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Journalist Covering Iraq Discusses Slain Colleague

Journalist Khalid Hassan was recently killed in Iraq, underscoring the dangers of reporting in the war-torn country. His colleague, John Burns of the New York Times, talks about Hassan and the challenges of his work.

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    A funeral procession made its way through the Sadr City section of Baghdad today bearing the bodies of two Iraqi employees of the Reuters news agency. Namir Noor-Eldeen, a 22-year-old photographer, and his 40-year-old driver, Saeed Chmagh, were killed yesterday during what the U.S. military said was a clash between its troops and insurgents. Witnesses and the Iraqi police blamed U.S. forces for the deaths; the incident is under investigation.

    As the Reuters personnel were taken to their graves — the fifth and sixth employees of the British agency killed in Iraq — word came that another Iraqi journalist was killed today. Khalid Hassan, a 23-year-old reporter and translator for the New York Times, had been with the paper since the fall of 2003.

    The Iraq war has been the deadliest conflict on record for journalists, one in which reporters have often been seen not as noncombatant witnesses, but as active targets. The great majority of victims have been Iraqi personnel.

    According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a U.S.-based watchdog group that keeps track of reporters killed worldwide in the line of duty, Iraq is by far the most dangerous theater: 110 journalists have been killed since the U.S. invasion of 2003; 88 were Iraqis; additionally, 40 news support personnel have been killed, all but one were natives of Iraq.

    John Burns, the Baghdad bureau chief for the New York Times, was a colleague of Mr. Hassan. He joins us now by phone from Baghdad.

    Well, John, what's known about the circumstances of Khalid Hassan's death?

  • JOHN BURNS, Baghdad Bureau Chief, New York Times:

    It's a nightmarish story of a kind that occurs at least 20 or 30 times a day in Baghdad alone. Khalid left his home this morning at about 8:45, sent a text message to our office saying that his route was blocked and he would try and find another road. He did, about two miles from his home in south central Baghdad.

    A black Mercedes pulled up, forced him off the road. Men with automatic weapons opened fire on him. And he survived long enough to be able to make a mobile telephone call to first his mother and then his father, telling them that he had been shot but that he was OK, he survived. Another vehicle, standing in a kind of over-watch position, lurking behind him, seeing that he was still alive, pulled up. A gunman jumped out, ran over, and fired twice at close range and killed him.

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