Kidnapped Iraqi TV Reporters Draw Little Attention

On Feb. 1, 2006, two Iraqi TV reporters were kidnapped after a news conference at the offices of the Iraqi Islamic Party. Reem Zaid and Marwan Khazaal, who worked for the Iraqi channel Al-Somariyah, are still missing... and their absence has failed to draw much media attention.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The press freedom group Reporters Without Borders says May has been another deadly month for Iraqi journalists, with at least five reporters or support staff killed. Kidnapping is also an ever-present threat.

A few weeks after the American reporter Jill Carroll was abducted this January, two journalists from an Iraqi TV station were kidnapped. Nearly five months later, Carroll is free, thanks in part to a sustained international effort, but there's no word on the fate of the Iraqis and only scattered calls for their release.

NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Baghdad.

PETER KENYON reporting:

Television cameraman Faras al-Alak(ph) was on a routine assignment at the headquarters of the Iraqi Islamic Party on February 1. As he left with his colleagues Reem Zaid and Marwan Khazaal, Faras recalls that the two cars of armed men who stopped them didn't look anything like his image of kidnappers. These men were well dressed, well trained in using their weapons, their faces uncovered. He mistook them for VIP bodyguards.

Mr. FARAS AL-ALAK (Sumariya T.V., Iraq): (Through translator) They approached our car shouting, stop, stop. There were five of them and got out of their car and pointed at Marwan and Reem and said, this one and this one. Another one grabbed Reem's hair. I fight him and he shoved the barrel of his machine gun into my chest and pushed me down on the floor. They put Marwan and Reem in (unintelligible) and sped off.

KENYON: While another cameraman phoned the station, Faras ran for help.

Mr. AL-ALAK: (Through translator) I ran back to the Iraqi Islamic Party. I told them Reem and Marwan had just been kidnapped. They said, we have nothing to do with this, get out of here. So I ran to the nearest police station. I said, please, alert the checkpoints. You have to stop them. He said he can't do anything until he takes a full written report from me. I said, by that time they'll get away, but he wouldn't listen.

KENYON: The following weeks highlighted the vast difference between the reaction to Reem and Marwan's kidnapping and the response to Jill Carroll's abduction. The plight of the young freelance reporter for the Christian Science Monitor sparked public and private efforts by government, military and diplomatic officials as well as by prominent Muslim religious and political figures. Reem and Marwan received only sporadic coverage.

That changed briefly on March 30 when Jill Carroll was suddenly freed by her captors. Over the next several days, Carroll, her bosses at the newspaper and press freedom advocates all made a number of pleas on behalf of the Iraqis still being held. Once she returned to Boston, Carroll began to realize the enormity of the effort that had been waged on her behalf. In a video posted on the Monitor's website, she tried to convey her astonishment.

Ms. JILL CARROLL (Christian Science Monitor): Overwhelming. The work that went into this and the trouble everyone went to for me, a lowly freelancer.

KENYON: The Monitor also provided for the family of Carroll's Iraqi translator, who was shot and killed the day she was taken. Meanwhile in Baghdad, after weeks of silence from Reem and Marwan's abductors, their parents stopped talking to the media and asked to be left alone.

In an old building in Baghdad's Wasarea(ph) neighborhood, 54-year-old Saad Mosun(ph) is working to put together an Iraqi union to protect journalists. Like most Iraqis, he was pleased to see Jill Carroll released. He just wishes he could find a fraction of that kind of support for Iraqi journalists. As it is, he says his union is barely scraping by. When asked what's being done to free Reem and Marwan now, Mosun pauses to listen to the sound of an explosion outside, points in the direction of the blast and smiles as if to say, what can we do?

(Soundbite of explosion)

Mr. SAAD MOSUN (Iraqi citizen): (Through translator) I think that answers your question better than I can.

KENYON: Outside the journalists' union, a member of NPR's Iraqi staff and driver found themselves trapped behind Iraqi police blockades as the frenetic aftermath of another Baghdad car bombing unfolded. Unlike Reem Zaid and Marwan Khazaal, they made it back to the office safely.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Baghdad.

BLOCK: NPR Baghdad employee Farah Khasaab(ph) provided reporting for this story.

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