WASHINGTON — Six Iraqi women who've worked in the Knight Ridder and McClatchy Baghdad bureau have won an International Women's Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award, the foundation announced Thursday.
The foundation said Shatha al Awsy, Zaineb Obeid, Huda Ahmed, Ban Adil Sarhan, Alaa Majeed and Sahar Issa have dodged gun battles and tiptoed around car bombs to do their jobs in the most dangerous country in the world for journalists, yet they remain committed to telling the Iraqi experience in the face of relentless threats.
"They are driven by the desire to report accurately the situation in Iraq, to tell others what is happening in a world that is dissolving around them," the foundation said.
The women are the keystone of McClatchy's Iraq bureau, particularly as it has become harder for Western journalists to travel in the country. Through their reporting and blogs, they've helped both Western correspondents and readers understand what it means to be an Iraqi after Saddam Hussein's regime fell.
"Driving on, I suddenly noticed that the usual flow of comments from my son had stopped. I turn to speak to him, only to notice the wide open eyes, pale face and pinched features of someone quite afraid, and trying to hide it," Issa wrote in a May 13 blog about what it was like to drive through a war-torn neighborhood for the first time with her children. "'This is not Dora, Mum. Where are we?? This place is not nice — why did we come through here? 'It is Dora, baby. It just looks a little different, that's all."
From the minute they step out the door, the staffers risk their lives. Their neighborhoods are embroiled in sectarian conflict, and nearly all of them have dodged explosions on the way to the office. Once there, they investigate politicians and expose how armed factions are killing their countrymen in a tit-for-tat battle for control of the nation.
When asked why she takes such a risk every day, al Awsy replied: "I want the world to know what is happening to my country."
The award comes at a time when Iraqi journalists are being targeted by armed groups. In the last week, four Iraqi reporters have been killed, all in ambushes.
Most of the Iraqi women haven't told anyone outside their immediate families what they do. If their neighbors learn that they work for an American agency, it could be tantamount to a death sentence. Indeed, all six staffers have been threatened.
"They represent many others of their countrymen who have worked with us there. Without their skill, without their courage, we could not have hoped to succeed," said David Westphal, McClatchy's Washington editor.
The foundation will present its Lifetime Achievement Award to Peta Thornycroft, 62, one of the few remaining independent journalists in Zimbabwe. This year's other Courage award winners are Lydia Cacho, 43, a correspondent for the CIMAC news agency and a feature writer for Dia Siete magazine in Mexico, and Serkalem Fasil, 26, of Ethiopia.
"These women have shown dedication and bravery in reporting and in their commitment to journalism," said Judy Woodruff, the chair of the IWMF Courage in Journalism Awards. "They tell tough stories that need to be told, and in doing so, help defend freedom of the press."
To read the Baghdad bureau's blog, "Inside Iraq," go to http://washingtonbureau.typepad.com/iraq/
(Youssef was Baghdad bureau chief from August 2005 to January 2007.)