Reporters get run of Baghdad as Iraqi media minders vanish

Chater: “danger as front line squeezes in around us”

Journalists in Baghdad not attached to the US and UK armed forces were finally able to move around the city at their own pace and choosing on Wednesday, as the Iraqi authorities became more preoccupied with their now obviously slackening grip on power.

The Iraqi-appointed minders who usually accompany the Baghdad-based foreign journalists everywhere were nowhere to be seen, giving the reporters carte blanche for the first time since the conflict began three weeks ago.

The BBC responded by removing the usual on-air caveat that reminded viewers that the reports from Baghdad were filed under restrictions from the Iraqi authorities.

BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan said early on Wednesday morning: “There is clear evidence now that the regime is starting to crumble. For weeks we’ve been under Iraqi restrictions controlling where we can go and having some of our broadcasts listened to by officials.

“All those officials have now vanished. They didn’t turn up for work this morning and for the moment at least we’re free to travel around as we wish.”

The Iraqi information minister, who had hitherto kept a tight rein on the media machine in the city, had “gone to ground”, according to Sky News’s David Chater.

However, he also reported a darker side to the journalists’ new-found independence, as it began to look as if the Iraqis were finally turning on the reporters.

“Journalists have got into trouble, cameras have been stolen, they’ve been beaten up, their passports have been taken,” he said. “There’s no sense of freedom here. In fact quite the opposite. The front line is squeezing in around us. There’s a sense of danger.

“It’s getting pretty dangerous for the remaining press, because there are armed men around, there are people taking cameras off us. The marines are six blocks down that way. We’re awaiting their arrival pretty anxiously.” Chater also mentioned the presence of Fedayeen troops in the vicinity. “There’s a lot of concern among journalists about what’s going to happen, who’s going to come down that road there. If they reach us before the American marines do then we’re in trouble,” said Chater.

By Wale Azeez

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