Area: 438,320 sq.km.
Language: Arabic, Kurdish
Head of state: President Jalal Talabani
For the second year running, Iraq was the world’s most dangerous country for journalists. The figures were chilling. 31 journalists and media assistants were killed, more than a dozen kidnapped, nearly 80 arrested and several media targeted by violence, making 2004 even more deadly than 2003, when 12 journalists and media assistants were killed.
At the end of the year, two cameramen were still missing - Frenchman Fred Nérac, of the British TV station ITN (since 22 March 2003) and Iraqi Isam Hadi Muhsin al-Shumary (since 15 August 2004).
The US administration in Baghdad, headed by Paul Bremer, formally handed over to an interim Iraqi prime minister, Iyad Allawi, on 28 June. Described by the US as an "Iraqi democrat," Allawi is a former Baath Party member who spent 32 years in exile. He aroused mixed feelings among Iraqi journalists.
"He’s a former secret policeman," said Kais Al-Azzawi, editor of the socialist paper Al-Jadida. "We call him ’Saddam-without-the-moustache.’" Hazem Abdel Hamid an-Nuweimi, a Baghdad University political scientist, called him "a democrat, but an Arab democrat - like an Egyptian or Algerian one."
The US-backed Allawi, grappling with a Shiite Islamic-nationalist uprising and a mainly Sunni one, many-faceted and helped from the outside, was very suspicious of the media and banned the pan-Arab satellite TV station Al-Jazeera from working in the country.
A deadly place to work
Most of the journalists and media assistants killed in Iraq in 2004 were Iraqis (81%). Six foreign reporters and three Iraqi journalists were killed, most of them (61%) outside Baghdad. Terrorist and guerrilla attacks accounted for the increase in journalists killed and were the major cause of death (65%).
At least seven Kurdish journalists were reportedly killed in bomb attacks on the offices of the two main Kurdish political parties in Erbil that killed about 100 people on 1 February. They have not been identified.
Journalist Nadia Nasrat and two staff of the local TV station Diyala in Baquba (60 km north of Baghdad) were killed when the minibus taking them to work was attacked on 18 March. The station, set up by US forces after the invasion, is accused, along with others around the country, of collaborating with the occupation forces.
A crew from the Polish state-owned TV station TVP ran into an ambush near Latifiya (30 km south of Baghdad), in the "Sunni triangle" guerrilla area, on 7 May. Star reporter Waldemar Milewicz and an Algerian-born Polish technician, Mounir Bouamrane, were killed and cameraman Jerzy Ernst was wounded. Their Iraqi driver said a vehicle came up from behind and opened fire, killing Milewicz. "We stopped and I got out with the other two but the attackers fired again, killing Bouamrane and wounding Ernst."
US troops were the next biggest cause of death (19%) for media workers in Iraq, with five reporters and media assistants killed in mysterious or controversial circumstances.
Reporter Ali al-Khatib and cameraman Ali Abdel Aziz, of the satellite TV station Al-Arabiya, were shot dead near a US checkpoint as they were covering the aftermath of a rocket attack on Baghdad’s Burj al-Hayat Hotel on 18 March. The US army admitted on 29 March it had killed them but said the journalists’ car had been hit by mistake when troops fired at a car that sped through a barrier and crashed into a Humvee military vehicle.
Assad Kadhim and Hussein Saleh, of the US-funded TV station Al-Iraqiya, were killed by US troops on 19 April as they were filming a US base on the road to Samarra, about 100 km. north of Baghdad.
Italian reporter Enzo Baldoni, 56, freelancing for the Italian weekly Diario, was executed after being kidnapped on 24 August on his way to the besieged city of Najaf. A group called the "Islamic Army in Iraq" said on 26 August they had killed him. In a video shown by Al-Jazeera, the group demanded that all 3,000 Italian troops leave the country within 48 hours. Baldoni’s family and Italian opposition figures accused the Italian government of not doing enough to save him.
The British TV station ITN said on 25 June that DNA tests by the British army showed that a body found in southern Iraq was that of missing Lebanese interpreter Hussein Osman and that he had probably been killed on 22 March 2003, the day he disappeared after a clash near Basra between US and Iraqi troops in which the station’s star reporter, Terry Lloyd, also died.
