Media watchdog wants action after record Iraq toll

BAGHDAD Fri Jun 1, 2007 6:18am EDT

A soldier stands guard on a road near a checkpoint in Baghdad June 1, 2007. REUTERS/Mahmoud Raouf Mahmoud

A soldier stands guard on a road near a checkpoint in Baghdad June 1, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Mahmoud Raouf Mahmoud

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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Media advocate Reporters Without Borders has called for the establishment of a special police unit to investigate media killings in Iraq after a record 12 journalists were slain in May.

The Paris-based group expressed deep shock after the deaths of four journalists in five days and said police should also set up a witness protection program to help in investigations of media killings.

"The Iraqi government must fulfill their duty to protect journalists," RSF said in a statement on its Web site (www.rsf.org).

RSF's statement and its count of 11 journalists killed in May, all but one Iraqi, did not include the death of Saif Fakhry, an Iraqi cameraman working for the U.S. Associated Press news agency.

Fakhry was shot twice while walking to a mosque near his home in Baghdad on Thursday. He had worked for AP Television News (APTN) since August 2004 and is survived by his wife, who is due to give birth to their first child next month, APTN said.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, who controlled all media, Iraqis have seen the proliferation of newspapers and television.

Many are controlled by political or religious factions, and Iraqi journalists, dozens of whose colleagues have been killed or kidnapped, complain some officials put them under heavy pressure.

Journalists are increasingly finding themselves caught in the crossfire in Iraq's sectarian conflict and the Sunni Arab insurgency against U.S forces and the Iraqi government.

RSF says 177 journalists and media assistants, most of them Iraqis, have been killed in Iraq since the start of the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam in March 2003, making Iraq one of the deadliest conflicts for journalists since World War Two.

May was the deadliest month of the Iraq war for journalists.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says on its Web site that 104 journalists and 39 media support workers, such as translators and drivers, have been killed.

Its figures for May include only four journalists killed up to May 17.

RSF said more should be done to investigate the deaths and to organize awareness campaigns among the Iraqi security forces and the public for the protection of journalists.

"We call for the creation of a special force within the national police to identify the perpetrators and instigators of killings of journalists," the RSF statement said.

"To help the investigators, a witness protection program should also be set up with the help of countries in the region."