Three Journalists Killed in Baghdad
Central Command spokesman Capt. Frank Thorp in Doha, Qatar expressed regret for the loss of life, but said coalition forces would continue to strike at Iraqi resistance.
“We don’t target journalists. But we will continue to target Iraqi military forces,” Capt. Frank Thorp, a Central Command spokesman in Doha, Qatar, said on Tuesday.
In one incident, two journalists were killed and at least six others were injured after a U.S. tank opened fire on Baghdad’s Palestine hotel, the home base for several hundred international reporters covering the Iraq war.
Reuters television cameraman Taras Protsyuk, 35, was killed in the blast, the news agency confirmed in a statement Tuesday. An experienced war journalist, Protsyuk covered conflicts in Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan and Kosovo. Protsyuk, a Ukrainian national, had worked for Reuters for ten years.
“We are devastated by the death of Taras, who had distinguished himself with his highly professional coverage in of some of the most violent conflicts of the past decade,” Reuters Editor-in-Chief Geert Linnebank said in a statement.
Cameraman Jose Couso, 37, from the Spanish television network Telecinco died after surgery for injuries to his leg and jaw, the Spanish network confirmed.
“Clearly the war, and all its confusion, has come to the heart of Baghdad,” Linnebank said.
“But the incident nonetheless raises questions about the judgment of the advancing U.S. troops who have known all along that this hotel is the main base for almost all foreign journalists in Baghdad,” Linnebank told the Associated Press.
Reuters said three other staffers were injured in the blast: Paul Pasquale, a British television satellite dish coordinator; Lebanese national Samia Nakhoul, who was the Reuters bureau chief in the Persian Gulf; and photographer Faleh Kheiber, an Iraqi national. Doctors treating them said their wounds were not life threatening.
Journalists inside the hotel reported they saw a tank aiming up at the 18-story building just before the blast. The U.S. tank apparently fired one shell, which struck the balconies on the 14th and 15th floors of the Palestine Hotel. Journalists also said they never heard any other firing from inside the hotel
“I never heard a single shot coming from any of the area around here, certainly not from the hotel,” British Sky television correspondent David Chater told Reuters.
U.S. Army Col. David Perkins, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade stationed near the hotel, said Iraqis launched rocket-propelled grenades at coalition tanks from the front of the hotel, upon which one of his tanks returned fire. Several unidentified U.S. troops told the AP that they saw binoculars fixed on them from an upper floor of the hotel and, suspecting there was a “spotter,” or sniper, on the hotel’s rooftop, the tank opened fire on the hotel.
Perkins expressed regret for the incident, but blamed the Iraqi government for endangering the lives of civilians, including the journalists.
“By militarizing these areas, [Iraqi president Saddam Hussein] is putting these people at risk,” Perkins told the AP. “The soldier’s primary responsibility is to protect himself and his crew.”
In a separate incident occurring less than a mile away, correspondent Tareq Ayyoub died from serious wounds sustained after Al Jazeera’s office was struck in an earlier U.S. bombing mission, officials from the Qatari-based satellite channel said. A cameraman was also injured, though his wounds were not severe. An Abu Dhabi television office in the area was also damaged, though it remains unclear if anyone was injured.
Al Jazeera officials described Ayyoub, a Jordanian national, as a “martyr of duty” and a “dear and loyal colleague.”
U.S. State Department spokesman Nabil Khoury in Doha, Qatar called the bombing “a grave mistake.”
But, Al Jazeera chief editor Ibrahim Hilal accused the U.S. military of targeting Al Jazeera’s offices.
Local residents “saw the plane fly over twice before dropping the bombs. Our office is in a residential area and even the Pentagon knows its location,” Hilal told the AP from the channel’s headquarters in Doha, Qatar.
Al Jazeera’s Baghdad office, a two-story house in a residential area, is located on a road which connects the Information Ministry with the old presidential palace compound, Al Jazeera officials told the AP.
“We are witnesses to what is happening. We are not a party..The killing of colleague Tareq Ayyoub and the bombardment of the Al Jazeera office is to cover up the great crime which the Iraqi people are subjected to at the hands of the United States,” Al Jazeera correspondent Majed Abdul-Hadi said from Baghdad.
Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, who later held a press conference in front of the Palestine Hotel, the primary site for official Iraqi briefings, said coalition forces were targeting civilian areas.
“They bombed residential areas. They bombed Al Jazeera. They are in a state of hysteria and haste. They imagine that by killing civilians, they’ll win,” he said. “These villains will not win.”
At Tuesday’s Central Command press briefing, Brooks handled pointed questions from journalists regarding the latest press casualties in Baghdad.
“We don’t know every place journalists are operating on the battlefield. It’s a dangerous place indeed. And certainly there should be no surprise in anyone’s mind that eventually operations were going to close on Baghdad,” Brooks said.
Brooks said he believed the Iraqi government deliberately positioned its fighters in civilian areas in order to ensconce Iraqi military operations.
“All who are not part of the regime should be aware that the regime uses places like the Palestine Hotel for other regime purposes..So we’re certainly aware of those types of places, and we’ve tried to mitigate the risk wherever we can. In some cases the risk cannot be driven to zero,” Brooks cautioned.
Ten journalists have been killed in combat situations since the Iraq war began on March 20.