Reporters in Iraq face snipers, roadside bombs and kidnappings

Reporters in Iraq face snipers, roadside bombs and kidnappings
October 13th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Reporters in Iraq face snipers, roadside bombs and kidnappings

Reporters in Iraq face snipers, roadside bombs and kidnappings
Media: The Associated Press
Byline: n/a
Date: 12 October 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq Sniper fire, roadside bombs, kidnapping and murder are among
the risks that Western journalists face covering the war in Iraq. Their
Iraqi colleagues must cope with more: Families attacked in retribution for
what they report, and possible arrest if someone believes them linked to the
violence they cover.

At least 81 journalists - mostly Iraqis - have been killed since the
U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 - more than in either Vietnam or World War
II. And the security situation is getting progressively worse.

"Iraq is the most dangerous assignment in the world right now for
journalists," said Joel Campagna, head of the Mideast desk of the Committee
to Protect Journalists, a New York-based media rights group that keeps the

"There really aren't any battle lines. The danger begins right outside your
door," he said.

Covering any war is dangerous, and journalists have been killed or wounded
in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Bosnia and other recent conflicts - in
addition to 66 in Vietnam, 17 in Korea and 68 during World War II.

Western journalists have been targeted in Iraq by insurgents who consider
them as little different from combatants. Baghdad's Palestine Hotel, where
many media organizations - including the AP - were based for extended
periods of time, was attacked several times including a triple suicide
vehicle bombing last October claimed by al-Qaida in Iraq.

Over the past three years, the level of danger for journalists - Iraqi and
Western - has increased steadily.

Gunmen carried out the deadliest attack yet on the media on Thursday. Some
two dozen armed men, some in police uniform, stormed the downtown Baghdad
headquarters of a new Sunni-Arab satellite television station, killing the
board chairman and 10 others.

The motive for the attack on Shaabiya TV was not clear, though there were
signs it was carried out by Shiite militiamen. Sunnis say the militias often
have help from police - and in its few short broadcasts, the station played
nationalist music against the U.S. occupation, perhaps prompting militiamen
to assume it sympathized with Sunni insurgents.

On Wednesday, the body of a Kurdish radio reporter was identified at the
Baghdad morgue. Azad Mohammed Hussein was abducted Oct. 3 in Baghdad while
on his way to Dar al-Salam radio headquarters, and his body was found dumped
on Tuesday.

The situation was not always as bad as it is now.

In the early months of the war, Western journalists could move about in
relative safety in cities like Baghdad, Mosul and even Saddam Hussein's
hometown of Tikrit, armed with nothing more than a notepad and a pen.

Before the resumption of commercial flights, most journalists arrived in
Baghdad by car, either traveling north from Kuwait or east from Jordan along
a route that took them near current insurgent hotbeds such as Ramadi and

All that changed in 2004 with the increase in violence, particularly after
the kidnapping and slaying of Westerners. Journalists from such countries as
the United States, Poland, Japan, Italy and France were kidnapped or killed.

Most recently, U.S. reporter Jill Carroll was abducted in January by Sunni
extremists and freed unharmed 82 days later.

With security in a free-fall, news organizations have taken on extra
measures to protect their staff while still reporting as best they can on a
complex and violent conflict.

Some journalists, including most freelancers, have left the country. Those
news organizations that remain use a handful of U.S. and other Western
staffers and rely heavily on their Iraqi reporters, who venture out to the
scenes of bombings, suicide attacks and gunfights at great risk to their

"The Western reporter has some training on how to cover events in hot areas
- he has better knowledge on when to appear and when to vanish, when there
is a danger while covering the news," said Qais al-Azawi, chief editor of
Baghdad's al-Jareeda newspaper.

"Moreover, the Western reporters have better protection equipment such as
flak jackets. The Iraqi reporters do not have such privileges," he said.

Western journalists, including those from The Associated Press, often live
and work in guarded compounds, most outside the U.S.-controlled Green Zone.
They venture out to report but usually with armed security escorts.

"The violence increased and journalists were caught in the middle," Campagna
of CPJ said. "News organizations scaled back their presence and most
freelancers pulled out altogether. The ensuing chaos has eroded the ability
of journalists to report on this conflict."

Security measures to protect staff have also driven up costs.

Dexter Filkins, who spent nearly three years covering Iraq for The New York
Times, said in a recent talk that his newspaper goes through money like "jet
fuel" to protect its reporters in Iraq.

"We can no longer - and we haven't been able to for some time really - go
anywhere outside Baghdad," Filkins said in the talk at CPJ's New York
office. "There's a couple of cities in the south that we can go to, but we
can't get to them because we have to drive through so many dangerous areas
to do it."

With travel sharply limited, many news organizations, including the AP,
periodically embed reporters with U.S. military units. But the number of
embeds has waned in recent months from hundreds at a time in the early
months of the way to an average of 15 in recent weeks, according to Lt. Col.
Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman.

Journalists "are risking their lives, and this is not just Western
journalists. It's the Iraqi journalists - they are being targeted by
terrorist-backed insurgent groups who have difficulties with what they are
writing," he said.

In one of the most graphic examples, one of Iraq's best-known television
journalists, Atwar Bahjat, and two of her colleagues were abducted and slain
while reporting on an explosion in February at a mosque in Samarra.

Not all the threats faced by Iraqi journalists come from the insurgents.

In September, Kalshan al-Bayati, whose reporting had been critical of
security forces in Tikrit, was arrested twice by the Iraqi army for alleged
terrorist links and remains in custody.

According to CPJ, at least eight journalists have been detained for weeks or
months by Iraqi and coalition forces. They include employees of CBS News,
Reuters, AP and Agence France-Presse among others. At least four of the
detentions have exceeded 100 days, Campagna said.

Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein was detained in April and
remains in U.S. custody without any charges against him.

Because of the nature of the profession, journalists are often at scenes of
violence and are regularly among the first people there, which can lead to
confusion, Johnson said. Insurgents are also known to take videos and
pictures of their own attacks to use as future propaganda, and Johnson said
soldiers are well within their rights to detain people at the scenes of
violence to ensure that they are truly journalists.

"It's a very, very difficult environment and we would rather have our troops
be safe by detaining and questioning somebody on why they are there, than
let them go and find out they were complicit," Johnson said.

But Lynn Tehini, Middle East director of Paris-based Reporters Without
Borders, another journalists' rights group, said the U.S. military needs to
be more transparent about detentions.

"If they want to really arrest someone, give the real reason, let this
person have a lawyer, let this person see his family, but do not detain this
person for months with no charges - he has to be tried or released," Tehini

With all the dangers, al-Azawi, said in a telephone interview from Paris he
is spending more and more time at his home in France for his own safety.

"The warring factions in the country do not respect any law that calls for
the protection of the journalists," he said. "Journalism is the most
dangerous occupation in Iraq now."

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