CPJ reiterates concern for safety of reporters covering conflict in Baghdad

New York, March 19, 2003— With a U.S.-led military attack against Iraq imminent, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) remains extremely concerned about the safety of reporters currently operating in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad.

Although many international journalists have left Baghdad, dozens remain in the city poised to cover the conflict. Most are confined to the Al-Rashid Hotel, the Palestine Meridien Hotel, and the Al-Hamra Hotel. Television broadcasters are only permitted to file from the Information Ministry, which many fear will be targeted by the U.S. military.

At least one broadcaster, Qatar’s Al-Jazeera, operates from a facility independent of the ministry. A spokesman for the station told CPJ today that despite a recent Iraqi government order forcing it to relocate to the ministry, the broadcaster continues to work from its independent office.

In November 2001, a U.S. military strike destroyed Al Jazeera’s offices in Kabul, Afghanistan. The Pentagon claimed, without providing evidence, that the building was a “known al Qaeda facility,” and that it was unaware that Al Jazeera was operating out of the building. In February 2003, Al Jazeera sent a letter to the Pentagon specifying the coordinates of its Baghdad office.

“CPJ calls on Iraqi authorities to allow journalists to seek shelter in facilities they believe will be safe from U.S. targeting,” said CPJ acting director Joel Simon. “Iraqi authorities must not compel journalists to work in facilities or buildings that could be targeted during air strikes.”

“At the same time, the U.S. military must take into account the presence of journalists in Baghdad when planning military strikes,” Simon continued. “Administration warnings to journalists to leave Iraq do not absolve U.S. forces of their responsibility to avoid endangering media operating in known locations.”