Iraq: Why aren't we still there?

Five years on Iraq may still be one of the biggest stories in the world – but fewer British news organisations than ever are covering it full time.

Former Reuters bureau chief Alastair McDonald has noted the sharp decline in the number of UK correspondents covering what has become the most dangerous war ever for journalists.

McDonald was in charge of Reuters’ Baghdad bureau from 2005 to 2007 and keeps in contact with his former colleagues in the company’s fortified downtown Baghdad compound, which is reinforced with 3m-thick concrete and has 24-hour armed security.

McDonald said that compared with the start of the war ‘there has been a very, very sharp drop’in the number of correspondents in Iraq. ‘Especially when it became difficult for foreigners to move around – for a lot of media that meant all their staff.”

Other than Reuters, The Times and the BBC are the only UK news organisations to have maintained a continuous presence in Iraq since 2003. The Guardian, Independent, Telegraph, and ITN have all pulled back from having permanent coverage there.

Despite the lack of full-time staffs in Iraq, McDonald said he believed there was a reluctance among UK broadcasters to use agency footage if their own correspondents were not on the ground.

‘It is a shame that that agency material is not being more widely used…Whereas if you are a newspaper which relies on copy, you don’t need your own presenters with [recognisable] faces, but for a broadcaster it’s much harder.

‘We were producing several minutes’ footage every day for TV news and it seemed that because there was not a familiar presenter, it would not be broadcast.”

Reuters has 60 full-time staff in Iraq. In July last year the number of its staff killed in the conflict rose to seven, when Namir Noor-Eldeen and his driver Saeed Chmagh died in what witnesses said was a US helicopter attack.

Reuters this week release a unique online documentary package which pays tribute to the staff who have provided its Iraq coverage over the past five years. It can be viewed at www.reuters.com/iraq.

According to the International News Safety Institute, a total of 241 journalists and media staff have died covering the war in Iraq.

This includes four Britons. ITN’s Terry Lloyd was killed on 22 March, 2003, at the outbreak of hostilities. An inquest found he was unlawfully killed by US soldiers. Freelancer Richard Wilde was shot dead in Baghdad in July 2003. CBS soundman James Brolan and cameraman Paul Douglas were killed in a bomb in May 2006.

Corrrespondents in Iraq now

The Times: The only UK newspaper to have a permanent correspondent in Baghdad, Deborah Haynes, who was preceded by Ned Parker.

Haynes works with two Iraqi journalists, Ali Hamdani and Sarmad Ali. The paper’s Middle East correspondent James Hider and foreign editor Richard Beeston as well as special correspondent Martin Fletcher cover for Haynes when she is on leave.

The Sunday Times: No permanent correspondent, but Marie Colvin was there recently and wrote a piece for last Sunday’s paper. Colvin, Hala Jaber and Christina Lamb have also reported extensively from the country since 2003.

The Guardian and The Observer: Gaith Abdul-Ahad and Michael Howard are contracted to work across both titles and work one month each alternately. The papers are planning to send another correspondent to Iraq shortly. At the start of the war, Suzanne Goldenberg was there with a photographer for over a year. Rory McCarthy spent 18 months there. After Guardian reporter Rory Carroll was kidnapped in October 2005, Guardian News and Media ended its permanent presence.

The Daily Telegraph: Pulled its permanent reporter out of Iraq a year ago.

The Sunday Telegraph: Colin Freeman is there at the moment, but there is no permanent presence.

The Independent and The Independent on Sunday: neither has permanent staff but they normally have either Patrick Cockburn, who went out last Sunday, or another correspondent.

The Daily Mail: Reporter Peter Oborne was in Baghdad last weekend and the Mail has arranged for reporters to go out to the country on various Ministry of Defence press trips.

The Herald: No permanent presence but reporter Ian Bruce has been several times and covered the start of the war.

BBC: Claims, along with The Times, to have covered every day of the war since the 2003 invasion and has a permanent bureau of around 19 staff. Its reporters covering the anniversary this week include world affairs editor John Simpson, Hugh Sykes and Caroline Wyatt.

ITN: Has no correspondents there now but has commissioned three films from The Guardian reporter Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, broadcast this week.

Sky News: Airing two special reports on the conflict in Baghdad and Basra, and a correspondent and camera crew will broadcast reports while embedded with British troops.

Additonal reporting by Katy Taylor

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