IFJ Urges New Safety Action After “Barbaric” Targeting of Journalists in Iraq

The International Federation of Journalists today condemned the “barbaric and cowardly” targeting of journalists, following the tragic murders of two journalists outside Baghdad.

At about 9am this morning, Waldemar Milewicz, a reporter for Poland's state-run TVP network and his Polish-Algerian colleague Mounir Bouamrane came under heavy fire and were killed while travelling from the Iraqi capital to the central city of Hillah. Jerzy Ernst, a cameraman for TVP, was wounded in the attack. The gunmen drove up behind their car, which was clearly marked with press tags, and raked it with bullets before turning around to fire again.

“This is a barbaric, cowardly and shocking example of targeting of journalists and media staff,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “It reinforces our strong view that urgent and decisive actions are needed to protect journalists in Iraq”.

The three journalists left the Palestine hotel in Baghdad and had just begun on the road to Al-Najaf but since a military convoy blocked the road, the driver took a local road he thought was safe. Suddenly, they were hit by heavy machine-gun fire through the back of the car. Milcewicz was fatally wounded in this first attack and Bouamrane was killed when the attackers returned moments later and fired on their car again.

According to an Italian journalist who arrived on the scene minutes after the attack, people in the crowd next to the shooting were telling his local fixer/ translator that the killers were looking for more journalists to kill.

Milewicz, 47, had worked for TVP for 20 years and won numerous awards for his reporting from Chechnya, Afghanistan and other war zones. Bouamrane, 36, a Polish-Algerian national, had been working for about 15 years for TVP.

It is not clear if the journalists were wearing protective body armour or whether or not they had undertaken security training prior to their assignment in Iraq. CNN correspondent Ben Wedeman reported that the attack took place in exactly the same spot where two CNN employees were shot dead in January

The IFJ is calling on all media organisations to ensure that their employees are well prepared before entering a conflict zone and that they receive proper safety training and insurance coverage. “Journalists must observe safety guidelines and recognize the fact that no story is worth dying for”.

An estimated 42 journalists have died in Iraq since the war began in March 2003. “These tragic deaths underline the fact that Iraq is the most dangerous place in the world for journalists,” said White. “It is vital that assistance is provided to reduce the risks journalists face even in this hostile atmosphere.”

The IFJ is continuing to press the US for independent investigations of 11 deaths in which media staff died at the hands of US troops. “The defence of journalists must begin with a commitment to transparency and a frank investigation of how our colleagues have been killed,” said the IFJ.

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries