STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's go next to Baghdad, which is preparing to host a range of foreign leaders next year. An Arab League summit is expected in Iraq's capital and in preparation, officials are having some of the city's hotels gutted and redone. There's a side effect of this change. The hotels under renovation are among the few safe places for many journalists to work, and they're being kicked out.

NPR's Kelly McEvers reports that's one of many challenges for journalists right now.

KELLY MCEVERS: The Mansour hotel, on the banks of the Tigris River, is one place where a person could find a little civilization in this battered city. It has a gym, a Chinese restaurant, and stunning river views through dusty, sliding-glass doors.

(Soundbite of breaking and scraping)

MCEVERS: Now, though, the Mansour is coming apart, piece by piece.

(Soundbite of breaking and scraping)

MCEVERS: Leith al-Haidar is a documentary filmmaker for a European company. His tiny room at the Mansour is filled with computers and tapes and a small daybed - not for long. The hotel has ordered him and dozens of other journalists to evacuate.

Mr. LEITH AL-HAIDAR (Documentary Filmmaker): So we are facing this problem now. We are trying to find other place. 'Til now, I didn't find anything.

MCEVERS: Haidar says not only are reporters being thrown out onto the streets, but it's getting harder and harder for them - well, us - to do our jobs.

The government office that oversees the press here is the Communication and Media Commission. It was set up by the U.S. just after the 2003 invasion.

The commission recently announced that all news organizations, both Iraqi and foreign, should register, pay hefty licensing fees, and sign a pledge that we won't ignite sectarian tensions or encourage terrorism. Human rights groups say this opens the door for people in power to punish their enemies. We put that claim to Ahmed al Abyad, who advises the commission.

You signed this thing that says, we will not ignite sectarian tensions. But it's like, well, who is to judge that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AHMED AL ABYAD: (Through translator) It's true what you are saying and -who puts this - regulations? And again, who is responsible for applying those regulations? That's the biggest - questions.

MCEVERS: For now, that who is the nine-member commission, which is appointed directly by the prime minister and not answerable to parliament. The idea is that in exchange for our money, and our pledges to abide by the rules, the commission will provide two things that are very important to journalists in Iraq: access and protection.

But so far, the commission hasn't held up its end of the deal. In fact, officials use protection as a way to deny access. These days, when a terrorist attack is reported or a military offensive is under way, journalists are kept far from the scene. Here's Ziad al Ajili, who heads a press freedom group here.

Mr. ZIAD AL AJILI (Leader of Press Freedom Group): (Through translator) When we go to those military commanders, they say, no. We don't want to give you access, because we fear for your safety. And, I mean, I want to do the report, even if I die, even if I pay my life for it. It's my life, and I'm free to do anything with it.

MCEVERS: Nearly 200 journalists have died here since the American invasion. And scores more have been kidnapped, beaten, jailed, sued and fined for doing their jobs. Just this week, an assassination attempt was made on an anchor for Iraqi state TV.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: Two months ago, a car bomber made it through several checkpoints and exploded at this house. It served as the local office of a Dubai-based TV channel. Three employees died, and more than a dozen people were injured.

The whole front of the house has been blown off. Inside, the rooms are completely destroyed. A mangled chandelier hangs from the ceiling.

Even though it's been a long time since the bombing, it was really difficult just to come and see this place.

MCEVERS: Right now, two months after this bombing, just to come and look at a destroyed house, we had to get three different people to approve us. We've got an army escort with us right now.

We ask the army commander how the car bomber got through the checkpoints in the first place. He says he has orders not to answer any questions from reporters.

Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Baghdad.

ARI SHAPIRO, host:

Iraq reached an unfortunate milestone today. Months after an election, the winners have yet to agree on a government. Last summer, departing U.S. ambassador Christopher Hill offered reassurance.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER HILL (Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq): It has been upwards of six months, and that's sort of getting close to the Dutch record from the 1970s. And I must say, in the last couple of weeks, the pace has really quickened. And I think there's a feeling that things may be heading in the right direction.

INSKEEP: On this program, Ambassador Hill noted that the Dutch - the Netherlands - actually went longer without a government back in 1977.

So we're getting close to six months - almost six months since the election.

Mr. HILL: Right.

INSKEEP: OK.

Mr. HILL: But again, that's not the record.

INSKEEP: That was in August. Today, the Dutch record of 207 days without a government no longer stands.

SHAPIRO: Iraqis have now gone 208 days since parliamentary elections, and they still have not formed a government to address the country's problems.

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