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Posted Sunday, March 7, 2004

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Al-Jazeera TV

Al-Jazeera TV Special Report:

Sunday, 7 March 2004.

US Occupation Imposes New Limits on Journalists in Iraq

By Muhammad 'Abd al-'Ati.

THERE'S nothing strange about all the talk about how dangerous it is to work in Iraq. The whole country is in a state of lawlessness, with no legal government, and human life is at risk at every moment. All it takes to bring a life to an end is one bullet and then the incident will be traced to an "unknown person" and dropped. But what is strange is that the source of this danger lies with the American occupation itself, which claims to have come to spread democracy in Iraq.

American work permits


Eric Mueller comments:

THERE'S not a lot of "secret" news coming out of Iraq these days, mostly just the daily grind of bombings and so forth that are soft-pedaled in the western media. The Iraqis have been immensely successful in not allowing either the occupation or the new regime to get settled in, and that's what guerrilla warfare is all about; but it doesn't make for great scoops.

Arabist Eric Mueller is this website's expert on Middle Eastern affairs. He is a featured speaker at our Real History weekend at Cincinnati each Labor Day

Until just last week it was the right of every journalist to enter Iraq and to take up his work without getting a permit or license and without registering with the American authorities. But now all that has changed. The US forces now require each and every journalist, whether already in the country or a new arrival, to register his or her reports with them, and, after that, to obtain a journalistic work permit card from them.

Foreign reporters in Baghdad say that this demand is aimed at imposing limits on the information media in the near future. These journalists say that the day may come when the American occupation authorities will refuse to grant a work permit to this or that news agency based on how pleased or displeased they are over their coverage of events in Iraq.

In addition, this measure serves to impose a kind of self-censorship on the journalist as he works in the field subject to the fear that he will later be interrogated by the Americans about what he has reported. This is particularly true inasmuch as he is totally in the grasp of US security forces anywhere he goes in Iraq.

Some of the news media operating in Iraq have complained about the way they are treated by the US forces when they are displeased with their reports -- a fact that only serves to increase the fears of the working journalist in the country. The punitive treatment meted out by US forces can range from denying certain agencies preferential news coverage opportunities, to detention of the reporters, searches, restrictions, arrests in some cases and imprisonment in solitary cells. And it can go all the way up to subjecting them to various types of violence that can at times be deadly.

Denying opportunities

It has been noted that when the US occupation troops go out to raid houses of people suspected of having ties to the Resistance, they bring along with them certain specific news companies, such as Fox News or CNN, and sometimes Reuters or the BBC, but never other news agencies -- like al-Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV.

We brought that up with the American Lieutenant General in charge of coordination with the news media in Iraq and he said, "That's right. But the reason for it is that the first media you mentioned will cover the event and write that these raids are being carried out to crack down on "terrorists" who constitute a threat to the security of the "Coalition" forces. But those other agencies you mentioned will write that these raids are aimed at the Iraqi "Resistance" to the "occupation" forces. Your coverage will not be even-handed as far as the American side is concerned."

Detention and searches

Searches, sometimes accompanied by verbal abuse, are the subject of a complaint made by two journalists working for a well-known satellite TV company. They requested that their names not be published, lest they face even more problems. They reported that they have frequently been subjected to such treatment, the most recent time being last week in Samarra'. There occupation forces detained them. After they were searched, they were told, "you tell your viewers that the Americans are going to stay here and that they came first to control Iraq's oil, and then Saudi Arabia's oil, then Iran's oil, and then to attack Syria after that."

When they protested that that was not true, the officer in charge of the American patrol laughed at them and said, "Anyhow, we aren't going to leave here until this hair turns gray" pointing to the black hair under the helmet he was wearing."

Arrest without cause

Then there are the instances of groundless arrest that constitute another source of apprehension and further impede journalists' work in Iraq. They have been thrown in solitary prison cells, where they suffer psychological and physical torment, according to one journalist who has received this treatment.


The instances where journalists have been killed represent the greatest danger that faces correspondents working in Iraq. One year ago, as the organization Journalists without Borders testifies, ten journalists were killed in Iraq, only one of whom was a Iraqi. Some of them were killed by accident in the course of battles and some others were killed in the intentional shelling of their bureaus. This was what happened to the Abu Dhabi and al-Jazeera TV bureaus. In the last case, al-Jazeera correspondent Tariq Ayyub was killed in what constituted a message sent by the Americans -- a message whose implications are still being read by journalists at work or heading to assignments in Iraq today.

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