Isabelle Roughol – The J junkie

The tribulations of a young journalist and writer looking for work

Three journalists killed in Iraq

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I was shocked yesterday to find out that a Reuters photographer had been killed in Baghdad. What really stuck with me is that this man was younger than me. He was just 22.
I was just googling it to get the details right for this post. That’s how I found out another Iraqi journalist, a reporter working for the New York Times, was shot dead in Baghdad today. He was 23. Just my age.

It’s nothing new that war kills mostly young people. And with every year that passes, it becomes more likely that the list of the dead will show more and more people younger than me. (Actually, if the conflict/occupation/civil war is still on next year, you will have people fighting that were born in the 1990s, which, for some reason, I find chilling. And that’s not counting all the civilian victims, whom being under 18 doesn’t disqualify.)

Noor Eldeen portrait
(This photo is taken from a tribute to Namir Noor-Eldeen.)

The Reuters photographer was Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, killed in eastern Baghdad. The Iraqi police first declared it was a “random American bombardement.” The U.S. military say they were fighting insurgents and the journalists got caught in the middle. Several witnesses said the military confiscated the photographer’s equipment, but there doesn’t seem to be more information on that for now. Noor-Eldeen’s driver Saeed Chmagh, 40, occasionally a cameraman’s assistant, was also killed. The NYT reporter was Khalid Hassan, 23. He was shot dead on his way to work, but it has not yet been said by whom, or why.

Saeed Chmagh
(Salwann, the son of Reuters driver Chmagh, cries during the funeral procession for Saeed Chmagh and Reuters colleague photographer Noor-Eldeen in Baghdad. Reuters photo)

I imagine it’s the fact that they’re journalists that hits me most. And their age. And the fact that they worked for the two outlets I’d most want on my resume, doing just the kind of work I want to do. A colleague told me that their death shouldn’t come as a surprise since they chose to put themselves in harm’s way for their job. Well, he has at least a half-point, if you omit the fact that both were Iraqis. They probably would have kept doing their job the regular way, had war not come into their lives. And by regular way, I mean as regular as it could have been under Saddam Hussein.

But, as I said, my colleague had a point. I’ve never heard of a news organization that would force an assignment to a war zone on a journalist. Foreign correspondents, and especially war correspondents, choose this lifestyle. They typically have grand principles and a sincere belief in the importance of their work. They have varying degrees of allergy to neon lights and cubicles. Of course, too, ego is a big part of it, especially in the case of journalists that do not live in a war zone but travel halfway across the world to get to it. We (I include myself here, as an aspiring foreign correspondent) all have dreams of being Robert Capa meets Jack London (or Karen Blixen if you’re anything like me). We think we’re going to change the world and look good doing it. In all likelihood, we’ll have changed our minds in 20 years, 30 depending on our resistance.

But why those young men, or any others, were there hardly matters. It doesn’t take anything away from the importance of their work, and it doesn’t make it suck any less when they die. Dying there doesn’t make them heroes. Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t. But if anything, it at least makes them a testimony to the increasingly difficult work of journalists in Iraq and other war zones, and to the things they must have believed in to be willing to take that kind of risk.

Here’s the sad conclusion from a Reuters story.

Besides the inherent dangers of working in a war zone, journalists are increasingly being targeted by militias and al Qaeda militants, making it the most dangerous place in the world to report.

At least 23 reporters have been killed since the start of May, based on a count kept by Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders. Its toll since the U.S.-led 2003 invasion is 195, with 14 Iraqi journalists missing.

And because a journalist speaks best through his or her work, I’ll leave you with this photo by Noor-Eldeen, which would have brought me to tears if I weren’t sitting in the newsroom.

Old man picks up body parts in iraq
(An elderly man collects body parts following a suicide car bomb attack in Baghdad, May 14, 2005.)

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Written by Isabelle Roughol

Friday, 13 July, 2007 at 18:47

Posted in Iraq, Journos, Photography

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