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Iraq: Will Latest Attacks Affect Foreign Media Coverage?

U.S. soldiers walk past the remains of one of the vehicles used in the attack (RFE/RL) A triple suicide bombing in central Baghdad yesterday rocked a hotel complex used by foreign journalists. No foreign reporters were killed in the blasts, but Iraq's national security adviser called the attack a "very clear" effort by insurgents to take journalists hostage. RFE/RL spoke with foreign journalists who cover Iraq to see whether the latest attack might affect the way the media are covering events in Iraq.

Prague, 25 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Foreign correspondents in Baghdad probably have the most dangerous job in journalism -- a fact they were brutally reminded of yesterday.

Three suicide bombers blew themselves up near a hotel complex used by many foreign journalists, killing at least 17 people.

The attackers used a car bomb and then a cement truck filled with explosives to breach a concrete blast wall that separates the Palestine Hotel complex from Firdous Square in the center of the city. The cement truck exploded in a huge yellow ball of fire and smoke.

Several news photographers were wounded in the attack, which Iraq's national security adviser, Mouwafak al-Rubaie, called a "very clear" effort by insurgents to take journalists hostage.

Al-Rubaie offered no evidence for that claim. And Major General Hussein Kamal, Iraq's deputy interior minister, disputed that theory.

But security photos showed a clear attempt to attack the hotel complex. Lynn Tehini, a Middle East officer for the watchdog organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said she has no doubts that the bombings were aimed at further intimidating journalists.

"Yesterday's attacks on the Hotel Palestine prove that journalists have become a target in Iraq," Tehini said.

But what effect, if any, will the attacks have on the way journalists cover Iraq?

Tehini's not sure they will have much of an effect at all.

After all, Iraq has long been a lethal working place for journalists. In a recent report, RSF said 73 journalists have been killed in Iraq since the start of the war in March 2003.

That's more than were killed during the entire Vietnam War.

And as Tehini points out, it's not just foreign reporters who are at risk in Iraq.

"Usually, the foreigners stay in their bunkers and they send out the Iraqis. But these Iraqis, these local journalists, are taking a lot of risks. Even if they go, for instance, to interview normal people, a little party, anything they do, they are targeted. People are entering their houses and killing them in front of their families," Tehini said. "Being a journalist is [in] itself a danger today in Iraq."

The attackers used a car bomb and then a cement truck filled with explosives to breach a concrete blast wall that separates the Palestine Hotel complex from Firdous Square.

Harriet Sherwood, foreign editor of "The Guardian," is well aware of the dangers journalists face in Iraq. The British newspaper's Iraq correspondent, Rory Carroll, was recently kidnapped and held for 36 hours before being released unharmed in Baghdad.

Sherwood said Carroll has now left Iraq and that in the wake of his kidnapping, the paper has pulled all of its staff out of the country. But she told RFE/RL that the move is only temporary and will not be affected by yesterday's bombings.

"I think there is a constant review that goes on inside all news organizations about safety and security and measuring the risk against the benefits," Sherwood said. "It may be that some broadcast organizations do decide to withdraw. I don't think any British newspapers will. As I say, we have taken this decision as a temporary measure because of the very specific circumstances of our correspondent having been kidnapped last week."

While "The Guardian" reviews its operations in Iraq, Sherwood said she has no doubt that it is getting harder and harder to report in the strife-torn country.

"I think it is very frustrating. And the most difficult thing is being able to report all sides of the story. I think it's easy to do political stories, because access to politicians in Iraq is fairly easy inside the Green Zone," Sherwood said. "And it's easy to do stories with the military because the British and the Americans still lay on embeds. I think the frustrating thing is being able to talk to ordinary Iraqis about their lives, and that has become immensely frustrating because I think that's a huge part of the story."

And a story certain to remain told imperfectly, unless security in Iraq greatly improves.

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