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Working for Reuters as an Iraqi in Baghdad
Reuters, like the few other foreign news organizations still present in Baghdad, could not operate without Iraqi journalists to report, film and photograph life and death on the streets of Iraq. So I came to Baghdad to meet them and see how our operation works.
Our compound, protected by blast walls, razor wire, searchlights, armed Iraqi guards and British security advisers, is on the east bank of the Tigris across the river from the fortified Green Zone. Its the workplace for about 40 journalists. Only seven of them are non-Iraqis our British bureau chief, four correspondents who are Basque, British, Lebanese and South African, a Filipino chief photographer and a television producer who is Jordanian.
We have Iraqi Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds in our newsroom and all are aware of the Reuters reputation for fairness and accuracy and how they must help maintain it. Like Reuters journalists anywhere in the world, they leave their politics, ethnic roots and religion at home.
Several of our staff have been with Reuters since before the 2003 invasion when working for a foreign news agency meant the risk of falling foul of Saddam Husseins security men. Others joined us after the invasion. As in so many places where conflict convulses a country, some of our more recent colleagues are accidents of history who have switched to journalism when their world was turned upside down.
One of our reporters, a man with excellent English, is a lawyer. Another colleague is a bookseller who monitors Iraqi TV networks for news Reuters reporters can then check independently. Others used to be commercial photographers or videographers. Until three years ago they filmed weddings. Now they chronicle the carnage of everyday Iraq.
We train all our staff, regardless of nationality, both inside and outside Iraq. They all understand the Reuters principles of independence, integrity and freedom from bias. A team spirit means that, as they did on Saturday evening, they can sit and talk together while sharing a smoke from a hookah pipe without regarding each other as rivals across the deadly sectarian and ethnic divides that prevail in the world outside the compound.
All of them have tales of personal tragedy to tell — stories of the killings of loved ones and other sufferings that have afflicted Iraq since 2003. Im not going to name them because so many Iraqi journalists fear that divulging their identity amounts to a death sentence at the hands of insurgents or militias. As I am writing this on Sunday, an Iraqi woman who presents a sports show on Iraqi state television has just been found killed with her driver in their car.
One of our cameramen had to flee his home, postpone his wedding and move his extended family abroad after a sectarian militia ran him out of his neighborhood. Another of our journalists had to move to Baghdad, where he now lives in the Reuters compound, after insurgents shot dead his brother as part of a campaign to intimidate journalists into leaving the town of Mosul. Yet another got a phone call at work one day from his wife to tell him she was laying seriously wounded outside their home after a bomb went off. Two of his male relatives have been kidnapped and remain missing. One man is the brother of a Reuters TV soundman who was shot dead by U.S. forces on his way to report a story last year.
These are typical stories in todays Iraq. What is uncommon is the dedication that these journalists bring to covering the news for Reuters.
The foreigners rarely leave our compound, other than for a brief ride in an armored car to a news conference or interview in the Green Zone or to travel to and from the airport for their rotations in and out of Baghdad. They also make use of facilities such as U.S. military embeds and trips by Iraqi or foreign officials to get around the country when they can.
Its the same story for most foreign news services. The kidnapping of foreigners in Iraq may have gone down over the past year but that may in part be because far fewer of them brave the streets. By contrast, our Iraqi staff are out every day, rushing to the scene of attacks, recording the hardships of daily life and interviewing the Iraqi civilians on the receiving end of this conflict whose voice is never heard enough.
Every day when I come to Reuters, I feel proud to be here. Its important to help the world understand what is happening in my country, one of them told me. Reuters, I told him, was just as proud of him.
Paul Holmes is Reuters Global Editor for Political and General News. He’ll take reader comments to this post until 3 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday and plans to post a response at 3 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.
Picture credit: A man walks past a vehicle damaged by a roadside bomb attack in Baghdad, Oct 28, 2006. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani