Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

  VOICE OF AMERICA abandoned Baghdad last year

I had not seen this new story yesterday when I wrote about the danger to reporters in Iraq, and the hypocrisy of the Bush administration in complaining about the alleged failures of reporters there to publish more good news about the country. But it confirms almost perfectly the points I made.

Howard Kurtz at the Washington Post reports that the VOA closed down its bureau in Iraq because its last remaining reporter had been targeted for assassination.

The Voice of America's bureau in Baghdad has been closed for the past six months, ever since the government-funded agency withdrew its only reporter in Iraq after she was fired upon in an ambush and her security guard was later killed.

All Western news organizations have struggled with the dangerous conditions in Iraq, which have led to such high-profile incidents as the kidnapping of Christian Science Monitor reporter Jill Carroll and the wounding of ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff. But for a federally funded information service to pull out of Baghdad for such a prolonged period raises questions about the Bush administration's insistence that conditions there are gradually improving.

VOA reporter Alisha Ryu said yesterday that she told her bosses in December that "it would really be impossible for me to do any kind of work" in Iraq. "I couldn't live with the idea that someone else could have died who was working with me. . . . For all journalists, it's really become impossible to move around."

Ryu had reported in November on the transfer of prisoners, mostly Sunnis, from a secret prison run by the Iraqi Interior Ministry. She described their appearance as resembling Holocaust victims. The victims had been tortured, evidently by Shiite militias that had infiltrated the Interior Ministry.

[Ryu] said that after her initial reports, "I had a feeling the Shiite militia was watching me, and I know they were not happy."...

Two weeks after that, Ryu said, gunmen opened fire on the car carrying her and her driver, Mohammed Siddik, who was under contract as her security guard. They escaped, but the driver in the car in front of hers was killed, she said.

Days later, Siddik was kidnapped by men she believed to be members of a Shiite militia.

Siddik was later released with the help of some Shiite militias. Ryu stated that after she was withdrawn from Iraq for her own safety, the VOA had not sent anybody to replace her because the Agency could not find anybody willing to go.

She did go back in February briefly, met with Siddik and warned him to be careful. Almost immediately thereafter, Siddik was assassinated. His brother was gunned down separately.

Administration officials have complained on numerous occasions that journalists in Iraq are focusing too heavily on the daily violence and attacks, and are neglecting signs of progress there.

Indeed they have. Yet I've never heard Bush or his minions draw attention to the VOA's inability to report at all from Iraq. Odd, that.


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