For real danger, try the LWT studios
It is time to accept that part of what is happening in Iraq is a civil war. The government's writ do
Took my children to the Science Museum in South Kensington during half-term. OK, it is a classic outing, and doing it in half-term week was not the most original idea in the world, but was it always that crowded? London is the greatest city in the world, and so many agree and want to be here that it is bursting with people. Just try booking anything. And if you want to get there by Tube, expect it to be overheated and overcrowded. I use it to go to work whenever I am in London. The uphill trudge between the Victoria Line and the Central Line, through a long white passage in the Stygian depths of Oxford Circus station, in an endless line of silent, head-down commuters, always feels like a scene from Metropolis.
Stories from the "Listening Room"
Every day my email inbox bulges with messages about the Middle East. I could spend all day reading about the region on the web, and still not get through it all. Some of the most useful stuff comes from BBC Monitoring, which is one of the great sources of information in the world. When I first visited its headquarters, a stately home in Caversham, just outside Reading, nearly 25 years ago, its nerve centre - the "Listening Room" - was lined with people wearing headphones and turning dials on big old machines. The place smelled of floor polish. They still polish the floors, but now the machines they use to follow news across the world look very modern.
Monitoring's Iraq briefing, over the past few years, has been a powerful argument against those who say that the western media distort what is happening in Iraq by making it look worse than it is. What always amazes and horrifies me is not so much the big stories, which do get on to our news. Rather, it is the sheer depressing volume of the small stuff that barely gets mentioned, but which taken together is the daily, bloody grind of life and death in Iraq. Take last Sunday - and the people of Iraq have faced many worse days. The top story was a claim by the US to have killed 17 insurgents in Balad. But then there was also the killing of a TV presenter who anchored programmes for Kurds and Christians; various corpses found with signs of torture and bullet wounds . . . all there as well as other bomb attacks and killings. This long into the war, most of it is not news in the west, and doesn't feature. Far from making it look worse than it is, we could report more of it. I have not been back to Iraq since 2003, though I admire those who do go. A major problem, of course, is that the brave reporters in Iraq cannot get to the scenes of most of the killings because of the risk of getting killed themselves.
Back on the agenda
Whatever you think about the constitutional propriety of General Dannatt's public intervention on Iraq, you have to admit that he has put the subject back on the agenda. The British government - unlike the Bush White House - had been quite successful at shutting down the debate. Now people for whom withdrawal was taboo are talking openly about it. While we're on the subject, it is time to accept that part of what is happening in Iraq is a civil war. The central government's writ doesn't run much beyond the US zone in Baghdad; much of the killing is sectarian; large numbers of people have been forced to flee their homes to save their lives because they find themselves in the minority. Just because what made it happen was the invasion and occupation of the country, and just because it could get so much worse, does not mean it is not already a civil war.
A really scary beat
To the former London Weekend Television studios on the South Bank to present Have I Got News For You. To my relief, they provide the presenter's gags. The people I share an office with at BBC Television Centre - all journalists with years of experience in some of the nastiest places in the world - seem to think it is unusually courageous to go into a studio with Ian Hislop and Paul Merton (who do their own jokes, by the way). "Wasn't it scary?" asked a colleague, who had just spent a week being mortared in Basra.
Jeremy Bowen's "War Stories" is published on 6 November by Simon & Schuster (£17.99)