IFJ Says Attacks on Journalists in Iraq Are "Crimes of War" That Must be Punished (1)

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The International Federation of Journalists today condemned both sides in the Iraq conflict of "crimes of war" after a series of attacks on journalists and deaths of media staff.

The IFJ is calling for an independent international inquiry after an attack on a hotel where journalists are staying in Baghdad and after US troops allegedly destroyed the offices of Al Jazeera Television and Abu Dhabi Television.

"There is no doubt at all that these attacks could be targeting journalists. If so, they are grave and serious violations of international law," said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ. "The bombing of hotels where journalists are staying and targeting of Arab media are particularly shocking events in a war which is being fought in the name of democracy. Those who are responsible must be brought to justice".

At the same time the IFJ condemns what appears to be Iraqi tactics of using civilians and journalists as a "human shield" against attack. "The Baghdad
authorities are just as culpable with their reckless disregard for civilian lives," said White.

The IFJ says that 12 journalists and media staff have died in the war so far. The latest deaths and injuries comes as American troops push into Baghdad. Blasts hit Baghdad's high-rise Palestine Hotel, which houses foreign media, today, killing one journalist working for Spanish Telecinco, and killing one and wounding three journalists working for Reuters. Shortly before the attack another strike was made which shattered the offices of Al-Jazeera Television killing one journalist and injuring another.

"It is cruelly ironic that after the Iraqi regime plays cat-and-mouse with Al Jazeera, first banning them, then allowing them to stay, it appears they have been attacked by American forces," said Aidan White. The IFJ says that this attack is a shocking mirror of the destruction of the Kabul offices of Al Jazeera by American forces during the war in Afghanistan. "It is impossible not to detect a sinister pattern of targeting," said White.

"We are still waiting for a satisfactory explanation for the attack on the ITN crew at the start of the war in which we think three colleagues were killed," said White. The IFJ says that there is eye-witness testimony accusing the US of deliberately firing upon clearly marked television vehicles.

"The United Nations system and the international media community must be fully engaged in finding out what happened in these cases and action must be taken to ensure it never happens again," said White. "We can expect denials of intent from the military, but what we really want is the truth."

The IFJ says that the global media community, including journalists, media organisations and press freedom campaigners, should join hands under the banner of the newly-formed International News Safety Institute to hold a complete and in depth inquiry. The INSI is a coalition of more than 100 organisations campaigning for a global news safety programme.

"You cannot fight for democracy with the lives of journalists and media staff," said White. "Media and journalists have little choice about covering this war - it is the first real-time war story in history - and their protection, embedded or not, must be paramount."

The IFJ says that the immediate aftermath of the war should involve a review of international rules to try to improve the levels of protection, for journalists and media staff. "This war has been the most televised conflict in history," said White, "but the protection afforded to journalists and media staff is prehistoric by comparison."

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