The International Federation of Journalists today called for independent investigation of two further killings of media staff this week in Iraq after eye-witness evidence that United States troops opened fire without warning on a media vehicle.
The shooting of television reporter Asaad Kadhim and his driver, Hussein Saleh, brings to more than 40 the number of journalists and media personnel killed since the invasion of Iraq in March last year, says the IFJ. Both men were employed by Al-Iraqia Television, a station funded by the Pentagon and broadcasting from US coalition headquarters, which is derided by many Iraqis as a source of American propaganda.
While the US has acknowledged that soldiers killed the two men, they say they failed to heed warning shots, but cameraman Jassem Kamel, who was wounded in the shooting, said troops opened fire immediately on their vehicle in the central city of Samarra.
“Once again we have media staff gunned down by American forces who come up with instant excuses, which remain unverified,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “The only way to the truth is to have an independent investigation of how and why our colleagues were killed. It is not enough for the US Army to investigate itself. We need a credible and just inquiry.”
The IFJ says the American version of events in this case must be treated cautiously bearing in mind the “misinformation” that followed the attack on the Palestine Hotel, filled with media staff on April 8 last year, in which two journalists died.
Immediately after that attack the US claimed troops had come under fire from the hotel, but this was strongly denied by eye-witnesses and was only acknowledged by the US authorities months after the incident.
The IFJ is campaigning vigorously for inquiries into the deaths of seven journalists and media staff since the beginning of the conflict, all of whom died at the hands of US forces. Just a month ago, on March 18, US troops shot and killed correspondent Ali al-Khatib and cameraman Ali Abdel-Aziz of the Al-Arabiya news station.
Jassem Kamel, who was wounded in the back, said he and Kadhim had just finished interviewing Iraqi police and members of the Iraqi Civil Defence Corps at a checkpoint. They got back into their car and drove off. After about 500 metres they were fired upon by US troops and Kurdish gunmen. He said Kadhim and Saleh's bodies were "riddled with bullets." He jumped from the vehicle and was taken to the military base, where one soldier "punched me in the face," he said.
Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, US deputy chief of operations, said coalition forces opened fire at the car after warning shots were fired at least three separate times, but admitted that these initial reports may be not be correct.
Further information: + 32 2 235 22 00
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries