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IFEX MEMBERS MARK WAR'S FIFTH ANNIVERSARY

Hundreds of journalists have been forced into exile and the death toll continues to grow on the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq, still the most dangerous country for journalists, report IFEX members.

According to a new report on Iraqi journalists in exile by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), most of the journalists flee Iraq after receiving threats or surviving murder attempts.

One such journalist is Hussein al Maadidi, who was targeted by the Iraqi authorities and the U.S. military for his reports about the U.S. marines deliberately shooting women and children in reprisal for the murder of a marine in Haditha in 2005. "The police searched my home 23 times," he told RSF. "I never went home during the last two years. I even worked under another name to avoid police reprisals. My articles about what is really happening in the west of the country upset them." He left Iraq in October 2007.

In another case, a correspondent for the Spanish news agency EFE fled immediately to Syria with his wife and two children after seeing his name on a wanted poster in his local Baghdad bakery.

According to Human Rights First, more than four million Iraqis - one out of every seven - have been displaced inside Iraq or to neighbouring countries, especially Syria and Jordan, which are overwhelmed by the influx of Iraqi refugees. RSF discovered that journalists who go to Jordan manage better financially than those who seek refuge in Syria. In both countries, Iraqi journalists could work freely as long as they limited themselves to covering Iraqi affairs and did not criticise the host countries, RSF found.

But few Iraqi journalists in exile find work. RSF points out that no organisation provides large-scale assistance or information to exiled Iraqi journalists. "Many have to give up journalism," says RSF. "Nearly all of them are living from hand to mouth."

The situation is even worse for those who have stayed behind. During the past five years Iraq has been the most dangerous place in the world for journalists. According to RSF, 210 journalists and media assistants have been killed since March 2003, with only a handful of investigations into their deaths resulting in arrests. Since the start of the war, RSF says 87 journalists have been abducted. The fate of 15 of them remains unknown.

But instead of announcing protection measures for journalists, Iraqi authorities are "preparing their graves", says ARTICLE 19. Earlier this month, during the funeral of Shihab al-Tamimi - the president of the Iraqi Journalists' Syndicate who died of wounds sustained by a gun attack in Baghdad - the governor of Najaf told the press that he has devoted a piece of land in a local cemetery to bury the martyrs of Iraqi journalism.

"The Najaf governor's statement is symptomatic of the resignation that paralyses leadership across the country and internationally," says ARTICLE 19. ARTICLE 19 says some of the killings could have been prevented, especially in cases where attacks were preceded by death threats and the authorities had time to act.

"Time" magazine barely even uses Iraqi journalists because they "are much more vulnerable," says Bobby Ghosh, the magazine's world editor. Ghosh is one of three journalists who describe covering the conflict for "Dateline Iraq", a special video report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released on the war's fifth anniversary. Watch it here: http://www.cpj.org/datelineiraq/index.html

Also visit these links:
- RSF report on Iraqi journalists in exile: http://www.rsf.org/IMG/pdf/RapportRefugies_GB.pdf
- ARTICLE 19, "Iraqi journalists demand protection for their lives, not early graves": http://tinyurl.com/2hjlc8
- Human Rights First on Iraqi refugees: http://tinyurl.com/3c69qn
- Reuters, Iraq War anniversary package: http://iraq.reuters.com/
(25 March 2008)

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