New York, August 16, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns attempts during the weekend by Iraqi authorities to bar media from the Iraqi city of Najaf, where U.S. and Iraqi forces have been fighting Shiite insurgents.
According to CPJ sources in Iraq, most journalists were forced to leave the city as a result of the ban, although a number of reporters managed to remain. Today, Iraqi police informed some journalists in Najaf that the ban was no longer in effect, but that officials could no guarantee their safety.
On Sunday, August 15, local Iraqi authorities in Najaf ordered all journalists to leave the city, citing concerns for their safety, according to international press reports. According to the New York Times, Najaf police chief, Gen. Ghaleb al-Jazairi, summoned journalists to the outskirts of Najaf’s Old City and gave them two hours to leave. He threatened to arrest Iraqi translators and drivers working for Western media outlets. Al-Jazairi cited an alleged bomb threat to the Bar Najaf Hotel, where most journalists were residing.
The U.K. Independent reported that Iraqi police subsequently “made two visits during the afternoon and early evening to the Bar Najaf Hotel” and ordered journalists to leave or face arrest. The newspaper said that the hotel later came under fire, noting that “although there was no confirmation that the bullets had been fired by police, the hotel is only a few hundred meters from the local police station and much farther from the main positions of [Shiite cleric Muqtadah al-]Sadr’s insurgents.”
The Independent and other British newspapers reported that in a separate incident the office of Najaf Governor Adnan Zurfi, where journalists had congregated to protest the ban, a plainclothes security officer warned journalists to leave in two hours or they would be “shot.”
CPJ is investigating reports that Iraqi police temporarily detained a photographer for a Western news agency and an Iranian television journalist.