Two Iraqi journalists killed in Syria

New York, July 18, 2012–Two Iraqi journalists living in Syria and covering the conflict in that country were killed on Saturday although news reports differed on crucial details. The Committee to Protect Journalists continues to investigate the circumstances of the deaths, which come amid reports of increasing violence toward Iraqis living in Syria.

Falah Taha, a freelance journalist who contributed to several Iraqi news outlets, was killed while covering ongoing clashes between government forces and the Free Syrian Army in the capital, Damascus, numerous news reports said. An unidentified group of armed men killed Ali Juburi al-Kaabi, editor-in-chief of the Baghdad-based weekly Al-Zawraa, in Jaramana, a suburb of Damascus, according to news reports. Al-Zawraa is a weekly issued by the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate, news reports said.

News accounts carried few details about the deaths. While most reports said both journalists were shot to death, some accounts citing Iraqi army officials said they had also been stabbed. Most reports describe the deaths as having occurred separately in different locations although some accounts said the journalists both died in Jaramana. Agence France-Presse reported that Col. Abdelbasit al-Hilo, the Iraqi commander at the Al-Waleed border post, said Taha and al-Kaabi were “killed by knives and bullets in the Jaramana area.” The Associated Press reported that an Iraqi commander, Brig. General Qassim al-Dulaimi, said both journalists carried Iraqi Journalists’ Syndicate membership cards and were killed in Jaramana.

Taha and al-Kaabi had fled Iraq between 2007 and 2008 and had been living and working in Syria ever since, Ziad al-Ajili, director of Baghdad’s Journalistic Freedom Observatory, told CPJ. Syria is home to some 1 million Iraqi refugees who fled the sectarian fighting in Iraq between 2005 and 2007, according to news reports.

Ali al-Dabbagh, a spokesman for the Iraqi authorities, issued a statement on Tuesday saying the government was concerned about “the increasing incidents of murder and assault on Iraqis living in Syria,” news reports said. Al-Dabbagh also said that at least 12 Iraqis, including the journalists, had been killed this month alone, the reports said. On Tuesday, the Iraqi government urged all its citizens living in Syria to return to Iraq because of the increasingly deadly turn in the 16-month crisis, news reports said.

Syrian authorities handed over the bodies of the two journalists to Iraqi authorities at the Al-Waleed border on Monday, the AP reported al-Dulaimi as saying. The bodies of several other Iraqi citizens killed in Syria in the past month were also handed over, news reports said.

“We mourn the loss of Ali Juburi al-Kaabi and Falah Taha, who are the latest in a growing line of journalists killed in Syria,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “The cost of reporting on this conflict has been exceptionally high for both local and international journalists.”

On Sunday, the International Committee for the Red Cross categorized the Syrian conflict as a civil war, according to news reports. CPJ research shows that at least 14 journalists have been killed since November while covering Syria, at least nine in circumstances that raise questions about government culpability, making it the most dangerous place for journalists in the world.

  • For more data and analysis on Syria, visit CPJ’s Syria page here.