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Working for Reuters as an Iraqi in Baghdad

October 30, 2006

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, protectBaghdad-image.jpged 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

Comments

Which attributes and skills are most important for journalists in these flashpoint to best ensure physical aqnd emotional wellbeing?

Posted by 11 handicap, but working on it | Report as abusive
 

Please tell your Iraqi staff how those of us in the US appreciate their dedication. We want everyone in Iraq to have peaceful lives, and like them, wish we knew how to make that happen.

 

The mainstream media in the US blatantly fails to show the level of destruction and degredation to Iraqi infrastructure from pre-invasion time when compared with news I have seen from Germany and Switzerland. Is lack of journalistic integrity from US news sources widely criticized by int’l journalists? If so; By what means can we apply pressure to change this? If not; why not?

Posted by takoyaki | Report as abusive
 

My many thanks and appreciation of the work reuters and their staff do for us to keep us abreast of what is happening in our world and for shining a light on what is perpetrated on the iraqi people.My prayers that the violence and destruction will end soon and that Iraq will once again be an independant country without the influence of Americans, Brits, Iranians, Syrians and every other selfish imbecile that would rather kill than converse. Peace be upon you, and prosperity caress you.

Posted by Jed Clampett | Report as abusive
 

I agree with the comments of “Cindy Herrmann” and as I couldn’t have said it better, second her comments. Thanks to all of you

Posted by boomtownrat | Report as abusive
 

How do the families of these journalists cope, not knowing from one day to the next if their loved ones are safe or not? They must be incredibly dedicated to the cause to put their country before themselves and their families in order to educate the wider world.

Posted by k. taylor | Report as abusive
 

How much of the security is provided by Reuters and how much is provided by some external agency? Are there any non-journalist workers at the compound?

 

What’s the end-game in the minds of your Iraqi colleagues? Do they believe that in the end things will be better? Do they see a return to a dictator? Or perhaps a country split in three or more sectarian areas – and more Reuters Bureaux?

Posted by Nic Fulton | Report as abusive
 

I want to add my voice as someone who truly appreciates, with awe and gratitude, the important and difficult job these brave men and women, locals and foreigners alike, do every minute of every day. They more than anyone may ultimately be able to shine a light, inch by inch, on the way out of this nightmare. As the mother of two small children, it’s not the bloodshed that holds my eye but the pictures of ordinary people carrying and hurrying the diminutive living away from the latest horror. I hope one day they will look back at this time and thank God it’s all over, and thank God for journalists!

Posted by Elaine F. | Report as abusive
 

Off topic but…”are aware of the Reuters reputation for fairness and accuracy”Ever since the debacle with Reuters forging photographs I have to laugh at statements like this.

Posted by Whodunit | Report as abusive
 

Do you publish information received from “insurgents” i.e. terrorists? Do you vet your “correspondents” to determine their terrorist allegiances ?

Posted by Paul H. Lasky | Report as abusive
 

I learned early-on to ferret out news from many sources. I rely heavily on Reuters instead of mainstream media such as cnn. It’s difficult for me and takes much time to separate the wheat from the chaff….so my question is, how do Iraqi’s get their news…is it all whitewashed propaganda type stories filtered by their ‘liberators’?

 

I think it is great that unbias news reporters are there to report upon the evidence of the lies that the American government protrayed as American soilders die everyday because of the greed of a facist and rouge government.A truly thankful reader……….

Posted by leonard m seale | Report as abusive
 

Great biased reporting! – Does the U.S. or our troops ever do anything right? Never reported. Has the huge investment made by the U.S. in Iraq done anything to help the Iraqis? Never reported.Is the U.S. Government always wrong or is it just that Reuters opposes it to bias public opinion? Does the avalanche of negative finger-pointing at our government prior to the U.S. election suggest Reuters would like to influence our voters?Nice to pat yourself on the back – but certainly don’t refer to your “news” as being with “integrity and freedom from bias”. If you cannot see your turn-of phrase, overly attentiveness to negatives biases – you are not professional journalists.

Posted by Roy Hastings | Report as abusive
 

I only hope that you put your money where your mouth is and that these local journalists, who risk so much to provide you the material without which your file would be zero, receive a salary commensurate with the pride you express in them. Far too often local staff, who so often provide the heavy lifting and raw materials to build the pyramid, receive a pittance compared with the expatriates for whom they build. I note that you say ‘We train all our staff, regardless of nationality, both inside and outside Iraq.’ I hope you also pay all your staff, regardless of nationality, an equal salary.

 

The media fails to deliniate the mistakes of the Bush Administration. When Afganistan was put on the sidelines for Iraq in search for WMDS, was the equivilant to hitting a beehive with a wiffle bat. creating a fertile ground for all sorts of terrorism, leaving us no alternative than to commit to this uncalled for police action in Iraq.

Posted by John Doe | Report as abusive
 

After watching a video about the life of Iraqi journalists and the daily difficulties they face and now having read this story. I as an Australian who has a thirst for truth and find the mainstream media lacking in their portrayal of it would like to extend my thanks to all of you brave journalists who are getting the story out everyday, for those of us who are fortunate enough to live in peace. Your efforts allow people to mould intelligent and realistic opinions that may sway broader public attitudes of apathy and encourage troop withdrawal, and an end to the bloodshed in your beautiful country which I one day hope I can visit shake your hands and say thank you job well done.

Posted by Matt Schnitzerling | Report as abusive
 

I am a sub-editor working in India.I appreciate your reports on Iraq and admire the work of your Iraq reporters and editors.But I’d like to see more Iraq reports in the IN DEPTH section.

