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Iraq: Three Journalists Killed In Baghdad in Incidents With U.S. Forces

Prague, 8 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Three journalists were killed in Baghdad today in two separate incidents involving U.S. forces.

Two cameramen, Jose Couso of Spanish TV and Ukrainian Taras Protsyuk of Reuters, were killed when a U.S. tank shell hit the Palestine Hotel in central Baghdad. Several journalists were wounded.

Earlier in the day, a Jordanian reporter for Al-Jazeera television, Tareb Ayoub, died when his station's offices in Baghdad were bombed in a U.S. air raid. A cameraman was also wounded.

Another Arab television station, Abu Dhabi TV, said its Baghdad office had been hit in an attack.

The U.S. military was quick to deny that any of the incidents were intentional. U.S. Brigadier General Vincent Brooks told reporters today at U.S. Central Command in Qatar: "We don't target journalists. We certainly believe in having open access to journalism here, at other locations, and inside of all formations, and any loss of life that came as a result of combat action is regrettable."

Reports emerging from the scene were contradictory.

Referring to the Palestine Hotel incident, U.S. General Buford Blount was quoted as saying a tank fired at the hotel after receiving small-arms and rocket-propelled-grenade fire from the building. The hotel was well-known as a residence for foreign correspondents.

Journalists on the scene said they did not hear any shots coming from the hotel.

Reuters quoted correspondent David Chater for Britain's Sky television as saying he did not hear any shots coming from the area or the hotel. He said he was standing on the hotel's balcony and noticed a U.S. tank pointing its gun at the hotel. He said he then turned away and did not see the tank fire.

Reports said the hotel building shook during the blast and that journalists could be seen carrying their wounded colleagues out of the hotel on bedsheets.

The U.S. military earlier had warned that Iraqi forces would operate from civilian areas like hotels and that these would be considered legitimate targets.

Brooks told reporters, "Baghdad is certainly a dangerous location for anyone present there." He accused the regime in Baghdad of intentionally putting journalists in harm's way. "All who are part of the regime should be aware that the regime uses places like the Palestine Hotel for other regime purposes and in doing so they try to achieve a degree of protection from their other activities that are ongoing there, so we're certainly aware of those types of places and we have tried to mitigate the risk wherever we can. In some cases the risk cannot be driven to zero," Brooks said.

Aidan White, the general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, today issued a strong condemnation. Speaking in Brussels, he said the attacks appeared to be deliberately targeted and called for a full international inquiry. "We are concerned that attacks on media and journalists, which appear to have been targeted attacks, are in our view crimes of war. They are violations, grave and serious violations, of international humanitarian law. We believe that they should be subject to proper, intensive, independent international investigation," White said.

White said U.S. forces had not accorded "unembedded" journalists sufficient protection. He also accused the Iraqi regime of acting "recklessly" and using journalists as human shields. The International Federation of Journalists represents more than 500,000 journalists in about 100 countries.

Al-Jazeera accused the U.S. of targeting its journalists. A presenter today said the U.S. had "intentionally targeted" the channel's offices and recalled the U.S. bombing of its Kabul bureau during the 2001 war in Afghanistan.

The Arab Journalists' Union also accused the U.S. military of deliberately targeting reporters. The union's secretary-general, Salaheddin Hafedh, said in a statement the deaths constitute "murder" and show that U.S. and British forces are looking to prevent the press from carrying out its duties.

Reuters Editor in Chief Geert Linnebank, in a statement, said his company was "devastated" by the death of Protsyuk. The statement said he was a highly experienced cameraman who had reported from Chechnya, Afghanistan, and the Balkans before going to Baghdad.

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    Mark Baker

    Mark Baker is a freelance journalist and travel writer based in Prague. He has written guidebooks and articles for Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, and Fodor’s, and his articles have also appeared in National Geographic Traveler and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.