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Iraqis leading victims in bloodiest war for the press

September 10, 2007

Talal Mohammed, Iraqi news reporter and photographer employed by the Associated Press, was kidnapped on 28 July near Baghdad. He was taken away by masked gunmen after he was stopped at an illegal checkpoint (AP, 7 Aug 2007 and RSF 8 Aug 2007) .

According to the Reporters Without Borders (RSF website, 10 September 2007) the number of journalists and media workers killed in Iraq since the US-led invasion in March 2003 has reached 201. Two more journalists are missing and 14 are kidnapped.

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photo by Geert Van Kesteren, Magnum Photos © http://www.whymisterwhy.com

Journalists and media workers, whether foreigners or Iraqis, have become key targets in a climate of generalised impunity. The international organisation for press freedom reports some alarming news (RSF, 30 August 2007):

  • No war has ever been as deadly for the press as this one since World War II.
  • About three quarters of the victims (73%) were directly targeted, unlike any previous war, where media workers were usually victims of collateral damage or stray bullets.
  • Most of the fatalities of journalists and media workers (88%) are Iraqis.
  • These are singled out often because they work for foreign news media. (More than 70 such journalists have been murdered since the war began in 2003, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York, AP 7 Aug 2007).
  • At the same time, they do not receive the same protection as the foreigner correspondents visiting the country.

geertvankesteren_180104Samara.jpg
photo by Geert Van Kesteren, Magnum Photos © http://www.whymisterwhy.com

A second Associated Press photographer, Bilal Hussein, is currently in detention in a US military facility, according to British Journal of Photography (22 Aug 2007, p.4). He was imprisoned on 12 April 2006, accused of being a security threat, and since then has not been charged or permitted a public hearing. AP president Tom Curley has been petitioning for his release.

Note here that Bilal Hussein had so far provided the AP and the world with extraordinary photographs, often reporting the viewpoint of the insurgents. However, in a rather dubious response, and despite the full support provided by the AP towards their stringer photojournalist, some public commentators had explicitly attacked him, because they either doubted the veracity of his work, or thought that it was serving ”terrorist propaganda”

One story which I have read by Bilal Hussein, contained shocking, different and critical aspects of the war contrasting the mainstream representation of the war given by the US forces. For example, in this report published by the AP after the US attack in Fellujah in 2004 (click here for full story) Hussein reports the death of civilians, “helicopters firing on and killing people who tried to cross the river […] a family of five was shot dead as they tried to cross.”

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