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After succession of surgeries, Iraqi cameraman leaves U.S.

Today, more than year after landing in the United States to receive medical treatment for severe injuries sustained while reporting in Baghdad, Jehad Ali boarded a plane at the Detroit Wayne County Airport en route to Beirut.

Al-Iraqiya

In December 2005, Ali, at right, was attacked on a Baghdad street by several gunmen who left him for dead. The attack pulverized the Al-Iraqiya TV cameraman’s femur. He received medical help in Iraq but with little improvement and a serious limp, he devoted himself to exercise in an effort to regain the full use of his leg. His swimming brought him face to face in 2007 with CBS Senior International Correspondent Lara Logan, a CPJ board member, who, moved by Ali’s courage and determination, spearheaded a campaign to bring the cameraman to the United States to receive the necessary treatment.

Ali’s road to recovery was neither easy nor short. A U.S. visa was a first hurdle, followed by the shuttling back and forth from specialist to specialist and hospital to hospital on the West and East coasts. But Ali’s final surgery took place on June 7, 2009, at the California Pacific Center in San Francisco. The cameraman said it was “a success.”

With his health “almost back to 100 percent,” Ali said in a telephone interview with Lilia Bellahsene, CPJ’s interim Middle East and Africa research associate, that he was looking forward to returning to the region and taking up journalism again.

Ali described his experience in the United States as great despite the difficult circumstances. He expressed deep gratitude to the doctors who enabled him to walk again. Ali told CPJ’s Bellahsene that American people were friendly and helpful, although, given his lack of English, he was not often able to communicate with them as much as he would have liked. The cameraman said he managed mainly with help from local Iraqi communities, which often provided translation.

Ali will land tomorrow at 11:30 p.m. at Beirut’s International Airport. He told CPJ that he is planning on spending sometime in Lebanon because is not sure whether security conditions will allow him to return to Iraq, where he still holds a job at Al-Iraqiya TV. (He has been on medical leave.) Should Iraq continue to be too dangerous, Ali told CPJ that he plans to look for work as a journalist in a neighboring country.

He said CPJ played a major role in saving his life, “not only by providing the necessary financial support but also a much-needed moral pillar.” He conveyed special thanks to Lara Logan, who he says he keeps in touch via e-mail. Ali said he hopes CPJ will continue its work around the world, which he described as vital for freedom of expression: “I feel safer practicing journalism just knowing that there are organizations like CPJ out there.” 

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