Journalists targeted by irate Iraqis during bomb blasts

Iraqis flee from the explosions in Karbala

The chaos surrounding the bomb attacks in Iraq has put foreign journalists at risk as Iraqis began to turn on outsiders this week.

As a result of the turmoil after bomb attacks on the Shia population, Channel 4 News was forced to scale down its coverage of the monthlong Maharram religious festival in Karbala.

Live reporting of the event – Karbala 2004 – which would have been beamed directly to London in daily 10-minute segments, has now been scrapped, according to Channel 4 News managing editor Guy Ker. The segments would have been in addition to a full-length programme to be aired on Channel 4.

Instead, ITN will produce a 90-minute programme for Channel 4 that follows some British Shia Muslim pilgrims during the celebrations.

The 18-strong crew originally assigned was reduced to seven, after Channel 4 News received intelligence about bomb attacks that could occur.

“For the team on the ground it’s still fairly hairy, and we have terrific admiration for their work,” said Ker.

Amid the mêlée, Mazir Bahari, a Teheran-based journalist working for Channel 4 News, was arrested by the Iraqi police and had his camera and tapes confiscated, but was released a day later with the material. As PG went to press, the Karbala 2004 team was leaving Iraq for Jordan on the recommendation of its security adviser.

The bomb attacks in Iraq placed foreign journalists in considerable danger, as the Shia Muslim populace reacted to the deaths of up to 270 people in Baghdad and Karbala.

Peter Andrews, a Reuters photographer in Karbala, was confronted by men with machine guns, as he took shots of the unfolding mayhem after the second of four bomb blasts.

Andrews said: “They were shouting ‘No America, no America’ and threatened to kill me.”

It was only after his Iraqi driver spoke to one of the gunmen in Arabic to calm him down that they were able to get away.

One unspecified Italian photographer was also reported to have been badly beaten by a crowd of irate Shia men.

By Wale Azeez

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