telephone line outside the regular communications system. That allowed the cable network's reporters to continue filing reports during the early bombardment of Baghdad when their competitors' telephone connections broke down.
Also yesterday, a British newspaper reporter was reported to be missing in Baghdad. Bruce Cheesman, 35, a correspondent for Hong Kong's South China Morning Post and the London Evening Standard, had not been seen since he left the bomb shelter of the Al-Rashid Hotel early Thursday morning, USA Today reporter Don Kirk told reporters in Amman.
Kirk, who arrived yesterday from Baghdad, had shared a hotel room with Cheesman and was carrying Cheesman's passport, airline ticket and baggage.