Gunfire takes the lives of two more Iraqi journalists

BAGHDAD — Two Iraqi journalists were killed in separate incidents in Baghdad and in the restive Diyala province, a Baghdad watchdog group for journalists said Thursday.

This brings the number of media employees killed since the beginning of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 to 237. Of those, 215 were Iraqi.

Wisam Ali Ouda, 32, a cameraman with the Afaq broadcast channel, was walking home from work in the al Obaidi area of Baghdad Wednesday evening when he was shot by a sniper, said Hadi Jalaw Mari, vice manager of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory.

The watchdog group blamed a U.S. military sniper for Ouda's death, but his television channel, which is affiliated with Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's Shiite Muslim Dawa party, said it was unclear whether the sniper was American or Iraqi.

According to Lt. Col. Steve Stover, the U.S. military spokesman for Baghdad operations, the only engagement that occurred in the al Obaidi area on Wednesday took place several hours after Ouda was allegedly shot.

Also on Wednesday in northern Iraq in an area between Tikrit and Baiji, U.S. forces said they were targeting al Qaida in Iraq insurgents when they fired upon a vehicle, killing eight people including two children.

U.S. forces said the incident began when they followed a vehicle that was guarded by insurgents with machine guns. After firing three warning shots the occupants made threatening movements inside the vehicle and failed to stop, which is when U.S. forces fired upon the vehicle, said Capt. Charles Calio, U.S. Military spokesman.

The U.S. military is conducting an investigation into the incident, Calio said.

Stover said all 11 people killed in U.S. operations in Baghdad Wednesday were armed insurgents.

"Extremists were positively identified as either committing a violent act or posed a threat to commit a violent act before each engagement," he said.

The Iraqi Association for the Defence of Journalists said the exact details surrounding Ouda's death are not known.

"Even the family of Wisam doesn't have exact information about his death," said Ibraheem al Sarraji, head of the association.

The second journalist, Haider Hisham al Hasseni, 36, was kidnapped Tuesday and his bullet riddled body was found Wednesday in Buhriz, an area in Diyala, according to police officials. He had worked for al Sharq, an independent newspaper based in Diyala. Police suspected al Qaida in Iraq to be behind his death.

So far in 2008, eight Iraqi media employees have died according to the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory. Since the U.S. invasion five years ago, 18 journalists have been killed mistakenly by the U.S. military, the group said.

Their deaths underscore the dangers of working for the media in Iraq. Both local and foreign journalists have been shot while carrying camera or other media equipment, mistaken for weapons. Iraqi media employees often must work anonymously for Western media agencies, fearing threats to their lives if they publish under their own names.

"The Iraqi government does not give any protection to journalists," said Mari.

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