Journalists do a dangerous job in unstable Iraq

April 04, 2006|By TRUDY RUBIN

PHILADELPHIA -- Some genuine good news emerged from Iraq last week with the release of American journalist Jill Carroll, three months after she was kidnapped at gunpoint.

We still don't know the whole story of who seized Ms. Carroll, a freelance reporter for The Christian Science Monitor, or why her captors released her. But her release provides a good opportunity to reflect on the subject of the media and Iraq.

American journalists in Baghdad face daily choices about whether it is safe to visit political offices and homes of Iraqis. They must decide how long they can stay without someone outside noticing their presence and how to move around as inconspicuously as possible. For women journalists, that means covering up with a long abaya and a headscarf, as Ms. Carroll did.

Most American correspondents live outside the famous Green Zone, in hotels or houses turned into protected compounds by high concrete blast walls. On my several trips to Iraq, my gutsy Iraqi driver would often arrive in a different car each couple of days in order to outwit any spotters who might be looking for potential American kidnap victims. A chase car tailed us to keep watch for any drivers who seemed suspicious.

My driver would always keep us far away from U.S. military convoys, the black SUVs used by Western security contractors or the pickup trucks of the Iraqi police force. Getting too close might mean a bullet through the windshield. As a visiting columnist, I had to endure the day-to-day tension for only short stints, but correspondents who are based in Baghdad endure it for months or years. Kudos to them.

The freeing of Jill Carroll should also remind us of the incredible courage of Iraqi journalists, many of whom act as the eyes and ears of U.S. correspondents in places where the latter can no longer go.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 67 journalists and 24 media workers have been killed on duty in Iraq since March 2003. Forty-eight of those journalists and 23 of the media workers were Iraqis. A few examples: On Feb. 23, Atwar Bahjat, 30, a daring TV correspondent for Al-Arabiya, was shot down, along with her cameraman and engineer, by armed men who drove up asking for her by name. She was covering the bombing of the Shiite Askariya Shrine in Samarra.

On March, 7, Munsuf Abdallah al-Khaldi, who presented an educational and cultural show on the Iraqi station Baghdad TV, was shot dead as he was driving to Mosul to interview poets.

Ms. Carroll's Iraqi translator, Allan Enwiya, was shot dead by her kidnappers as he tried to call for help on his cell phone. My translator, Yasser Salihee, a wonderful young doctor-turned-journalist, was shot dead by a U.S. sniper as he drove home from the barber, when he apparently couldn't stop soon enough after being ordered to do so.

And even as Ms. Carroll enjoys her new freedom, Marwan Ghazal and Reem Zaeed, two Iraqi correspondents for the private Iraqi channel Samaria TV, remain missing after being kidnapped Feb. 1. (Kidnapping of civilians for ransom is also on the rise in Baghdad.) Yet Iraqi journalists continue to risk death from bombs, insurgents and fire from U.S. forces. These courageous Iraqis deserve our utmost respect.

Lastly, Ms. Carroll's release offers a chance to reflect on the charge that the U.S. media fail to cover the good news and focus too much on the violence. The daily dangers facing U.S. and Iraqi journalists - and ordinary Iraqis - underline the most basic truth about Iraq: The main issue there is security.

Unless security is restored to Baghdad and environs, neither the government nor the economy nor reconstruction plans can function; the country will continue to splinter, and low-level civil war will spread. Sabotage will continue to affect supplies of electricity and oil, which are still being produced at below prewar levels.

Reporters can look for good news, but they can't avoid covering the main issue, in all its political and military dimensions. That issue is whether Iraq is becoming safer. We should honor the American and Iraqi correspondents who risk their lives daily to bring us that news.

Trudy Rubin is a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her column appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Sun. Her e-mail trubin@phillynews.com.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.