war reporting iraq
Three times more journalists have been killed in Iraq than in both world wars - many deliberately targeted by militias. Kim Sengupta reports on a forgotten death toll that is still rising
There were a number of "landmarks" in Iraq in the past few months: the Petraeus report into the US army's "surge"; the withdrawal of British forces from their last base inside Basra city; the decision to bring security companies under the law following the incident involving guards from Blackwater.
But one landmark which passed virtually unnoticed was that the Iraq conflict has become the deadliest by far for the media trying to cover it, with more than 200 journalists killed to date. To put this in perspective, two were killed in the First World War, 68 in the Second, 77 in Vietnam and 36 in the Balkans. And the toll in Iraq shows no sign of declining. It is, if anything, rising. Five journalists were killed in separate attacks in just one day last month. "Covering Iraq," says Chris Cramer, the president of CNN International, " is the single most dangerous assignment in the history of journalism."
Some famous journalists have lost their lives reporting conflicts - Robert Capa in the first Indochina war; Ernie Pyle on the island of Okinawa in the Second World War; Larry Burrows in Vietnam. But what makes Iraq more dangerous than the others is that the deaths are not accidental collateral damage from stray shells or from reporters being caught up in the fighting. Instead, many have been specifically targeted because of what they had reported or because they came from the wrong side of the sectarian divide. They are killed in drive-by shootings or abducted and executed, often after being tortured. There are little or no investigations into the attacks, creating impunity for the killers from the Shia or Sunni militant groups or government run death squads. The deaths have not come just from those quarters, about 15 reporters have been killed by US troops, six from Reuters alone.
There is a feeling among Iraqi journalists that the reason their plight receives so little attention is because the majority of those affected are not members of the Western media. On the occasions when the victims were, in fact, foreigners, the scope of coverage was glaringly different.
It would be unfair to suggest that the few foreign journalists left working in Iraq have anything less than great empathy for the Iraqi journalists working with them. Photographs of those who have fallen in the conflict are displayed on walls of the bureaux of The New York Times, The Washington Post, Reuters and other news organisations. Their families receive generous financial settlements and have, at times, been helped with resettlement abroad. It is undoubtedly the case that the media organisations have behaved towards their …