Dear Secretary Rumsfeld:
The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned about the death of Iraqi freelance cameraman Dhia Najim, who was killed on Monday, November 1, while covering a gun battle between the U.S. military and Iraqi insurgents in the western city of Ramadi.
Najim, who worked as a freelancer for a number of news organizations, was on assignment for Reuters news agency at the time. He was shot in the back of the neck while working near his home in the Andalus district of Ramadi, 70 miles (112 kilometers) west of the capital, Baghdad, Reuters news agency said.
“Video shot from an upper floor of a building nearby shows Najim, at first half-hidden by a wall, move into the open,” Reuters reported. “As soon as he emerges, a powerful gunshot cracks out and he falls to the ground, his arms outstretched. Civilians are seen gathering calmly at the scene immediately afterwards to look at his lifeless body.”
A statement from the 1st Marine Division of the I Marine Expeditionary Force said that U.S. forces “engaged several insurgents in a brief small arms firefight that killed an individual who was carrying a video camera earlier Monday morning.”
Najim is the 36th journalist to be killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began in March 2003. Another 18 media workers have been killed during the same time period. Nineteen journalists have died at the hands of Iraqi insurgents, while at least eight others have been killed by fire from U.S. forces.
It is unclear who fired the shot that killed Najim. Reuters reported that video footage showed no signs of fighting in the vicinity and noted that Najim had “filmed heavy clashes between Marines and insurgents earlier in the day but that fighting had subsided.” The news agency also cited Najim’s colleagues and family, who said they believe that Najim was shot by a U.S. sniper. Marine snipers are posted in Ramadi, Reuters reported.
The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force issued a statement today acknowledging that Najim was killed in a firefight involving Marines. The statement went on to say, “Inspection of videotape in [Najim’s] camera revealed footage of previous attacks on Multi-National Force military vehicles that included the insurgent use of RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades), an IED (roadside bomb) and small arms fire.” The statement also said that the insurgents who fought with U.S. forces “fled the scene with their wounded but left the body of the dead man along the side of the road.”
Yesterday, U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli expressed concern over Najim’s death and the deaths of several other media workers recently killed in Iraq. He affirmed that the United States is dedicated to “providing an environment in which the free press can do its work.”
In order to demonstrate its commitment to those stated goals, U.S. officials should conduct a thorough, immediate, and public investigation into Dhia Najim’s death.
We await your response and the results of your investigation.
Ann K. Cooper