Iraqi Journalists Set Up Shop in Jordan

Many wealthy and the educated people have left Iraq because of the threat of violence. That includes many Iraqi journalists. Now Iraqi journalists are filing stories from outside of their country.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now here's some news of journalist working one of the most dangerous beats in the world. More than 100 Iraqis, working in the media, have been killed over the past three and a half years. And some Iraqi reporters and media managers have sought refuge in neighboring Jordan.

Kristen Gillespie reports on some exiles who give new meaning to the word: telecommuting.

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KRISTEN GILLESPIE: The weather reporter for the Diyar Satellite Channel is doing a standup, next to the Tigris River, on a gray day in Baghdad. Five hundred miles away in Amman, Faysal Yasiri is watching the broadcast with greater interest than most.

Yasiri is a well-known Iraqi movie and television director. He's also the founder and owner of the Diyar Satellite Channel, which for the last eight months, he's been managing from his new base in Amman.

The news from Iraq on this day, includes the murder of a popular TV comedian, along with other acts of violence. The Diyar reporter doesn't shy away from commentary. Iraqis can't defend themselves, she says, this enemy just keeps on killing. Yasiri sighs and says her comments simply reflect the reality Iraqis are facing.

Mr. FAISAL YASIRI (Owner, Diyar Satellite Channel): I am a television man, and for 40 years I worked with the other people. So I thought, after April 2003, we have now the possibility to work free. I never thought this situation would be so bad.

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GILLESPIE: Yasiri moves between his living room, where he watches his channel, and his home office. It's here where he holds meetings throughout the day, over the Internet, with the staff in Baghdad, or at with those who can make it to work. Four have been killed, and threatening letters regularly arrive to the channel's Iraqi headquarters.

Yasari says he's not going back until there's security. This, he says, could take years.

In downtown Amman, a group of Iraqi writers and editors are discussing the news back home. They'll be contributing to the next issue of the independent Iraqi newspaper, Al-Sabah Al-Jadid, or A New Morning. The paper still maintains offices in Baghdad, but soon it will also be printed in Amman.

Beyond the conference room, Ismail Zayer sits in his office, with abstract Iraqi paintings hanging on the walls. He started the newspaper in Baghdad, but like Faysal Yasiri doesn't plan to go back anytime soon. Zayer says that just trying to stay alive in Baghdad was taking up too much of his time. He's still grieving for his personal driver and bodyguard. He says both were killed, simply because they worked for him.

Mr. ZAYER: A man like me, might be any man, any human, will never ever feel relaxed or happy if he realizes that there's somebody else - younger - had been killed because of him. I (Unintelligible) this kind of feel of guilt.

GILLESPIE: Today, Zayer manages the paper and the reporters he has left in Iraq, from his office here in Amman.

Mr. ZAYER: (Unintelligible) they're proficient or they leave the country. From February and March ‘til now, Al-Sabah Al-Jadid lost something like 18 journalists because of that threat - some of them now in Canada, five of them in Syria, four or five here in Amman, three in Cairo, and four in Australia. And today, only, I've received another letter from the people escape from Baghdad to Damascus and they are penniless.

GILLESPIE: Some of Zayer's staff have paid a heavy price for their work.

Mr. ZAYER: The threats was daily. For example, last week we lost two of our drivers. One of them, very young guy, he had been killed. They cut his head and put it in the car. And they took cars. And we have, still ‘til this moment, we have missing a driver.

GILLESPIE: Though Jordan has opened its borders to these new exiles, Iraqis here say they long for home. Relief to be out of Iraq blends uncomfortably with both an uncertain future and an uncertain present. Ishmael Zayer:

Mr. ZAYER: The look on their life here as an occasional, only for a very short time. They don't know, they don't know. Also, some of them feel some bitterness and disappointment - my discovering, for example, that oh my God what's going on. It was better six months ago. You need to live, and we cannot live.

GILLESPIE: For NPR News, I'm Kristin Gillespie in Amman.

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