Covering the War

From Holden:

Via the invaluable Today in Iraq, Robert Fisk reveals what it is like to cover the war.

Rarely, if ever, has a war been covered by reporters in so distant and restricted a way. The New York Times correspondents live in Baghdad behind a massive stockade with four watchtowers, protected by locally hired, rifle-toting security men, complete with NYT T-shirts. America’s NBC television chain are holed up in a hotel with an iron grille over their door, forbidden by their security advisers to visit the swimming pool or the restaurant “let alone the rest of Baghdad” lest they be attacked. Several Western journalists do not leave their rooms while on station in Baghdad.

[snip]

The Independent, along with several British and American papers, still covers stories in Baghdad in person, moving with hesitation – not to mention trepidation – through the streets of a city slowly being taken over by insurgents. Only six months ago, it was still possible to leave Baghdad in the morning, drive to Mosul or Najaf or other major cities to cover a story, and return by evening. By August, it was taking me two weeks to negotiate my dubious safety for a mere 80-mile journey outside Baghdad.

I found the military checkpoints on the motorways deserted, the roads lined with smashed American trucks and burnt-out police vehicles. Today, it is almost impossible. Drivers and translators working for newspapers and television companies are threatened with death. Several have asked to be relieved of their duties on 30 January lest they be recognised on the streets during Iraq’s elections. In the brutal 1990s war in Algeria, at least 42 local reporters were murdered and a French cameraman was shot dead in the Algiers casbah. But the Algerian security forces could still give a minimum of protection to reporters. In Iraq, they cannot even protect themselves.

[snip]

“The United States military couldn’t be happier with this situation,” a long-time American correspondent in Baghdad says. “They know that if they bomb a house of innocent people, they can claim it was a ‘terrorist’ base and get away with it. They don’t want us roaming around Iraq and so the ‘terrorist’ threat is great news for them.

“They can claim they’ve shot 600 or 1,000 insurgents and we have no way of checking because we can’t go to the cemetery or visit the hospitals because we don’t want to get kidnapped and have our throats cut.”