Journalist's Murder Echoes Risks of War Reporting

Washington Post reporter Salih Saif Aldin was recently killed in Iraq while covering a story for his newspaper. More than 100 Iraqi journalists have died since the start of the Iraq war. New York Times reporter Abdul Razzaq al-Saiedi talks about the danger of covering a nation in battle, especially for Iraqis who work for the international media.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

We want to turn our attention now to a story that hits close to home for many of us here. Two reporters have been killed in Iraq in the last two days. According to the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, more than 150 journalists and more than 50 of their assistants have been killed in Iraq since the beginning of the war in March 2003.

On Monday, Dhi Abdul-Razak al-Dibo, a reporter who worked for two newspapers in Tikrit, plus his two bodyguards, were killed in an ambush. And on Sunday, a colleague of ours at The Washington Post, Salih Saif Aldin, was shot in the forehead while taking pictures for a story. Both were Iraqi nationals, as are most of the journalists being killed in Iraq. Foreign media in Iraq, including NPR, often rely on Iraqi reporters to be their eyes and ears in the most dangerous areas.

Abdul Razzaq al-Saiedi, a New York Times reporter and a native Iraq, is currently a Nieman scholar at Harvard University. And we're pleased to have him with us here.

Hello. Thank you for speaking with us.

Mr. ABDUL RAZZAQ AL-SAIEDI (Reporter, The New York Times; Nieman Fellow, Harvard University): Thank you. I'm glad to be here.

MARTIN: These tragic reports are no news for you. In July of this year, as I understand it, you also lost a fellow journalist, Khalid Hassan. What happened?

Mr. AL-SAIEDI: What happened in July was my colleague, Khalid Hassan, who was 23 years old, he sent us in the newsroom a text message in the cell phone. He said my area's blocked by military forces. And then he tried to find a way to come to the work on Friday. And he said, I'm going to be late. And then, one hour later, his mom, she called us and she said he's dead. He was killed.

So he was shot in an area called the Saidiya, which is west of Baghdad that he used to live. And on Sunday, the reporter for - in Washington Post, Josana Saif Aldin(ph), also he was killed at the same area of Saidiya.

MARTIN: Do you believe that journalists are being targeted because of their work, or are they targeted because they are perceived to be affiliated in any way with Western entities no matter what they're doing? Or is it random?

Mr. AL-SAIEDI: Well, you know, by being a reporter or a journalist in Iraq, that means you are a target - you know, especially the reporter who work for American or Western media. Let me tell you in 2003, for instance, during and right after the invasion, journalists would put the word and sign press on their flak jacket or on vehicles for protection. But if they do that now, that would put themselves in serious danger. So it's a chaos there. It's really random. And you don't know who's the enemy. I mean, we are the reporters there. We are a target by everyone, by militia, by the insurgents, and even by, you know, regular military forces, by the army.

MARTIN: Is the point to keep people from telling the story, or is the point just to intimidate anybody who's perceived to be affiliated with the West?

Mr. AL-SAIEDI: Both. It's both. So, therefore, we have to keep a low profile while doing our job. But it's difficult to keep the balance between reporting and safety.

MARTIN: How do you keep at it? How do you keep yourself wanting to do this?

Mr. AL-SAIEDI: You know, to keep myself low profile, sometime I'm doing the report without saying I am a reporter for The New York Times or work at all, you know, for any other media organization. I just try to, you know, get the report, get information, and to be identified, to be - you know, as much as I can, of course, you know, this is, you know, very difficult. But honestly, the matter there is a matter of luck.

MARTIN: Reporters often don't like being at the story themselves, but in this case, you are. So is there something that you would like people to know about the way you have to do your job, or why you do your job that you would like them to know?

Mr. AL-SAIEDI: Yeah. It's, you know, it's - by being a reporter, it's something attracts you, you know, to go out there during the story and tell the people about the story. It's the issue, also, of challenge. You can't stop. That's the point. You can't stop, so therefore, still in Baghdad, you know, hundreds of journalists - Iraqis, Arabs or Western. Sometime we have bigger stories, and the story, you have to do it. You have to write it. So you can't stop yourself.

MARTIN: Abdul Razzaq al-Saiedi is a New York Times reporter, a native Iraqi. He's currently a Nieman scholar at Harvard University, and he joined us on the phone from Harvard.

Mr. al-Saiedi, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Mr. AL-SAIEDI: Thank you.

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