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Two Journalists Killed in Car Crash in Iraq

BY Admin  April 15, 2003 at 12:00 PM EDT

Podesta, 52, and Cabrera, 29, were traveling on the highway between Amman, Jordan and Baghdad in a convoy of some 30 media vehicles trying to get to Baghdad before nightfall on Monday.

The fatal accident occurred about 25 miles from the Iraqi capital after a tire on their vehicle exploded, Eduardo Cura, news director for America TV, told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a media watchdog based in New York.

Podesta and Cabrera both worked for the Argentine television station America TV.

Podesta was killed instantly from the crash Monday afternoon. Cabrera, who was sitting in the same car as Podesta, died some 24 hours later from critical injuries sustained in the accident, the Argentine daily La Nacion reported on Tuesday.

Podesta’s colleagues carried his body to the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, home to hundreds of foreign journalists covering the war in Iraq. Cabrera’s body is lying in a hospital in Ramadi, a town near Baghdad, where she received treatment after the accident, Argentine newspapers reported on Tuesday. A Portuguese cameraman was also riding in Podesta’s vehicle, and suffered from a dislocated shoulder, La Nacion reported. The Portuguese cameraman later told La Nacion that no one in his car was wearing a seatbelt.

The precise cause of the crash remains uncertain. In a press statement on Monday, the CPJ said it was investigating reports of gunfire heard near the convoy just before the accident.

Witness accounts blame the accident on Podesta’s old vehicle and his inexperienced driver, who was frightened to enter Iraq.

Journalist Monica Perez, a reporter in that convoy, told La Nacion that his Jordanian driver was “scared to death and was speeding” along the Amman-Baghdad highway.

“It was so terrifying when I saw Mario thrown on the highway, dead…And, Veronica was thrown out, groaning in pain, as was the Jordanian driver,” Perez recounted to La Nacion.

There has been no information on the whereabouts or condition of the unidentified Jordanian driver.

Podesta was an independent journalist and veteran war correspondent; he covered 35 conflicts and interviewed the Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Salvador Dali, and Saddam Hussein. He is survived by four children.

Podesta and Cabrera previously collaborated to cover the war in Afghanistan in 2001.

Cabrera is the first female journalist known to die while covering the war in Iraq. She is survived by her husband and two-year old daughter.

“She knew that she could die,” but “her passion was to cover war and she was happy doing it,” Cabrera’s sister told the Argentine news agency DyN. The deaths of Podesta and Cabrera highlight the ongoing hazards of reporting in Iraq.

Though U.S. military commanders said on Monday that the large-scale fighting had ended in Iraq, journalists working there continue to encounter dangers and threats to their safety, according to a letter published on Monday by CPJ.

“Since the fall of Baghdad more than a week ago, journalists covering events inside Iraq continue to face threats to their safety, particularly in the unrest that has followed the regime’s collapse,” according to the CPJ letter.