Monday, November 27, 2006

Fighting Swords With Pens

IRIN IRAQ: Fighting swords with pens

BAGHDAD, 27 Nov 2006 (IRIN) - Freelance journalist Samir Khairallah, 31, walks a tight line between reporting the news and not becoming the news. With ongoing insurgent attacks and brutal sectarian violence plaguing the country, he must be careful about what he writes and whose ‘side’ he is perceived to be on.

“Iraqi journalists are in constant danger. Different groups are targeting us without any real explanation. Sometimes it is just because we have written a story that portrays different ideas to what they have,” Khairallah said.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 86 journalists (65 Iraqis and 21 foreigners) have been killed in Iraq since the US-led occupation of Iraq began in 2003. CPJ said another 36 media workers have been killed and dozens others kidnapped.

After five threats, Khairallah still works as a journalist but has moved house a number of times to stay out of the firing line of militia fighters and insurgents who have accused him of being a traitor because he works with foreign media at times.

“Foreign journalists depend on us to deliver stories to their newspapers because they cannot go out on the streets, we are ones who go under fire. I get money for it but in the mean time they do not offer us security equipment or insurance that could support our families [if we are killed],” Khairallah said.

“Many of my colleagues have been killed in Iraq for working with foreign media or working as translators for the US army. We are considered betrayers and are given death as our sentence,” he added.

Khairallah works long hours to earn enough money to support his wife and two children. With a notebook and pen in hand, he leaves his house very early in the morning to avoid Baghdad’s traffic and get to his appointments on time. For five years he has been writing for local and international media outlets.

Before the war, Khairallah was getting paid as little as $5 per story and today he gets around $10 from local newspapers and $20 from international publications, but he did not want to disclose their names for security reasons.

The work is often dangerous and he must be quick on his feet to avoid any trouble.

“Sometimes I give a fake name in interviews so that I am secure [when the article is published]. Before I submit my articles to a newspaper, I read them carefully and check whether they are likely to cause a bad reaction from any group in Iraq - because if they do, it could mean my death,” Khairallah said, adding that he prefers not to have his name alongside any story he was written.

Because of the fear factor, Khairallah said that there is no press freedom in Iraq. Journalists are often forced to take one side of a story just to be sure they will not be killed.

Khairallah said he is trying to please all sides in his reporting, but said there is increasing pressure on him to choose which side he is on. He fears that he may have to change profession if he has to compromise his neutrality.

“What we really need is an understanding in Iraq that journalists are neutral people who are simply transmitting the news to the world and not promoting more fighting and sectarian differences,” he said.

Khairallah feels that he lives in the shadows of foreign journalists, who often get accolades for articles that he really gathered the bulk of the information for. He feels unappreciated. He dreams of being a famous journalist one day, and of receiving prizes for his work.

“I hope one day my name will be recognised, maybe when Iraq gets true democracy and press freedom becomes a reality and not a theory,” he said.


U.S. Air Force jet crashes in Iraq - Yahoo! News:
U.S. Air Force jet crashes in Iraq

21 minutes ago

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A U.S. Air Force jet carrying one pilot crashed in
Iraq on Monday, the military said.

The F-16CG was supporting coalition ground forces when it went down at about 1:35 p.m., about 20 miles northwest of Baghdad in Anbar province, the military said in a brief statement that contained no information about the cause of the crash or the fate of the pilot.

Mohammed Al-Obeidi, an Iraqi who lives in the nearby town of Karmah, said he saw the jet flying up and down erratically before it nose-dived and exploded in a farm field.

He said other U.S. warplanes rushed to the crash site and were circling around it.


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