There was no sign of French cameraman Fred Nérac, who also vanished after the clash in which the four-man ITN crew, who were covering the war independently (not "embedded" with US or British troops), were caught.
The gruesome business of hostage-taking
16 foreign and Iraqi journalists were kidnapped in the country in 2004, especially from April on. They were easy to spot, could be used to blackmail foreign governments and included Britons, Turks, Americans, Czechs, French and Italians.
Three Japanese journalists were seized on 8 April, including Soichiro Koriyama, a freelance photographer with Shukan Asahi (Weekly Asahi). Al-Jazeera and the Japanese TV station NHK showed a video in which the "Mujahideen Brigades" threatened to burn them alive if Japan did not pull its troops out of Iraq within three days. The three were released unharmed on 15 April.
Reporter Alexandre Jordanov and cameraman Yvan Cerieix, of the French broadcasting news agency Capa, were kidnapped on 11 April and freed three days later after being passed around several groups of kidnappers.
French journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot were kidnapped south of Baghdad on 20 August 2004 on their way to Najaf. A few days later, the "Islamic Army in Iraq" said it had seized them and demanded that the French government abolish a recent law forbidding French schoolchildren from wearing religious (including Islamic) clothing. The French government worked behind the scenes to free them and a delegation from the French Muslim Council toured the Middle East to press for their release.
The journalists’ Syrian guide and interpreter, Mohammed al-Joundi, who was seized with them, was found on 11 November by US troops during their attack on Fallujah. Malbrunot, 41, a freelance for Le Figaro, Ouest-France and RTL, and Chesnot, 38, a freelance for Radio France Internationale and Radio France, were freed on 21 December.
Iraqi journalist Raad Beraiej al-Azzawi, of the newspaper Sada Wasit, was kidnapped by armed men on 26 November at a bogus checkpoint on the road to Kut, south of Baghdad. He had been jailed under President Saddam Hussein’s regime and had criticised current guerrilla violence. He was free more than a week later after payment of a ransom.
Foreign reporters tried to ensure their own safety at the beginning of the year by moving around in ordinary vehicles and wearing Iraqi-type clothes (see account by agency photographer Patrick Baz), but these efforts were overtaken by the hostage-taking.
Foreign journalists then adopted more visible and efficient protection or else "embedded" themselves with US forces after several months when the dangerous situation obliged meant they could venture only rarely from their hotels. When they did go out into the city or beyond, they travelled in bulletproof vehicles with private security guards.
Iraqi government falls back on strongarm methods
Relations between the US army and the foreign media in Baghdad were very tense early in the year. The attitude of US troops remained dubious throughout the year, sometimes due to lack of precautions and consideration towards journalists in the field. The Iraqi government was also hostile to the media and fiercely criticised it, especially the Arab satellite TV stations.
After criticism by the major US media in late 2003 of the Pentagon’s attitude to journalists, the British news agency Reuters also protested at the brutal behaviour of US troops. Journalists were several times arrested and held, sometimes without justification, for several weeks by the US army during 2004.
The disclosure in March that US troops were torturing Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison encouraged three Iraqi staffers of Reuters to talk about how they had been tortured and humiliated sexually and religiously by US soldiers in January at the Volturno US military base near Fallujah.
Cameraman Salem Ureibi, Fallujah-based freelance journalist Ahmad Mohammad Hussein al-Badrani and driver Sattar Jabar al-Badrani were arrested on 2 January while covering a US helicopter crash near the city. They were freed three days later without being charged with anything; "I cried when I saw the Abu Ghraib pictures," said Ureibi. "I saw they had suffered like we had."
Reporters Michel Despratx, Stephane Rossi and Mohammed Ballout, of the French TV station Canal +, were arrested, handcuffed and blindfolded by the US army for more than 24 hours in May and then freed with an apology. They had been filming near the Baghdad Hotel in the capital.
Since the fighting began in Iraq in March 2003, top US officials have accused the media, especially Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera, of biased, sensational and inflammatory coverage and of deliberately stirring up anti-American feeling. Iraqi government national security advisor Muaffak Rubai and the US military commander in Iraq, Gen. John Abizaid, accused the two stations in April of lying about US military operations in Fallujah. The Iraqi government, which had banned Al-Jazeera from covering official events for a month in January, threatened to close the station’s offices, saying it was inciting people to violence and subversion.
