Iraqi chaos forces BBC to assign safety officers

BBC News correspondent Rageh Omaar told Press Gazette this week that post-war Baghdad has become so dangerous for journalists that news teams had been allocated “safety officers” by the corporation.

Omaar has just returned from a trip to Iraq to document how the people’s lives have changed since the end of the conflict. It was his first visit since the war ended.

According to Omaar, the safety officers are not armed, but are there to research the safest routes, get local information and administer first aid should it be required. They include former SAS soldiers. “Going back to Iraq was the first time I’d ever travelled with a safety officer,” Omaar said. “I didn’t feel I was being targeted personally. But there’s been a huge increase in kidnapping of middle-class families.” He spoke of the rise of gangsters and militias in Baghdad.

“We were caught in the middle of the riot in Basra. There was a gun battle outside our hotel and our cars were smashed, which we filmed. “The war was very dangerous from a point of view that it was a place being bombed, but the thing I found on going back to Iraq was that, such was the level of insecurity you feel – with the gangsterism and the militia – that the dangers are much more specific,” he said.

It is understood that a number of US journalists, including some from CBS News and The New York Times, have been robbed at gunpoint. “Saddam was a dictator and people are very happy he has gone, but everyday life for ordinary Iraqis is certainly an ordeal.”

Omaar has recorded a series of five special reports to be shown on BBC One’s Six O’Clock News starting on Monday.

“I travelled from the very south of the country up to Baghdad, looking at how the war has changed Iraq and how, in the words of ordinary Iraqis, their lives have been changed.”

An additional half-hour report will be shown on 5 September, which will compile the week’s reports, but will also include new footage, including Omaar going back to see friends and families he met during the war.

 

By Wale Azeez

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