Women in McClatchy Baghdad bureau receive courage award

NEW YORK — Six Iraqi women who've worked in the Knight Ridder and McClatchy Baghdad bureau received the International Women's Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award Tuesday.

At a luncheon at New York's Waldorf-Astoria hotel, the foundation also honored Lydia Cacho, a Mexican journalist who exposed a pedophilia ring in the resort city of Cancun and subsequently was seized by police, apparently acting on the orders of a state governor, and Serkalem Fasil of Ethiopia, who was jailed for her criticism of the Ethiopian government, a U.S. ally in the battle against Islamic militants in neighboring Somalia.

The Foundation presented its Lifetime Achievement Award to Peta Thornycroft, 62. She's worked as a journalist in South Africa and Zimbabwe for more than three decades, and she renounced her British citizenship and became a citizen of Zimbabwe in 2001 so that she could continue to report under country's curiously named Freedom of Information and Right to Privacy Bill.

In introducing the six McClatchy reporters — Shatha al Awsy, Zaineb Obeid, Huda Ahmed, Ban Adil Sarhan, Alaa Majeed and Sahar Issa — ABC News reporter Bob Woodruff said: "These six Iraqi women have reported the war in Baghdad from inside their hearts. They have watched as the war touched the lives of their neighbors and friends, and then they bore witness as it reached into the lives of each and every one of them.

"All the while, they have been the backbone of the McClatchy bureau, sleeping with bulletproof vests and helmets by their beds at night, taking different routes to work each day, trying to keep their employment by a Western news organization secret," said Woodruff, who himself was grievously wounded while covering the war in Iraq.

"All have lost family members or close friends," he continued. "All have had their lives threatened. All have had narrow escapes with death."

Issa, the only one of the six who continues to report from Iraq, described a visit to the morgue in an item she wrote for the blog maintained by McClatchy's Iraqi journalists: "We were asked to send the next of kin to whom the remains of my nephew, killed on Monday in a horrific explosion downtown, can be handed. From the waist down was all they could give us. We identified him by the cell phone in his pants' pocket. 'If you want the rest, you will just have to look for yourself. We don't know what he looks like.' Now begins the horror that surpasses anything I could have possibly envisioned."

"I left my home Monday," al Awsy wrote in a blog item as she was forced to leave Iraq. "As my family fled the fighting that's engulfed our neighborhood in Baghdad, I gazed out the car window, thinking that I might never again see the fruit stand off our street, the shops where my sisters and I bought soft drinks, the turquoise-domed mosque where we prayed in the Holy month of Ramadan."

"This was a day to honor the courage of Ban, Huda, Alaa, Zaineb, Shatha and Sahar — and by extension all of the Iraqis who have worked for us in Baghdad," said David Westphal, McClatchy's Washington Editor. "Only the handful of you who have worked in Baghdad can fully glimpse what it means to be an Iraqi journalist working for an American news organization. The rest of us can only stand in awe, and express our thanks for all they have given, and risked, to tell the story of their country."


To read the blog by the McClatchy Baghdad bureau's Iraqi reporters, go to

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