‘NYT’ Baghdad Reporters Cover Death of Slain Colleague

By: E&P Staff

An Iraqi reporter and translator for The New York Times, Khalid W. Hassan, 23, was killed on Friday in Baghdad — on his way to work. Now some of his former colleagues in the paper’s bureau there have started posting tributes on the Times’ “The Lede” blog.

And, in a lengthy news report for the Saturday paper, his bureau chief, John F. Burns, explores how he died and the larger context.

Burns reveals that Hassan “was forced to the side of the road by gunmen in a black Mercedes. The gunmen opened fire with automatic rifles, pitting Mr. Hassan?s rundown Kia car with bullets. At least one struck him in the upper body, but failed to kill him….

“Slumped in his seat, he called his mother, then his father, at work as a school caretaker, telling them he had been shot. ‘I?m O.K., Mom,’ he said.

“An off-duty policeman in a gasoline station line told Mr. Hassan?s father what came next. A second car with gunmen, an Opel Vectra, seeing Mr. Hassan on his cellphone, pulled forward and fired two fatal shots into Mr. Hassan?s head and neck.

“The murderous turmoil in Baghdad has reached a point where many families never know the killers of their loved ones, or their motives. Sunni insurgents? Shiite militias? Killers that mimic one or the other, while pursuing more private motives of greed, spite or revenge? Or, in Mr. Hassan?s case, the nature of his employment, which placed him doubly at risk: as an Iraqi journalist, and as an Iraqi working for Americans?”

Burns writes that Hassan’s friends believe he was a victim of the Mahdi Army, but no one really knows. A cell phone threat was later discovered that made some feel that actually he was targeted by Sunni extremists. And so it goes in Iraq.

“But whatever the motive of his killers,” Burns writes, “there seemed little doubt that they knew a good deal about him after the shooting. The policeman who saw the killing from his place in the gas station line said that the gunmen, after firing the fatal shots, leaned into Mr. Hassan?s car and took his cellphone, on which he had entered dozens of numbers used in his work, along with his Bluetooth earpiece. The killers also reached into his pockets and took his documents, the policeman said.”

The rest of the report is at www.nytimes.com.

Also at paper’s site in “The Lede” blog are tributes from two of Hassan’s other colleagues. Here are excerpts from two of them.
*

From Damien Cave:

When I arrived at the Baghdad bureau for the first time, Khalid bounded toward me with perhaps the friendliest hello I?ve still ever received from an Iraqi. In a place where few can find reason to smile, Khalid was the guy whose laugh regularly filled a room. He was always lightning-quick with a joke, with a reason to get excited about a story or a witty criticism of Iraqi life.

I remember working with him on an article about Iraqi cellphones, and thinking that he would burst with all the information he wanted to share about which phones and short videos had caught on in Iraqi youth culture. He was so full of life that day, and on so many others. He was young, eager, hungry for Americans to understand Iraq, and most of all, to care about its people.

One recent conversation comes to mind. I had just written an article about this year?s class of Iraqi college graduates and their struggle to finish school amid the country?s ceaseless violence. Many of the students I quoted said that they felt helpless to turn Iraq around, and would be leaving the country to pursue their dreams ? dreams of a good job, a family, a little fun.

Khalid rushed into my room (he never just entered). He hadn?t worked with me on that story, and I thought he had some kind of criticism; something he thought I missed. But I could see he was excited. I think he had run up the stairs. Through heavy breaths, he thanked me for giving voice to young people who wanted more than just violence, for quoting those who felt (as he did) that the American public had begun to overlook the fact that not all young Iraqi men wanted to kill one another.

Khalid, unlike many of his peers, did not leave his country, and in the midst of innumerable horrors, he managed somehow to hold on to his dreams….

?We just want the same things everyone wants,? he told me that night as we talked about Iraq?s young people. We just want to live our lives.?

From Edward Wong:

I think it can safely be said that there was no presence more colorful in our Baghdad newsroom than Solid Khalid. He never ceased to entertain us just by his jovial nature and force of personality. He always had a joke on hand to lighten the mood, even sending his witticisms by e-mail or text message if he couldn?t talk with you face to face.

He also showed a stunning amount of initiative, always wanting to learn more about things we take for granted in the West, like American pop culture and computers. Once, when I was in New York on a break, he asked me to bring back for him a boxed set of ?West Wing? episodes and a book on Adobe Photoshop. He knew more about cell phones and Iraqi fashion trends than anyone else in the newsroom. When it came to his passions, his appetite was insatiable. I often thought, ?If I only had had his energy when I was his age?.?

Many of my most memorable trips outside of Baghdad were made with Khalid: to Iraqi Kurdistan; to the oil city of Basra (where we worked with our colleague Fakher Haider, who was murdered in 2005); and most recently to Najaf and Karbala this past spring, where Khalid helped us produce a video report on the Shiite pilgrimage ritual of Arbaeen. He was the best company I could have hoped for on those trips, always ready to work even in the toughest of circumstances and despite whatever dangers were present. And when we weren?t working, he told stories over tea and kebabs that always made me laugh.

Khalid had to juggle a lot of responsibilities outside of work. He was the sole provider for his mother and three younger sisters. He had plans to marry this fall. Even before his death, the daily violence of the war had intruded on his life, as it has on that of every Iraqi: earlier this year, a car bomb exploded on a street near his old apartment, wrecking most of his possessions and forcing him and his family to move. Right before I left Iraq in May, he told me that he and his fianc?e had started talking about moving out of the country because of the deepening chaos. We told each other we would meet again sometime, somewhere, far from the war.


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