Why Journalists Are Being Murdered In Iraq
By Finian Cunningham
03/16/06 "ICH" -- -- THE saying goes that the first casualty of war
is the truth. Included in this category in Iraq it seems are the
people who endeavour to tell the truth, the journalists.
To date, some 65 journalists have been killed in Iraq since the
US/UK invasion in March 2003, according to the internationally
respected Committee to Protect Journalists. Iraq, says the CPJ, has
become the deadliest recent conflict for journalists to work in.
This death toll in the space of three years compares with 66
journalists killed during the Vietnam War spanning two decades
In World War II (1939-45), 68 journalists were killed covering
perhaps the worst conflagration in history which spread across three
And in World War I (1914-18), in which the military death toll ran
to 14 million, only two journalists are listed as being killed.
However, it seems that Iraq is merely reflecting a trend seen in
other recent conflicts where journalists are being deliberately
targeted by combatants. It almost seems like an antiquated notion
now, that in war the journalist should be viewed in the same way as
clerics and medics, that is, as being outside the rules of
Thus journalist casualty figures for conflicts in Argentina
(1976-83) were 98; Central America (1979-89) 89; Algeria (1993-96)
58; Colombia (1986-present) 52; Balkans (1991-95) 36; and the
Philippines (1983-87) 36.
Again, these figures reflect a wider and even more disturbing trend.
The truth is that the first casualty of modern war and conflict is
innocent civilians, men, women and children. Journalists, in trying
to report this, are therefore considered legitimate targets by
combatants who would want to conceal their heinous crimes.
Where did this debased morality stem from in which civilians are now
deliberately thrown into the line of fire?
One significant reference point is the concept devised and deployed
by the Americans and the British during World War II whereby whole
areas of civilian population were deliberately targeted in bombing
raids. The idea was to terrorise the enemy's people and corrode
their morale. This saturation, carpet bombing of cities like
Dresden, Hamburg and Tokyo annihilated millions of civilians. It was
an unprecedented innovation in the tactical prosecution of war.
Perhaps the nadir of this heinous logic was the dropping of the
atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki where some 300,000 people
were vapourised in seconds.
These are gargantuan war crimes and crimes against humanity for
which the US and British governments and military have never been
held to account. And these crimes make modern-day despots like
Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein seem like street corner thugs
The travesty perpetrated on international law and justice by the
Americans and the British was like the unleashing of a psychopathic
monster on the world.
Henceforth, the terrorising and murder of innocent men, women and
children (the ultimate crime) became a legitimised method for states
and other groups to pursue their military and political objectives.
This corrosion in the standards of military conduct and respect for
international laws like the Geneva Convention and UN Treaty on
Torture, is now commonplace in conflicts since World War II.
To get back to Iraq, here we have an illegal war committed by the US
and UK. In legal terms, it qualifies as the crime of "war of
aggression", the very same crime that Nazi leaders were convicted of
at the Nuremburg.
More than 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the US and
UK invaded that country. The same number of people have been
imprisoned, many of them tortured.
Since hostilities officially halted in March 2004, it is well
documented that Washington and London have now shifted their
military tactics to that of a massive counterinsurgency operation.
The idea is to weaken Iraq by a process of "Balkanisation" - that
is, dividing and weakening the country into Kurdish, Sunni and Shia
One way of achieving this is to foment sectarian hatred and fear in
the population. Since the US and British established the Special
Police Commandos, by reconstituting the remnants of Saddam's
military, there has been a torrent of "death squad executions" among
the civilian population. Many of the victims, who are often found
dumped on roadsides showing signs of torture before being killed
with a bullet to the head, were last seen by relatives being taken
away by these US/British death squads.
To get back to the death of journalists in Iraq, the majority of
them have been Iraqis out on the streets trying to independently
report on what is happening in their country. None of the deaths
have involved those embedded journalists who ride along in
US/British army humvees and helicopters.
One of those killed was Yasser Salihee. He was shot dead as he
approached a US checkpoint on June 24 last year. In the previous
weeks, Salihee had documented, for the Knight-Ridder news agency,
dozens of cases of men being dumped at morgues after having been
detained by the Wolf Brigade, the most notorious unit among the
Special Police Commandos, and under the direct command of a US
More recently, Iraqi journalist Atwar Bahjat was murdered while
reporting on the bombing of the Al-Askari Mosque in Samarra on
February 22 this year. Bahjat was a well known female television
reporter working for Bahrain-based Al-Arabiya. She and her news
crew, Khalid Mahmoud Al-Falahi and Adnan Khairallah, were
interviewing local witnesses who claimed that they had seen what
looked like police commandos entering the Mosque prior to the
explosion. There were also claims that US military forces had been
heavily deployed in the vicinity the previous night.
Bahjat never got to complete her investigation. She and her news
crew were apprehended by what appeared to be commandos, shouting:
"We want the anchorwoman." The bodies of Bahjat and her two
colleagues were found hours later. They had been shot dead.
In this context, it becomes clear why journalists are now just
another casualty of war, the victims of foul crime. Especially when
they attempt to report the extent of those foul crimes perpetrated
on the civilian population and more so when the perpetrators of
these foul crimes are the master architects of dirty war, the US and
Finian Cunningham is a journalist based in Ireland
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