Times last paper in Baghdad as Telegraph pulls out

The Times now claims to be the only British newspaper with a full-time presence in Baghdad.

Regular Iraq correspondent Ned Parker rotates six to eight-week stints in Baghdad with journalists including James Hider, diplomatic editor Richard Beeston and Jerusalem correspondent Stephen Farrel.

Times foreign editor Roland Watson told Press Gazette: "It's such an important story that we feel the only way we can tell it as well as we'd like to is by being on the ground. "There are obviously ways of reporting Iraq from outside or by dipping in from time to time, and it's quite understandable, given the circumstances, why others chose to do it.

"But our thinking is that to do it justice you have to be there. Obviously that entails a big investment of time and money, and ensuring that people are in reasonably safe and comfortable surroundings as best you can."

Times journalists are not based inside the heavily fortified government "green zone" in the Iraq capital, but do attend briefings there.

Asked why The Times didn't pull out of Baghdad when other newspapers did, Watson said: "It's a political story and a story about conflict. "But it's also a very human story, and our judgement is that the only way we can get ourselves in a position to tell those human stories is by having a permanent presence there."

Last month, on the first anniversary of the kidnapping of Guardian journalist Rory Carroll in Iraq, the paper's foreign editor Harriet Sherwood admitted it was an "absolute dereliction of duty" that The Guardian has no full-time correspondent in the country.

The Independent's Iraq correspondent Patrick Cockburn has not reported from Baghdad in recent months, instead mainly covering the less turbulent northern provinces of the country. The Daily Telegraph's Iraq correspondent Oliver Poole has returned to the UK this week. Neither newspaper currently employs local journalists in Baghdad.

Watson said: "Being in Baghdad for six to eight weeks is a very long time. It's pretty relentless, movement is extremely difficult, any movement has to be very carefully planned, and no matter how much planning goes into it, you never quite know what's going to happen."

Watson said the decision to keep Times journalists in Iraq went right to the top of the paper. He added: "It's not as if we're reassessing it every couple of months or so, but we are constantly mindful that it is a dangerous place. It'd be careless not to be thinking all the time whether we're right to be there."

Although Watson could not give details of the protection given to his reporters in Baghdad, he said: "I can't really say they are as well protected as we can possibly make them, because we could completely surround them with barbed wire.

"They all know that they have to be extremely careful, and they go about their business as well-protected as is possible, given the demands of the job they're trying to do."

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