Foreign ed: Guardian's move out of Iraq was 'dereliction of duty'

On the first anniversary of the kidnapping of Guardian journalist Rory Carroll in Iraq, the paper's foreign editor, Harriet Sherwood, has admitted that it is an "absolute dereliction of duty" that The Guardian has no full-time correspondent in the country.

Carroll (pictured) was snatched by a 15-man armed gang after he left a private home in Sadr City in October last year.

Sherwood said: "Since a year ago when Rory was kidnapped, we have been back to Baghdad, but we haven't had someone there full-time.

"I think that is an absolute dereliction of our duty as a progressive liberal newspaper to report on what is undoubtedly the most important story in the world."

Carroll was taken by followers of radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, apparently in an attempt to negotiate the release of jailed Shia militiamen.

Sherwood described the 36 hours that Carroll was held as "the worst experience of my life" and added that from the perspective of "the bosses back home", Carroll's kidnap had "absolutely fundamentally changed how we report from conflict zones".

Sherwood said that, despite the fact that The Guardian was a large news organisation, editors and management felt they had little control over the events surrounding Carroll's release.

She said: "There was a lot of support from the British Government, but I remember at the worst moment getting a call from a security operative in Baghdad who said: ‘We've identified the house where Rory is being held. We're going to storm it.'

"I was saying: ‘Whoa, don't do this, because we don't want there to be a big gun battle, because Rory will certainly get killed.' We just didn't have control over this, that was way above our level, it was being decided at Government level."

Sherwood said that it was important to reflect on how the situation had affected the way in which media organisations report from conflict zones.

She said: "I don't think any story is worth a journalist getting killed, and to get the balance right between the safety and the security of our correspondents and our obligation, duty and responsibility to report is really difficult."

According to Sherwood, while Iraq is most present in journalists' minds because it poses the biggest dangers, there are many other areas where the risk involved in reporting jeopardises the flow of information.

She said: "I was in Israel a couple of weeks ago and I was quite shocked by the number of people who said Gaza is no longer a safe place to report from. If we can't report from Gaza any more, that is yet another story that isn't going to be told."

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