Iraqi Journalists Caught in Crossfire

With Salam Talib

The U.S. released three Iraqi journalists from prison over the weekend. The three were arrested together in a single sweep by U.S. troops last Wednesday. Among them, was Fadel al-Badrani, a reporter for the BBC and Reuters news agency who has reported from Iraq’s most dangerous places.

“Fadel al-Badrani was the only person reporting from Fallujah during the second siege [in November 2004], and now he’s reporting from Ramadi,” explained Ziyad al-Agili, the director of the organization Iraq Journalist Freedom Watch. “He got detained along with his brother who was a journalist for [state-run] al-Iraqiya television while they were attending their third brother’s funeral. They were accused of cooperating with the insurgents.”

Al-Agili says there’s little merit to the Pentagon claims. He says just because Badrani works in an area controlled by anti-American fighters doesn’t mean he’s an insurgent, just as foreign journalists who embed with the U.S. military aren’t soldiers themselves.

“When I ride with them on an airplane to see where their operations are or rebuilding or anything else, can the insurgents say that I am with the American military?” he asked rhetorically.

Badrani and his colleagues aren’t the only journalists who have been detained by the U.S. military. Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein has been incarcerated by the U.S. military for last five months. The Pentagon claim his photos of insurgents prove close relationships with people responsible for kidnappings, smuggling, roadside bombs, and other attacks on coalition forces. The Associated Press denies the charges.

The press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders says the reporters being arrested by the U.S. military are just trying to do their jobs.

“Sometimes in war zones the authorities try to get the journalists to tell them how they were able to meet with rebels,” said Lucie Murrilon, the group’s Washington representative. “But this is part of the journalists’ work to be able to have sources and not reveal their identity.”

Meantime, the violence in Iraq continues without letup, posing another threat to journalists.

Reporters Without Borders said two journalists have died in Iraq in the last week, bringing the total number of media workers dead in Iraq to 106 during three-plus years of war.

Safaa Ismail Inad of the newspaper al-Watan was shot in the head on the night of Sept. 12. His body was found near Sadr City, in east Baghdad. Hadi Anawi al-Joubouri, the representative of Iraqi Union of Journalists in the Diyala region, was gunned down in an ambush on a road north of the capital the previous day.

“We can no longer find the words to express our outrage at this unending, dark tragedy for journalists in Iraq,” the press freedom organization said. “These two men were murdered, and we again call on the Iraqi authorities to carry out investigations so that those responsible for these murders are arrested and tried.”

Reporters Without Borders added, “Journalists have been murdered, kidnapped, and attacked with complete impunity since the start of the war in Iraq. They must be given physical protection as a matter of urgency.”

But it is difficult to imagine anyone getting physical protection in today’s Iraq.

On Sunday, multiple car bombings ripped through the northern oil city of Kirkuk. A total of five car bombs killed 30 people and injured at least 64. Fighters blew up automobiles in front of the offices of two Kurdish political parties, a nonprofit organization, and state-run al-Iraqiya television. The largest bomb, journalist Haji Kirkuki explained, was a truck bomb targeting the city’s youth prison.

“Yesterday was the day for families to come and visit their relatives [behind bars],” he told us. “So the explosion happened during visiting hours and caused a lot of casualties.”

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