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Arab Journalists in Iraq Protest Deaths of Reporters, Lack of Security

The Al-Arabiya satellite news channel reported Thursday that one of its cameramen, Ali Abdel-Aziz, was killed and its correspondent, Ali al-Khatib, was critically wounded when U.S. troops opened fire on their car at a checkpoint in Baghdad around 10 p.m. local time Thursday. The reporter died from those injuries in a Baghdad hospital Friday.

According to Al-Arabiya, the two journalists were filming outside their car when the American soldiers opened fire at another vehicle that sped toward a checkpoint and slammed into a Humvee near the Burj al-Hayat hotel in Baghdad. Officials with the Dubai-based network said that as the two journalists tried to flee the scene, fearing the driver was a suicide bomber, coalition troops opened fired.

“There were many cars in the area. One of them rammed an American Bradley fighting vehicle. American soldiers fired at random, killing Ali Abdel-Aziz and critically wounding Ali al-Khatib,” Mohammed Ibrahim, the station’s editing supervisor in Baghdad, said on Thursday.

A Pentagon spokesman on Friday said coalition troops had shot and killed one Iraqi when his car sped through a checkpoint near the Burj al-Hayat hotel and slammed into a Humvee. He said the Iraqi was the only person in the car, adding that coalition forces did not find any media equipment, such as a camera or press credentials, in the man’s vehicle. The spokesman said coalition forces were still trying to identify whether any journalists had been killed or wounded in the incident.

The spokesman said media reports linking the death of the speeding driver with those of the journalists were erroneous.

On Friday, a representative of the Arab media stood up as Powell entered the conference center in Baghdad and read a statement, condemning the deaths of the two journalists.

“We demand an open investigation in front of the mass media,” the representative said. “We also demand that security be guaranteed to journalists” working in Iraq, he said. Seconds later, more than 20 journalists stood up and left the news conference.

Powell responded to the walkout by saying, “I … regret the loss of life, the two journalists that they commemorated here by their action, I regret any loss of life.” He said the details of the shooting would be “looked into.”

Al-Arabiya demanded an investigation into the incident after the death of the second journalist.

“It’s a tragic event and we demand an immediate investigation and accountability concerning those who are responsible for this,” an Arabiya spokesman told Reuters.

Mohsin Abdel Hamid, a member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, described the shooting as “clear aggression by the occupation forces against the media.”

“We’ve told them before not to behave like this. … They have the right to defend themselves but not to kill people like this in the street at random,” he told Al-Arabiya.

The death of correspondent Ali al-Khatib brings to five the number of journalists killed in Iraq in less than 24 hours.

In a separate incident on Thursday, unidentified gunmen killed three Iraqi employees of the U.S.-funded television station, Diyala Television, as they traveled in a minibus in the town of Baquba, northeast of Baghdad. Eight others were wounded in the attack, officials at Diyala Television said.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, a media watchdog organization, said it was investigating the five deaths and stressed the ongoing perils faced by the media in Iraq.

“On the anniversary of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, we are reminded of how dangerous a place Iraq remains for the media,” a CPJ press statement said. “We are shocked and saddened by the deaths of our colleagues and are actively seeking more information.”

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