CPJ alarmed by journalist deaths, detentions at hands of U.S., Iraqi forces

New York, June 29, 2005—
The Committee to Protect Journalists today expressed alarm at reports that three Iraqi journalists were killed this week by U.S. forces’ fire in Iraq. CPJ is investigating the circumstances, and it called on U.S. military authorities to provide further information about each case.

Ahmed Wael Bakri, a director and news producer for the local television station, Al-Sharqiyah, was killed by gunfire as he approached U.S. troops yesterday, according to Ali Hanoon, a station director. Hanoon said Bakri was driving from work to his in-laws’ home in southern Baghdad at the time. U.S. soldiers fired at his car 15 times, and Bakri died later at Yarmouk Hospital, he said. The Associated Press, citing another colleague and a doctor who treated the journalist, reported that Bakri had failed to pull over for a U.S. convoy while trying to pass a traffic accident.

The AP also reported that Maha Ibrahim, a local television news editor, was killed as she headed to work on Sunday when U.S. troops opened fire during a firefight in Baghdad. The AP said she worked for a television channel called Baghdad TV.

On Friday, an Iraqi reporter working for an American news organization was shot and killed by U.S. troops in Baghdad after allegedly failing to respond to a shouted warning from a military convoy. Neither the reporter nor the news organization was identified in wire reports.

It is unclear whether the deaths were related to the journalists’ work, but they reflect the extremely volatile security situation in Iraq and the risk of approaching U.S. and Iraqi forces.

“U.S. military authorities should launch an inquiry at once to determine the circumstances behind these alarming reports,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said.

Earlier this month, CPJ and Human Rights Watch called on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to improve safety measures at U.S. checkpoints and roadblocks to reduce the danger to civilians.

Read the letter.

Detentions also draw concern
CPJ also expressed deep concern about the recent detention of Iraqi journalists by U.S. and Iraqi forces.

On June 17, Hadi al-Anbaki, director of the daily Al-Sabah, part of the U.S.-backed Iraqi Media Network, was detained by U.S. and Iraqi forces in Diyala while covering the aftermath of a bomb attack, staff at the newspaper told CPJ. They said al-Anbaki was carrying his press ID, and the paper was not informed of his detention. He was released after four days in custody.

A week later, on June 24, the AP reported that U.S. troops in Fallujah detained Amer Ali, an Associated Press Television News camera operator, when he went to the scene of a suicide car bombing that killed and wounded several Marines the previous night. An AP spokesman said Ali was released later that day.

Agence France-Presse said that one of its reporters, Ammar Daham Naef Khalaf, remains in custody. He was detained by U.S. troops on April 11 in Ramadi, and AFP said the reason for his arrest has not been explained.

U.S. and Iraqi authorities, often without charge or explanation, have detained dozens of journalists, most of them Iraqis. Last month, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Steve Boylan told CPJ that U.S. and Iraqi forces were holding eight Iraqi journalists who pose a “security risk to the Iraqi people and coalition forces.” He declined to provide details about the detentions or the names of the journalists, all of whom work for Western news organizations.

“Arbitrary detentions are unacceptable interference in the work of journalists who already operate under harrowing conditions in Iraq,” CPJ’s Cooper said. “U.S. and Iraqi forces must credibly explain the basis for holding those in custody or release them at once.”