By Matthew Lewin
The Independent’s famously intrepid Middle East correspondent Robert
Fisk has revealed that the situation in Iraq is now so dangerous that
he doesn’t know whether he can go on reporting from the country.
Fisk, who has previously accused colleagues of practising “hotel
journalism” in Iraq, said that “mouse journalism” is now the best he
can do in the country.
Fisk, whose new history of the Middle
East, The Great War for Civilisation, has just been published,
described mouse journalism as the practice of popping up at the scene
of an event and staying just long enough to get the story, before the
men with guns arrive.
Speaking at a bookshop in Golders Green, he said: “You cannot imagine just how bad things are in Iraq.
few weeks ago, I went to see a man whose son was killed by the
Americans, and I was in his house for five minutes before armed men
turned up in the street outside.
“He had to go and reason with
them not to take me away. And this was an ordinary Baghdad suburb, not
the Sunni Triangle or Fallujah.
“It has got to the stage where,
for example, when I went to have a look at the scene of a huge bomb in
a bus station, I jumped out of the car and took two pictures before I
was surrounded by a crowd of enraged Iraqis.
“I jumped back in the car and fled. I call that ‘mouse journalism’ – and that’s all we can do now.
I go to see someone in any particular location, I give myself 12
minutes, because that is how long I reckon it takes a man with a mobile
phone to summon gunmen to the scene in a car.
“So, after 10 minutes I am out. Don’t be greedy. That’s what reporting is like in Iraq.”
continued: “This country is nowhell – a disaster. You cannot imagine
how bad it is. Nothing of the reporting I see generally, except The
Guardian and Patrick Cockburn in The Independent, really conveys the
absolute agony and distress of Iraq.
“The Ministry of Health,
which is partly run by Americans, will not give out any figures for
civilian casualties; staff are just not allowed to give us these
“When I went to the city morgue in Baghdad one day
nearly four weeks ago, I arrived at 9am and there were nineviolent
death corpses there.
“By midday there were 26 corpses. When
I managed to get access to the computer system of the mortuary, I
discovered that in July 1,100 Iraqis had been killed in Baghdad alone.
“Multiply that across Iraq and you are talking about 3,000 a month or more, which means 36,000 a year.
these figures claiming 100,000 Iraqi civilian casualties are not
necessarily conservative at all. But no-one wants to report on this.
of the delights of the occupying powers is that the journalists cannot
move. When I travel outside Baghdad by road it takes me two weeks to
plan it, because the roads are infested with insurgents, checkpoints,
hooded men and throat-cutters. That’s what it’s like.
almost impossible to get access to free information outside Baghdad or
Basra. Most of the reporters who can travel are doing so as members of
military convoys with armour to protect them.
“The last time I
travelled to Najaf, the road was littered with burned-out American
vehicles, smashed police vehicles, abandoned checkpoints and armed men.
That’s Iraq today – it’s in a state of anarchy, and many areas of
Baghdad are in fact now in insurgent hands.”
He added: “This is a war the like of which I have never reported before.
Over and over again, we are escaping with our lives because we are lucky.
And it is getting much worse, not better – don’t believe what Blair is telling you.
is very sad to have to say that I don’t know if we can go on reporting
in Iraq. I don’t know if I can personally keep on going back.
last trip there was so dangerous and frightening, I actually said to
some people that we were going to have to debate whether the risks are
worth it all.