The Allawi government ordered it in August to close its Baghdad offices for 30 days and on 4 September the ban on working in Iraq was extended indefinitely.
The interim government asked the media to impartially cover the US-Iraqi attack on Fallujah in November to root out Sunni guerrillas, make a distinction between "innocent civilian inhabitants" and "terrorists who have taken the city hostage" and present clearly the government’s position, which it said represented the aspirations of most Iraqis. Media that ignored these recommendations, which were faxed to media offices on the prime minister’s official notepaper, would be punished, but details were not given.
Defence minister Hazem Shaalan called Al-Jazeera "clearly a terrorist TV station" in an article the same month in the daily Asharq al-Awsat, accusing its Baghdad office of operating illegally since it was closed three months earlier. "May God curse all those, journalists or not, who terrorise Iraqis and their children," he said. "The day will come when we shall deal with Al-Jazeera in other ways than with words."
19 journalists were killed
12 media assistants were killed
7 journalists were wounded
and 3 media outlets physically attacked
The art of camouflage
The photos of Patrick Baz have appeared in top international magazines - such as Newsweek, Time, Paris Match and Der Spiegel - for the past 20 years. He covered the war in Lebanon and the first Palestinian intifada for the French news agency Agence France-Presse before becoming head of its Middle East pictures desk. He has visited Iraq regularly since 1998.
What is it like working as a photographer in Iraq amid the dangers of bomb attacks, guerrilla action and US military operations?
It’s a very special situation, a mixture of Beirut in the 1980s and Mogadishu, but more dangerous. Whatever side we happen to be with, we’re seen as supporting it.
We’ve reduced the number of foreign photographers on the field because of safety concerns, especially about kidnapping, and they now supervise local photographers or are "embedded" with US or British forces. Most of the time we’re stuck in a hotel editing the pictures taken by the Iraqis.
Many photographers, who love working in the field, feel like lions in a cage. It’s hard to deal with this because life looks fairly normal from a hotel balcony. The din of snarled-up honking traffic, people waiting for a bus, overflowing taxis, people washing their cars on the banks of the Tigris, kids playing football - all these daily routines hide the dangers. When we go out, the restaurants are full and old men in traditional head-dress are smoking nargilas and playing cards or dominoes while sipping coffee on a terrace. Only the sound of helicopters chugging low overhead or a passing US army patrol reminds us of another reality.
I don’t go out of Baghdad any more and I avoid a few Sunni neighbourhoods. I have no problem either giving myself a Muslim name and growing a beard or, since I speak Arabic, using religious language when I talk to ordinary people.
Juggling with press cards is also part of the art of camouflage and the schizophrenia which takes hold in this kind of situation. The US army information office press card that you hang around your neck and can be seen from a distance can be very useful at the scene of a bomb attack, during a Coalition military operation or when you’re faced with jittery troops. But it can also be a problem just a few yards away if you come across armed men or an excitable crowd."
Have some areas of the country become no-go areas for photographers? Were you for example able to cover the battle for Fallujah in November 2004?
The Sunni area that’s been nicknamed "The Triangle of Death" or "The Bermuda Triangle" is now out-of-bounds for the media. Iraqis can work there more easily but they face the same dangers and many refuse to go to the city. Some local reporters are terrorised, threatened or else are working with the insurgents.
During the first US attack on Fallujah in April, I got into the town independently with my driver and a colleague from the Gamma agency, Frédéric Lafargue. We crossed the military lines and found ourselves face to face with armed men who guided us through the streets. I don’t know whether this was being brave or just not thinking. This wasn’t a question during the second US attack in November. The insurgents were more hardline so we were forced to work ’embedded’ with US troops. In view of the danger, ’embedding’ has solved some of our reporting problems.
I jumped at the chance and for the first time in my career, I lived a very spartan life round-the-clock for a month with US troops in action in Ramadi and Fallujah.
The rules of being ’embedded’ are pretty simple. They tell us about the plans in very great detail but we have to promise not to betray military secrets on pain of being thrown out. We’re also asked not to name the dead and wounded until their families are told. During the fighting we have to obey the same orders as the soldiers. When you’re told to kneel, you kneel, if you have to crawl, you crawl. It’s a matter of survival. You also have to avoid falling into the trap of empathising with the soldiers who protect you and share their day with you.