Dispatches > The Buzz


Issue: "War inside the red zone," April 12, 2003
within range
After a week-long lull that had some questioning the Pentagon's war plan (see p. 16), coalition forces resumed their advance with a vengeance, covering the last 50 miles to Baghdad in little more than 24 hours. By April 3, U.S. troops had reached the suburbs of the Iraqi capital, within sight of a skyline still smoldering after 14 days of unprecedented bombing. Those bombing sorties also hammered Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard stationed outside the city. The Guard's Medina division was quickly routed on April 2-"destroyed" according to a military spokesman-and the Baghdad and Nebuchadnezzar divisions crumbled before the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division on April 2 and 3. Experts both on and off the battlefield warned, however, that the most intense fighting was yet to come. Republican Guard units were presumed to be falling back to positions inside the city, rather than facing head-on a vastly superior force. Bolstered by thousands of Saddam's secret police, they could wage a long, ugly guerrilla war while hiding among Baghdad's 5 million inhabitants in an area the size of Atlanta. Furthermore, coalition forces are now within range of mortar shells and short-range missiles capable of carrying chemical weapons, and troops nearest the city are on heightened alert. North of Baghdad, U.S. special forces cut off an escape route to Tikrit, Saddam's birthplace and an important seat of power for his Baath Party. They also raided the suburban Thar Thar presidential palace-one of many they'll have to occupy before the war is considered a success.
grounded by sars
The mystery disease SARS touched American soil on April 1 when officials quarantined a flight from Tokyo for two hours in California after several passengers complained of respiratory illness. None of the cases turned out to be Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, but the severity of the virus has prompted the World Health Organization to warn tourists and businessmen to postpone travel to Hong Kong and southern China, where the outbreak is the worst. The United States has also offered free flights home to some diplomatic staff in the region. Doctors have identified the virus as a member of the common-cold family that causes pneumonia-like symptoms, but are stumped over treating or preventing its transmission. That uncertainty panics both residents and Asian economies. At one prayer meeting in Hong Kong last week, everyone showed up wearing surgical masks. With flights and hotel reservations diminished, economic symptoms are just beginning. The World Economic Forum postponed its annual China Business Summit because of SARS. SARS has a 4 percent mortality rate-higher than most respiratory illnesses. As of April 1, more than 1,800 cases were reported worldwide, with 62 deaths. WHO expert Carlo Urbani detected the first case of the disease, an American businessman in Hanoi, who later died. Dr. Urbani then also died from SARS on March 29.
u.s. raps china's one-child policy
Nothing's changed in China's anti-population push-and now the State Department has fortified the case with its most damning evidence of the country's one-child policy. State's 2002 human-rights report, released on March 31, is "very encouraging" in its exposition of the apparatus that enforces China's one-child policy, said Scott Weinberg of the Population Research Institute. The report chronicles governmental coercion of couples with unplanned pregnancies: Pay the "social-compensation" fees-which can be as high as several years' wages for a worker-or risk losing your job. Couples who have an unapproved child face higher tuition costs for the child or no social services, and authorities discourage excess births in the provinces by punishing local officials or the mother's work unit. "These Draconian penalties sometimes left expecting mothers with little choice but to undergo abortion or sterilization," the report says. More significantly, the report notes that the 32 counties that the United Nations Population Fund worked in did not scale back the one-child policy, but instead promoted birth control and enforced the policy through measures such as social compensation fees. "UNFPA claims that it's the catalyst for reforms of the one-child policy are completely unfounded," said Mr. Weinberg. "They've had four years to lie about it. And they continue to lie."
bumpy ride
The White House has a new message for the struggling airline industry: Make sure your seat belt is securely fastened. Calling a $3 billion industry bailout "excessive," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer suggested the major airlines have overstated their losses during wartime. "The taxpayers responded generously once," Mr. Fleischer said before the Senate and House each voted on separate aid measures. He said jet fuel prices have fallen recently and passenger volume has not dropped as much as airlines predicted. The airlines, the White House reasoned, don't need another multibillion-dollar bailout like they received after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. In response to a flap at Delta, the bill would likely require a freeze on executive compensation at 2002 levels in order to qualify for federal funds. Delta dished out $17 million in bonuses while posting a $1.3 billion loss in 2002. Meanwhile, some discount carriers are bucking the trend by making money and keeping stock prices from plummeting. Said Diana Nyad on her NPR radio program, The Savvy Traveler: "A lot of people in the know say that this war will mean the end of a couple of the standard big carriers, and we'll start calling JetBlue and Southwest the nation's largest airlines."

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