 

Salam a-Lakum.I respect you all. It’s a shame the U.S. lied to the world. A lie begets a greater lie. And so this Iraqi quagmire is the result of the world’s biggest lie. As the U.S. prepares for a possible invasion of Iran, by having it surrounded on both sides (in Iraq and Afghanistan), how will the Iraqi people be affected by such a war with their neighbour (albeit a former non-ally)?It is strange how in times of strife, those who were enemies, yet cousins, will become brothers to defeat a greater enemy. Good luck to all the people of the middle east. May they all come to see the light of peace and prosperity, and may the individuals who are perpetrating the sectarian violence shed their discrimination and learn to avow a new kind of kinship.

 

Should the U.S. leave Iraq? Or if they do so, will it fall further into chaos?Shukrun. Masalama.

 

In your report you say ‘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’. In the context you say it one might assume that this could not happen anywhere else where people can meet without being threatened. Is that true? Or is it more like people would usually meet like that if their wasn’t a constant threat of several ‘factions’ (not individuals), upsetting normal live.Beside that question I would like to express my respect and gratitude to everyone trying to report with as much objectivity as (s)he can manage under these extreme circumstances.

Posted by Roelf Renkema | Report as abusive
 

Next time people like whodunit want to laught at Reuters for mistakes they have to deal with they should be bold enough to give their full names.

Posted by George | Report as abusive
 

How much of what happens do you, and thus we actually get to know? Why arent there any images of dead US soldiers? How hard is censorship?How much is what I read here propaganda and not news?

Posted by Nic | Report as abusive
 

“Next time people like whodunit want to laught [sic] at Reuters for mistakes they have to deal with they should be bold enough to give their full names.”What… you weren’t “bold enough” to give yours, George?

Posted by Alan Smithee | Report as abusive
 

Now that Iraq has a free press, how often are they used as sources and which source seems to be the most credible?Also, if an Iraqi doesn’t own photoshop, do you guys supply them with a copy or allow them access to a computer with the software installed?

Posted by Ben Lipstein | Report as abusive
 

We sometimes hear about these spectacular, harrowing corkscrew landings undertaken by aircraft landing in Baghdad. But we never see video of these landings, even though it sounds like they would make for great footage. Why? Is video of aircraft something that is prohibited under censorship rules?

Posted by Jed | Report as abusive
 

I am very appreciative of your team’s work in Iraq. Living in Seoul, Korea, just minutes from possible war at any given moment, I’ve discovered, that it’s the journalists that keep the world safe. The free flow of accurate information is essential, not only to promoting and preserving democracy, but to preserving a delicate peace. I hope that the Reuters Iraq team knows when to keep their heads down and stays safe while on the battlefield.

 

Can you explain why people are allowed to carry assault rifles in public in Iraq?What do you think would happen if I was carrying an AK-47 in Times Square?The first thing that needs to be done is to confiscate these weapons.I don’t see people in Istanbul, carrying RPG’s and AK’s

Posted by Stephen | Report as abusive
 

Really! You’re kidding right? I thought you folks got all you’re news from the terrorists. Like the picture of an American GI getting shot. Don’t all the major media work together to discredit our soldiers and the war. I’m sorry if I have the wrong impresssion but i don’t think I do. Maybe we should check with Mr Kerry the traitor to get the real truth about the war.

Posted by Jim Patterson | Report as abusive
 

It is now 11.30 p.m. Baghdad time, 3.30 p.m. Eastern. Everyone here in the Reuters Baghdad newsroom has been fascinated by the questions you’ve all asked. I’ll reply on Thursday. The post should go up by 11 p.m. Baghdad time, 3 p.m. Eastern.

 

Here again – “US ‘Fails’ to protect illegal workers”. What country in the world fails to protect illegal immigrants? ALL! BAD – BAD U.S.! Illegal immigrants are felons. How would you like us to protect felons? Perhaps arresting them would be the first start.Great reporting. No bias here!

Posted by Roy Hastings | Report as abusive
 

How do you know Reuters is free from biases coming from centuries-old cultural trends from all around the world? Is it possible to run a news organization free of biases from millenia-old cultural-religious traditions and political trends?Or would those biases quickly become evident when a hookah is shared in a Reuters Baghdad newsroom?Is it common humanity that binds the media in its quest for knowledge on the days events?By the way, I work as a reporter in the northeastern United States.

Posted by Alvaro Alarcon | Report as abusive
 

I want to know why you are all terrorists sympathizers? By the way NO WAR is popular and why don’t you report the good things happening, like the 5000 schools and the hospitals that are now open or that 80% of Iraq is somewhat peaceful. I know why it doesn’t fit you anti-american agenda. I hope you all get what you deserve.

Posted by BOBO | Report as abusive
 

To BOBO – I can assure you that our journalists are motivated by nothing other than a desire to report what is happening in Iraq as accurately and dispassionately as possible. That quest has already cost four of them their lives. Our journalists also use hard evidence and reputable sources to back up their reporting. I recommend that you read the report of the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan body made up of some of the most noted experts in diplomacy, military affairs, economics and juistice from both sides of the American mainstream political spectrum. It is available for $10.95 in bookstores and online. Its findings certainly do not support your sweeping and unattributed assertion that 80% of Iraq is “somewhat peaceful”. Here is what the report says about security in Iraq(page 6):”Four of Iraq’s eighteen provinces are highly insecure — Baghdad, Anbar, Diyala and Salah ad Din. These provinces account for about 40 percent of Iraq’s population of 26 million … The most stable parts of the country are the three provinces of the Kurdish north and parts of the Shia south. However, most of Iraq’s cities have a sectarian mix and are plagued by persistent violence.”Best wishes.

Posted by Paul Holmes | Report as abusive
 

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