Gives American Troops A Free Hand
By Robert Fisk
18 January, 2005
journalism" is the only way to describe it. More and more, Western
reporters in Baghdad are reporting from their hotels rather than the
streets of Iraq's towns and cities.
Some are accompanied
everywhere by hired and heavily armed Western mercenaries. A few live
in local offices, from which their editors refuse them permission to
Most use Iraqi "stringers"
- part-time correspondents who risk their lives to conduct interviews
for American or British journalists - and none can contemplate a journey
outside the capital without days of preparation, unless they "embed"
themselves with US or British forces.
Rarely, if ever,
has a war been covered by reporters in so distant and restricted a way.
Several Western journalists simply do not leave their rooms while on
station in Baghdad.
So grave are the
threats to Western journalists that some television stations are talking
of withdrawing their reporters and crews altogether. Amid an insurgency
where Westerners - and many Arabs as well as other foreigners - are
kidnapped and killed, reporting on this war is becoming close to impossible.
Not many British
and American papers still cover stories in Baghdad in person, moving
with trepidation through the streets of a city slowly being taken over
In the brutal 1990s
war in Algeria, at least 42 local reporters were murdered and a French
cameraman was shot to death in the Algiers casbah. But the Algerian
security forces could still give a minimum of protection to reporters.
In Iraq, they cannot even protect themselves. The police and the Iraqi
National Guard - much trumpeted by the Americans as the men who will
take over after an American withdrawal - are heavily infiltrated by
be manned by policemen, but it is now unclear just who the cops are
working for. US troops operating in and around Baghdad are now avoided
by Western journalists, unless they are "embedded", as much
as they are by Iraqis, because of the indiscipline with which they open
fire on civilians on the least suspicion.
So questions are being asked. What is a reporter's life worth?
Is the story worth
And, much more seriously
from an ethical point of view, why don't more journalists report on
the restrictions under which they operate?
During the 2003
US-British invasion, editors often insisted on prefacing journalist's
dispatches from Saddam Hussein's Iraq by talking abut the restrictions
under which they were operating. But today - when our movements are
much more circumscribed - no such "health warning" accompanies
their reports. In many cases, viewers and readers are left with the
impression that the journalist is free to travel around Iraq. Not so.
"The US military
couldn't be happier with this situation," a longtime American correspondent
in Baghdad says. "They know that if they bomb a house of innocent
people, they can claim it was a 'terrorist' base and get away with it.
They don't want us roaming around Iraq, and so the 'terrorist' threat
is great news for them. They can claim they've shot 600 or 1 000 insurgents
and we have no way of checking because we can't go to the cemetery or
visit the hospitals - because we don't want to get kidnapped and have
our throats cut."
Thus many reporters
are now reduced to telephoning the American military or the Iraqi "interim"
government for information from their hotel rooms, receiving "facts"
from men and women who are even more isolated from Iraq in the Baghdad
Green Zone around Saddam's former palace than are the journalists. Or
they take reports from their correspondents "embedded" with
American troops and who will, necessarily, get only the American side
of the story.
Yes, it is still
possible to report from the street in Baghdad. But fewer and fewer of
us are doing this, and there may come a time when we have to balance
the worth of our reports against the risk to our lives.
We haven't reached that point yet. So far, we still see a little more
of Iraq than the people who claim to be running this country.
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