Reporter reflects as Iraq named deadliest for journalists

It has been 14 months since my colleague at The Washington Post Salih Saif Aldin was shot and killed. Time flew by fast and the path for journalists in Iraq is yet to be safe. Shootings, kidnappings, and murder in cold blood have not stopped in my war-torn country. 

Six years have passed since the U.S. and its allies invaded Iraq. Since then and until this moment, the country has still been considered the deadliest for journalists compared to other regions around the world, according to a new end-of-year analysis by CPJ.

Yesterday morning, I had a printed copy of the report sitting on my desk. A colleague of mine passed by to ask me about something related to work until her question was interrupted by the bolded headline.

“It has been six years,” she said in surprise, her eyes wide. “It’s very sad.”

After she left, memories rushed into my mind, freezing whatever work I was conducting. My face was staring at the computer monitor but my mind was thousands of miles away. It went way too far abroad, to the land where everything around meant fear.

I recalled the days when I worked as a reporter for The Washington Post in Baghdad. The way I expected a bomb in front of my house or being kidnapped, tortured, and shot dead, like how most of my fellow Iraqi journalists’ lives ended. The bombs and rockets that exploded close to where we worked, the looks on the faces of the people we interviewed.

When I left Iraq in late 2006 to pursue my master’s in writing in the United States, the risks journalists endured and faced was at its peak. It continued for another year until violence reportedly went down this year, due to many factors, including the Sunni-Shiite segregation that shaped the strife-torn country.

Since the press found freedom after the invasion, Iraqi journalists who work for Western or local media outlets have proven their bravery in all ways. Despite the absence of protection and safety, they have insisted on carrying on with their jobs. They have taken full advantage of the small amounts of freedom they wanted to enjoy. However, evil had its part in taking advantage of that freedom by trying to silence their voice. But Iraqi journalists are not fearful–as they never were. They will go on and take part in rebuilding their country with their pens and notebooks. Their words and dedication are like a brick over a brick, building a fence that evil will not succeed in crossing.

Bassam Sebti was a Washington Post special correspondent from 2003-2006. He is now working for the Washington-based International Center for Journalists. He is the Arabic editor of IJNet