IFJ claims Iraq has become a 'catastrophe for journalism'

The International Federation of Journalists believes the murder of respected Iraqi reporter Atwar Bahjat and her film crew indicates that any form of reporting in the country is now almost impossible.

The IFJ has warned that the escalating violence in Iraq is forcing all media into hiding.

IFJ general secretary Aidan White said: "We are witnessing a catastrophe for journalism as media organisations are forced to pull their people off the streets. It is impossible to have independent coverage when media staff are being gunned down in this brutal conflict."

The IFJ spoke out after gunmen kidnapped and killed Bahjat — a correspondent for Al Arabiya television — and two members of her crew in Iraq. They had been covering the aftermath of the bombing of a Shi’ite shrine in the city of Samarra. Police found the bodies of Bahjat, cameraman Adnan Khairallah and soundman Khaled Mohsen on the outskirts of the city.

Even Bahjat’s funeral was marred by violence — the funeral procession came under fire as it was approaching a cemetery last Saturday, and was bombed as it returned after the burial. At least two people are reported to have died in the blast and five more were injured.

Al Arabiya has now lost nine journalists in Iraq. Five of those died in a car bomb that targeted Al Arabiya’s bureau in Baghdad, and the station believes three died as a result of US fire.

Bahjat joined Al Arabiya two months ago. She received death threats when working for rival network Al Jazeera, which had been been targeted by extremist groups after it criticised Shia leader Al-Sistani following the December elections.

According to the IFJ, 109 journalists and media staff have been killed in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. Jill Carroll of the Christian Science Monitor and two Iraqi journalists, Rim Zeid and Marwan Khazaal of Sumariya TV, are being held hostage.

An Al Arabiya official said: "We call upon the authorities mandated with maintaining security — Iraqi as well as American — to look closely into measures to enhance the safety of journalists active in Iraq.

"Al Arabiya further calls on the Iraqi authorities to embark on an in-depth and transparent investigation into this triple murder, and to bring the perpetrators to justice."

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