BAGHDAD – With many Iraqi journalists slain since 2003, the Iraqi Journalists Union is planning to offer martial arts and survival courses to help its members cope with the risks of life in this country.
Union chief Shihab al-Timimi said reporters, photographers and television crews will also be taught how to lower their profile and conceal their equipment when they are traveling. any journalists are believed to have been killed when they were stopped at militia and insurgent checkpoints.
The latest journalist death occurred Sunday, when gunmen killed Jawad Saadoun al-Daami, who worked for the Iraqi television station al-Baghdadiyah. Al-Dammi, a Shiite, was gunned down in Baghdad's western Qadisiyah neighborhood.
He was the second slain journalist who worked for the station, which broadcasts from Cairo, Egypt, and is often critical of the Iraqi government and the U.S. military presence. It is perceived as pro-Sunni.
Al-Timimi said the courses will be offered in Baghdad, Basra in the south and Irbil in the north.
"We feel that it's our duty to protect the remaining Iraqi journalists who are constantly facing the danger of assassination and kidnapping," al-Timimi told The Associated Press.
He acknowledged that the courses could produce only modest results given the level of threat posed against Iraqi journalists "but doing something is better than doing nothing."
He also called on the Interior Ministry to relax firearms regulations so that journalists can carry weapons to defend themselves.
The move by the Iraqi Journalists Union reflects the depth of the crisis facing Iraqi journalists.
Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based organization for the protection of journalists, says a total of 200 journalists have been killed in Iraq since 2003, mostly Iraqis who died in Baghdad, Mosul and the volatile and oil-rich city of Kirkuk.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 112 journalists and 40 media support workers — translators, drivers, fixers and guards — have been killed in Iraq since 2003. Most of the victims were Iraqis — many of them believed targeted by extremists because they worked for foreigners.
The CPJ count does not include al-Dammi.
Yasser al-Hamadani, a correspondent for the Kurdish al-Ittihad newspaper in Mosul was upbeat about the prospect of journalists being able to defend themselves.
"We have the fear of being killed any minute in this lawless city. I hope that such courses will make us feel safer," he said. "It's a first good step."
But Sabah al-Timimi, a reporter in the city of Najaf south of Baghdad was not optimistic.
"Most of the gunmen seem to be organized, professional and determined in their attacks against civilians and journalists," said, al-Timimi, who writes for Iran's news agency.