Stephen Sackur

Stephen Sackur is a correspondent with the BBC World Service.

Diary: In Aswan

Stephen Sackur, 24 June 1993

The Rahman mosque in Aswan is closed to the public. A policeman stands guard on the narrow balcony at the top of the dun-coloured minaret. He sways slowly in the heat. Occasionally he takes a turn around the narrow tower to stretch his legs. Mostly he stays in a thin column of shadow, staring across the rooftops of a town he doesn’t know. A local lawyer tells me that armed guards like this one urinate from the minaret onto the mosque below. ‘They do it to provoke us. They have no respect for the people of Aswan and no respect for God.’

The Enforcer

Stephen Sackur, 20 August 1992

Saddam Hussein might yet win the US Presidential election. Not for himself of course – not even the failings of the American democratic system could give the Iraqi Ba’ath Party transatlantic popular appeal – but for the Democratic challenger, and current frontrunner, Bill Clinton. Had he been hired by the Democratic campaign President Saddam could scarcely have done more to tarnish George Bush’s reputation for foreign policy know-how. Almost every day, it seems, new evidence emerges of Iraq’s continued defiance of Gulf War ceasefire resolutions, whether it is the hampering of humanitarian efforts in the Kurdish north, the hiding of weapons in Baghdad or the killing of benighted Shi’ites in the southern marshes. And as Saddam’s image grows ever more grotesque in the eyes of the world, so does George Bush acquire the shrivelled, haunted demeanour of a beaten man.’

Kuwait Diary: In Kuwait

Stephen Sackur, 27 February 1992

Precious little traffic heads out of Kuwait City on Route 80 – the Basra road. Civilian access to the north, to the demilitarised zone between Kuwait and Iraq is strictly controlled by soldiers manning a checkpoint on the crest of the Mutla Ridge. Several times a week busloads of Palestinians and stateless Arabs are allowed to pass through, but theirs is a one-way journey ending in permanent expulsion. Western visitors who attempt to follow in their wake are politely discouraged. ‘It is dangerous,’ explain the Kuwaiti soldiers.’

In Occupied Territory

Stephen Sackur, 11 July 1991

Sari Nusseibeh, Professor of Philosophy at Bir Zeit University, a leading Palestinian intellectual and political activist, was arrested by Israeli Border Police at his home in the West Bank village of Abu Dis on 29 January. For three months he was held in ‘Administrative Detention’ under Israel’s Emergency Powers law of 1979, accused of spying for Iraq. According to ‘security sources’ quoted in the Hebrew press, Nusseibeh had been providing Iraqi contacts with vital information about the accuracy of Scud missiles fired on Israeli cities. No evidence to support these claims was ever made public. When the Israeli authorities put their evidence against Nusseibeh before the President of the Jerusalem District Court, the Administrative Detention Order was cut from six months to three. Professor Nusseibeh was released from Ramle prison on 28 April.

Ariel Diary: In Ariel

Stephen Sackur, 27 June 1991

Mayor Ron Nachman has some dramatic photographs of the last Scud attack on Tel Aviv. He wants to show them to me; he wants me to understand what they mean. ‘Come and look at this,’ he says and leads me away from his desk into an adjoining conference room. Dominating the far wall of this cheaply furnished office is a photograph some six feet wide and two feet high.

Diary: In Khorramshahr

Stephen Sackur, 23 May 1991

The view from the roof of the Governor’s office in Khorramshahr was uninterrupted. The city appeared to possess no other building with two storeys intact. Over the road, beyond the sentries with their improbable starched white uniforms, a gaggle of municipal workers were labouring in the midday heat – some planting shrubs in a patch of soil by the side of the road, others building a children’s climbing frame amongst a clump of palms. A slide and a swing were already in position on a square of rough grass, and from my vantage-point I could hear the chatter of half a dozen children carried on the breeze.’

Diary: Maximum Force

Stephen Sackur, 4 April 1991

Major-General Rupert Smith, commander of the British First Armoured Division, was sitting with a mug of tea by his side at the table from which he had directed his troops during the ground offensive. The map on the table told its own story: symbols and arrows indicated the swathes of territory occupied by Allied troops in the previous one hundred hours, not only in Kuwait, but deep inside Iraq as well. The General had summoned me to his side in this hour of victory. That very morning President Bush had announced a cessation of offensive operations and the other Coalition members had rapidly followed his lead. Having made a headlong dash through southern Iraq, the British Division had come to rest in northern Kuwait. Little more than four days after it had begun the ground war was over.

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