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Iraqis Dread US Troop Pull-out

April 8, 2010

Oakland, CA

April 8, 2010

Bob Butler

The withdrawal of United States combat troops from Iraq will increase danger for journalists. That’s the view of a delegation of Iraqi producers, editors, reporters and anchors touring the United States under the auspices of the U-S State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program. The program brings journalists from other countries to the United States to learn the structure of the U.S. political system and to highlight the significance of a free and independent press to the democratic process.

The delegation met at the Oakland Tribune to discuss the findings of the Chauncey Bailey Investigative Project.

The delegation and the Project are similar in one way and different in another.  Bailey was a colleague and we couldn’t let his voice be silenced because someone didn’t want his story to be published. Out Iraqi colleagues go to work every day because they love their country and feel it is their duty to report the truth.

They called project reporters and editors courageous for investigating Bailey’s death and keeping up the pressure until all those thought to be involved in Bailey’s shooting were indicted. The irony of their kind words was not lost on us. While we are relatively safe reporting on corruption, wrong-doing and malfeasance, they face danger every day and it’s not clear from whom We accepted their congratulations then asked what life was like for them working in a country plagued by car bombs, improvised explosive devices and scattered violence.

“We have all lost colleagues, some of us have lost 8 or 9,” Al-Arabiya News Channel correspondent Faris Fahdel Sultan told us through an interpreter. “Some are killed by the militias or Al Qaeda, some by U-S troops and others we don’t know who is responsible.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists says 212 journalists and media workers have died in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein. 191 of them were killed doing their jobs. 8 worked for Al-Arabiya.

Press freedom has always been relative in Iraq. “Before the war as long as you didn’t criticize the government you were okay,” said Hadee Galo Meree, executive director of Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, the Iraqi partner of Reporters Without Borders. “If you took on the government you could be kidnapped and taken to jail. But now it is not uncommon to receive a warning. You might get a letter telling you to stop working on a particular story or face consequences.”

Members of the delegation did not support the war, or, as they call it, the invasion. The Obama Administration wants to withdraw all combat forces by the end of 2011. But, now that 7 years of war have crippled the country’s ability to police itself, they want the U-S troops to stay. In the past week, explosions over three days in and around Baghdad killed nearly 150 people, prompting some people to worry the sectarian violence of 2006 and 2007 may return, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.

They delegation believes conditions for everyone, including journalists, will get much worse once that happens.

“It will create a vacuum that will be filled by radical elements from all these surrounding countries — Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria,” said Meree.

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