KR's Baghdad Chief Says Journos Remain in Grave Danger

By: Greg Mitchell With fewer American soldiers dying in Iraq, one might suppose that the danger to American journalists has also declined in recent weeks. This seems to be hardly so, judging by a current report from Knight Ridder's Baghdad bureau chief Hannah Allam, during a visit to this country.

"I can't really see any difference for foreign journalists working in Baghdad," she told Brooke Gladstone of National Public Radio's "On the Media" program, adding, "the threat is still there. It hasn't changed."

Asked about her daily routine, Allam (who was featured in an E&P cover story in January) said, "We're still spending a lot of time inside the hotel. Even if we do go out, we don't stay in any one place for more than 20 minutes. And then we go back to the hotel. But we're doing a lot of phone interviews. We're sending our Iraqi staff members out a lot more, to gather information and to conduct interviews." She called the vital road to the airport "seven miles of terror."

But, back in the United States, with a fresh eye, what does she think about coverage of the Iraq conflict?

"What's really struck me since I've been back in the States -- everywhere I go, when people hear that I live in Baghdad, they say. 'Oh, well, you're in Baghdad, but at least it's so much better there now.' And that's not the case. I mean, Iraqis are still dying every day by the dozens, in some cases. You know, things are still very, very dangerous on the ground. So I think it's important that we don't confuse a decrease in the attack on American soldiers and American interests with some sort of significant shift in the war."

Gladstone asked about Fallujah, little commented on or visited since the U.S. attack that destroyed much of the city last fall. "Actually, any Iraqi who is not from Fallujah does not have access to Fallujah," Allam answered. "To get into Fallujah, you're subjected to all kinds of tests -- I think eye scans and you have to show residence cards. For foreigners, really the only way to go down to Fallujah is to travel with the U.S. military or the U.S. embassy to look at some rebuilding projects or something like that.

"So journalists really aren't venturing out of Baghdad, much less to a place where there's still a lot of unrest and, you know, anger and resentment after the invasion of November." Much the same holds true in Najaf.

But it's not just lack of press access, she added. "I think a lot of readers become, or viewers, become numb to the story," she explained. "Readers have told me they're tired of reading car-bombing story after car-bombing story. But to get out and to get out the really meaty features that we want, or to cover the reconstruction process, we would have to have levels of security that just isn't there.

"I think we, we run the risk of boring our readers with the story, and they'll turn elsewhere, and perhaps there will be a significant troop withdrawal, and then the media will go with them, and then maybe we'll have an Afghanistan type situation ... a place with still a lot of unrest, and no one really paying much attention."


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