Journalist Group: Latest Killings of Media Workers Fit Pattern

U.S. soldiers’ negligence appears to be the cause of Monday’s killings of two Iraqi media workers in the city of Samara north of Baghdad, said an official from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) on Tuesday.

The organization had not completed its probe of the killings of Al-Iraqiya correspondent Asaad Kadhim and driver Hussein Saleh, but "there is a high-level of suspicion from the reports that we’ve seen so far that this could be a case of a certain degree of negligence by the troops on the ground," IFJ human rights and information officer Robert Shaw told IPS.

That would fit the pattern of other killings of journalists in Iraq since U.S.-led forces invaded the country in March 2003, Shaw added from IFJ headquarters in Brussels.

According to the U.S.-funded Al-Iraqiya, the two employees and cameraman Jassem Kamel were en route to film a broadcast in Samara when U.S. forces and Kurdish fighters in the Iraqi security forces "opened fire on them."

"After doing some interviews in a police station, we left, and as we drove for some 500 m, fire was opened at us," Kamel said, according to media reports from Iraq. "We were not filming. We were just driving in a normal car."

Kamel is reportedly being treated for a back wound in a Samara hospital.

U.S. Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said early reports suggested the men’s car apparently failed to heed shots warning it to stop.

The IFJ, which represents around 500,000 members in more than 100 countries, says about 40 media workers have been killed in Iraq since the war was launched last year. At least six were killed by U.S. forces.

Shaw said Monday’s incident "raises the question of the need for a public document concerning the so-called ‘rules of engagement’" of coalition forces fighting in Iraq.

U.S. authorities have deferred to those rules more than once to explain their killings of media workers.

According to the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the U.S. military accepted responsibility for the deaths of two journalists, cameraman Ali Abdel Aziz and reporter Ali al-Khatib, who were shot in their car while leaving the scene of an attack on a Baghdad hotel near a U.S. military checkpoint last month.

But the U.S. probe determined that the incident was an "accidental shooting." Press reports quoted U.S. military officials saying that the soldiers who opened fire acted within the "rules of engagement," according to the CPJ.

Shaw also called on U.S. officials to release their eventual report of Monday’s incident, but said the pattern has been for the military to withhold information.

"We’ve tried on numerous occasions through the Pentagon to have reports made public on a number of these incidents and for the large part have failed to get any sort of satisfactory response."

The group Reporters Without Borders on Tuesday called on U.S. officials to carry out a "fair and rigorous" probe of Monday’s killings.

U.S. forces have been particularly condemned for their attack on Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel in April 2003, which was known to house international journalists. The assault killed two reporters and injured three others. Washington’s explanation that its soldiers were fired on first from shooters in the building was widely dismissed.

Two weeks ago media organizations worldwide marked the anniversary of the killings. "It is the attack on the Palestine Hotel, a shameful incident made worse by U.S. misinformation circulated after the event, that has caused widespread anger and come to symbolize the notion of impunity that characterizes official treatment of journalists in Iraq," said the IFJ in a statement.

On the same day of the hotel attack, U.S. air strikes severely damaged the Baghdad office of the Al-Jazeera satellite network, killing journalist Taraq Ayyoub and injuring cameraman Zouhair al-Iraqi. Just moments later another explosion, reportedly from U.S. artillery, damaged the offices of Abu Dhabi TV less than two km away, trapping as many as 30 journalists in the debris.

Al-Jazeera has also been the target of verbal attacks by U.S. officials. During the recent uprising in the city of Fallujah, a spokesman for the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority questioned whether the Qatar-based satellite television network should be permitted to operate if it did not report the truth.

Late last year al-Jazeera was one of two Arab stations banned from Iraqi government ministries and press events held by the country’s governing council. And in January, it presented an IFJ mission to Baghdad with a list of a dozen instances of harassment of its staff by the military.

All of which raises the question of "the ability of the media community in general to develop in Iraq if there’s apparent targeting of specific media," said Shaw.

He added that while Washington had largely "stonewalled" attempts to verify its investigations, the IFJ had made some progress in talks with U.S. officials on the wider issue of reforming international law to improve protection for journalists working in conflict zones.

The group is also working with the United Nations to extend to journalists the protection of Security Council resolution 1502, which was enacted in 2003 to provide for the safety of U.N. personnel and humanitarian aid workers, added Shaw.

Amnesty International and a number of media organizations appealed to the UN human rights commission Monday to help improve protection of journalists working in conflict zones worldwide.