The War on Journalists

Sahar al-Haideri, an Iraqi journalist, had received 13 death threats before she was murdered in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul last week. Her killing brings to 106 the number of journalists, almost all Iraqi, murdered in the country since the US invasion in 2003 along with 39 support staff.

Mrs al-Haideri, a 45-year- old mother of three who worked as a freelancer for many publications, knew she was likely to die but refused to stop working. “We know we will be killed soon,” she told fellow journalists on the Journal Iraq online newspaper. She had even stopped using a nom de plume and wrote under own name with her picture. She said: “I was kidnapped and threatened while using a pen name, so I decided to write … with my real name.”

Iraq has become the most dangerous country in the world for journalists, with Sunni insurgents routinely targeting journalists, twelve of whom were killed in May alone. The great majority of those murdered or kidnapped are Iraqis, while non-Iraqi journalists find it increasingly difficult and dangerous to operate there.

The Ansar al-Sunna fundamentalist group claimed responsibility for killing Mrs al-Haideri, saying she “distorted the reputation of the mujahedin [fighters].” They had put her name on a death list, that included nine journalists, issued by the Islamic State of Iraq, the umbrella organization of extreme Jihadi and Salafi groups. The list was posted in several mosques in Mosul.

“When she arrived at the area of the ambush the brothers rained her with bullets from their machineguns killing her instantly,” Ansar al-Sunna said. It added that it had found the telephone numbers of policemen on her mobile phone, citing this as evidence that “she was an agent for the apostate police and the government of the apostate [Prime Minister, Nouri] al-Maliki.”

When colleagues called Mrs al-Haideri’s phone after she was murdered it was answered by an insurgent who said “she went to hell”.

Mrs al-Haideri knew her home was being watched because two of the 13 death threats she received were contained in handwritten letters left at her house, she told the Iraqi Journalistic Freedom Observatory. The group said Mosul, a largely Sunni city with a Kurdish minority, had become the most dangerous city in Iraq for journalists, with 35 killed since 2003.

The fundamentalist Sunni groups of the Islamic State of Iraq, which includes al-Qa’ida in Iraq, see all who are not actively on their side as enemies to be eliminated. They have even murdered low-level government employees such as garbage collectors and lorry drivers, claiming that they are supporters of the government. This has led to many Sunnis turning against al-Qa’ida on the grounds that it is preying on its own community.

Mrs al-Haideri worked for media that try to fill the vacuum of information about developments in Iraq. Mrs al-Haideri was working for the Voices of Iraq, the Journal Iraq, the National Iraqi News Agency and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. Iraqis generally rely on television, particularly al-Jazeera and Iraqi television channels, for their news and entertainment because of the dangers of going outside to buy a newspaper.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of ‘The Occupation: War, resistance and daily life in Iraq‘, a finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award for best non-fiction book of 2006.




Patrick Cockburn’s past columns can now be found at The I. Patrick Cockburn is the author of War in the Age of Trump (Verso).