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    Tuesday, October 28, 2008


    By car from Irbil to Zakho, Iraq – Friday, Oct. 24

    The question came naturally as our car approached a fork in the road during the drive today from Irbil to Zakho. If we took the left turn, we would be in Mosul, arguably the most violent city in Iraq. Happily, we veered to the right.

    "How much do you guys think I'm worth?" I asked as our blue Chevy Neon crossed the Great Zab River, a tributary of the Tigris. Kidnappings are common in Mosul, and a Western journalist would presumably be a lucrative target.

    My companions, Miran, the car's driver, and Sherzad, a translator I'd hired to accompany me on my trip through Northern Iraq, laughed uproariously. "I say $200,000," offered Sherzad. Though he doesn't have a mean bone in his body, the speed of his response suggested he'd previously turned the question over in his head.

    I was insulted. A paltry $200,000 seemed like nothing compared to the rumoured sums other kidnappees had fetched. Especially with the way the dollar has fallen lately. You can barely buy a foreclosed house in Detroit these days with 200 grand.

    "Don't worry Mark, I think you're worth a lot more," Miran said with a laugh that was probably meant to be reassuring.

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