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Iraq Has Become the Deadliest Place for Journalists, Report Says

By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE (NYT) 655 words
Published: February 14, 2006

Iraq has become the deadliest country for journalists in the last quarter-century, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Twenty-two journalists were killed in Iraq in 2005, bringing the total to 61 since the American invasion in March 2003. That number surpasses the 58 journalists killed in the Algerian conflict from 1993 to 1996.

The numbers are in the committee's annual report, ''Attacks on the Press,'' to be released today.

The committee, which has been tracking journalist deaths since its founding in 1981, counts only those who die as a direct result of combat or hostile action. In a separate tally, the committee said 23 media support people, including drivers and translators, were killed in Iraq last year.

Other organizations, whose research goes back further and which use different counting methods, say Iraq is on its way to becoming the deadliest war for journalists in modern times.

The Newseum, a news museum in the Washington, D.C., area, puts the number of journalist deaths in Iraq so far at 66. By its tally, which includes those like David Bloom of NBC and Elizabeth Neuffer of The Boston Globe, whose deaths were not combat-related, that figure already surpasses the 63 killed in Vietnam and Cambodia from 1965 to 1975. And it is approaching what the Newseum says was the 69 killed in World War II from 1940 to 1945.

''Iraq is essentially a killing ground for journalists,'' considering its time span of less than three years and its limited geography, said Susan Bennett, director of international exhibits there. ''It's a combination of the usual dangers of wartime reporting coupled with things like suicide bombers and then the fact that journalists are being targeted. That didn't occur in World War II.''

The Committee to Protect Journalists said that of the 47 working journalists around the world who died on duty last year as a result of hostile action -- like reprisals for their work or cross-fire during dangerous assignments -- more than three-fourths had been singled out because they were journalists.

A number of trends are identified in the committee's report, from an increasing level of self-censorship by reporters afraid of violent consequences to the impunity with which attacks on reporters are carried out.

Paul E. Steiger, managing editor of The Wall Street Journal and chairman of the committee, wrote in a preface to the report that the example set by the United States ''may have contributed'' to these trends.

''With a prominent U.S. reporter jailed for 85 days, new legal threats emerging every day and the U.S. military stonewalling investigations into the deaths and detentions of journalists in Iraq,'' Mr. Steiger wrote, ''the press fared badly at the hands of U.S. authorities.'' The journalist jailed for 85 days last year was Judith Miller, then a reporter for The New York Times.

At one point in December, the United States ranked sixth on the list of countries that had imprisoned the most journalists, a reference to its holding four Iraqi journalists in detention centers in Iraq and one Sudanese, a cameraman who works for Al Jazeera, at the United States base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Three of the Iraqis have since been released, dropping the ranking of the United States to eighth place, where it is tied with Iran and Tunisia.

''I strongly suspect that there is a relationship between the rise in deaths and incarcerations abroad and the infringement of press freedom at home,'' Mr. Steiger wrote. ''To put it simply, repressive governments are delighted when a democracy like the United States imprisons a journalist. It makes it easier for them to justify their own restrictive policies.''

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