Local Journalists Brave Dangers to Tell the Iraqi Story
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
In Iraq, the threats of kidnapping and killing restrict the movements of many of the foreign press. But Iraqi journalists, whether employed by foreign or local media, still go out and get the story.
That can be a harrowing experience; NPR's Jaime Tarabay tells us now.
JAIME TARABAY reporting:
Ahmed(ph) is a young, good-looking television reporter working for an Iraqi national broadcaster. He's been on the job for three years, and his face has become as well known to Iraqi's as the politicians he reports on every day. Here, covering yet another round of political negotiations, he prepares for a live shot.
He's dressed all in black. His dark hair falls onto his forehead as he speaks into his microphone. He projects total confidence. Inside, however, it's a different story.
Mr. AHMED (Television Reporter, Iraq): (Through Translator) For the last nine days, I've been staying in a hotel, because I'm afraid to go home. I keep my press card in my sock, so if anyone asks me, I give them something else. Last week, two of our colleagues were killed in Amaria, and a director of ours was gunned down.
TARABAY: Because of his security fears, he asked to be identified only by his first name, and he didn't want his employer named either. Like so many other Iraqi journalists, Ahmed is caught between the story of his life and the fear that he'll one day be killed reporting it.
The committee to protect journalists says that since the beginning of the U.S.- led invasion in 2003, at least 48 Iraqi journalists have been killed. Ahmed says many of his reports focus on things he - as an ordinary Iraqi - cares about.
Mr. AHMED: (Through translator) Once I was with the Iraqi Special Forces in Dorah. I put on my flak jacket and covered my face. I found that regardless of the statements of the Ministers of Interior and Defense, there was no sign of security or safety.
What made me do that story? I just wanted the Iraqi government to know; the Iraqi government that is located in the green zone, and knows nothing.
TARABAY: He is astonished at the disconnect between Iraqi politicians and the rest of the country. He says when he went to complain about the security situation to the Interior Minister, the Minister gave him a gun. But he doesn't feel any safer, and he wants to leave Iraq one day soon.
Mr. AHMED: (Through translator) I'm the only son with six sisters. It's not because I don't want to stay in my country. I love my country. But I have to leave. Death is the simplest thing in Iraq. A bullet in the head is nothing. Especially against journalists.
TARABAY: Increasingly, the foreign press here relies on Iraqi staff to do its reporting. For some of these Iraqis, it's dangerous enough just being a journalist. For someone working for a foreign news organization, it can be even worse.
Omar Kareem(ph) is a local reporter for the French News Agency. But he never tells people that.
Mr. OMAR KAREEM (Iraqi journalist): It's harder than working for Iraqi newspaper. As you're working for foreigners, sometimes people think that you are a spy. Whatever, it's French, English, American, whatever. You are just working for foreigners, that means you are a spy. So sometimes we try to say that we are working for some newspaper.
TARABAY: In a newsroom elsewhere in Baghdad, a young man who asked to be identified as Abu Omar(ph) fixes his recording equipment. He's a soundman for ABC News. He says he loves playing with sound because he used to play the guitar. When he's out with a camera crew talking to locals for a story, he never tells them he works for Americans.
Mr. ABU OMAR (Iraqi journalist): This is, you know, a reality. We have seen it out in the field for the last three years. If you tell them that you are from an Arabic news channel or so, they feel like they are all brothers, or so, and they became much more cooperative.
TARABAY: But he says that doesn't always help. He recalls Atwar Bahajad(ph), a widely known Sunni correspondent for the Arab satellite television station Al- Arabiya. She and her crew were killed as they reported on the bombing of the Shiite Golden Mosque in Samarra in February.
Abu Omar thinks Iraqi journalists may have one of the deadliest jobs in the country, but they're prepared to take risks.
Mr. OMAR: Everything in Iraq is exposed to danger, whether if you are walking down the street, if you own the shop. So I do feel afraid, but, you know, I'm willing to take my chance. And this is my job. This is the thing I like to do. And I'll take it for granted that whatever to happens, it's meant to happen, you know, because eventually, we're all going to die.
TARABAY: Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad.