Samira al-Shibli’s dream of becoming a journalist came true when Saddam Hussein’s regime collapsed in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. But as Iraq descended into chaos, and she began getting death threats, she found herself forced to abandon her career and her country.
The last threat came in March, when extremists posted a statement on the walls warning she had been sentenced to death for working with infidels.
“I know that (journalism) is the profession of looking for trouble, but I didn’t realize that trouble also means death,” she told The Associated Press in Cairo.
Iraqi journalists — who on Friday marked Iraqi Press Day, the 138th anniversary of the first Iraqi newspaper, Al Zawra — are increasingly worried that intimidation and the prospect of violent death are threatening their profession.
On Sunday, the body of an Iraqi newspaper editor kidnapped last week was found, police said. Gunmen had ambushed Flayeh Wadi Mijdab, editor of the state-owned al-Sabah newspaper in eastern Baghdad as he was heading to work Wednesday, police said.
Scores killed since war's start
At least 106 journalists have been killed since the Iraq war began, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Eighty-four of them were Iraqis.
Reporters Without Borders said at least 182 journalists and other employees of media organizations have been killed since the start of the war.
They include five employees of The Associated Press who have died violently in Iraq since the war began. The most recent victim was Said M. Fakhry, 26, an AP Television News cameraman shot dead May 31 in his Baghdad neighborhood.
More than a dozen other Iraqi media employees have disappeared — apparent victims of kidnap gangs and sectarian death squads.
Such violence is a bitter disappointment for many Iraqis, who believed an end to Saddam’s dictatorship would usher in an era of freedom for a people long deprived of basic liberties. After his fall, dozens of new, independent newspapers appeared almost immediately.
Embarking on ‘a new path’
With the future seemingly bright, al-Shibli quit her job as an English teacher and took a reporting course offered by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, a British organization that trained would-be journalists in the standards of Western-style journalism.
“I felt finally I was doing something which I always wanted to do,” she said. “The whole world was holding out its hands to me and showing me a new path.”
Like many Iraqi journalists, al-Shibli began receiving death threats. After her name appeared in the statement posted in her hometown, she and a brother fled to Egypt.
She refused to identify her hometown or say what group made the threat for fear that family members who stayed behind would be at risk.
Some journalists have simply been caught in the crossfire in a country where violence can erupt almost at any time and any place.
Aref Ali Filaih, a correspondent for the independent news agency Aswat al-Iraq, was killed Monday by a roadside bomb as he drove to an assignment near Khalis north of Baghdad. He was the third journalist for the agency to be killed in the past two weeks.
Others appear to have been targeted.
A mother of four
Last week Sahar al-Haidari, who covered political and cultural news for Aswat al-Iraq, was shot to death as she waited for a taxi in Khalis.
The group Ansar al-Sunnah, a Sunni Arab insurgent group, claimed responsibility, alleging she was collaborating with local police.
The 45-year-old mother of four turned down an offer last month to join her family in Syria because she wanted to report on the suffering of the people of Khalis. Her last report was about honor killing of Iraqi women.
Last month, two Iraqis working for ABC News in Baghdad — cameraman Alaa Uldeen Aziz, 33, and soundman Saif Laith Yousuf, 26 — were waylaid and killed as they drove home from work.
Hashim Hassan, who runs the Baghdad-based Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, said journalists were becoming targets of a “mass campaign of terror.”
“They are murdered only because they are journalists — period,” Hassan said. “It’s clear that the message is to make them give up their profession.”
Hassan added that he, too, plans to leave Iraq soon because of death threats.