Matthew Lewin / The Press-Gazette – 2005-10-22 22:19:03
‘Mouse Journalism’ Is the Only Way We Can Report on Iraq” — Robert Fisk
Matthew Lewin / The Press-Gazette
LONDON (October 13, 2005) — The Independent’s famously intrepid Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk has revealed that the situation in Iraq is now so dangerous that he doesn’t know whether he can go on reporting from the country.
Fisk, who has previously accused colleagues of practising “hotel journalism” in Iraq, said that “mouse journalism” is now the best he can do in the country.
Fisk, whose new history of the Middle East, The Great War for Civilisation, has just been published, described mouse journalism as the practice of popping up at the scene of an event and staying just long enough to get the story, before the men with guns arrive.
Speaking at a bookshop in Golders Green, he said: “You cannot imagine just how bad things are in Iraq. A few weeks ago, I went to see a man whose son was killed by the Americans, and I was in his house for five minutes before armed men turned up in the street outside. He had to go and reason with them not to take me away. And this was an ordinary Baghdad suburb, not the Sunni Triangle or Fallujah.
“It has got to the stage where, for example, when I went to have a look at the scene of a huge bomb in a bus station, I jumped out of the car and took two pictures before I was surrounded by a crowd of enraged Iraqis. I jumped back in the car and fled. I call that ‘mouse journalism’ — and that’s all we can do now.
“If I go to see someone in any particular location, I give myself 12 minutes, because that is how long I reckon it takes a man with a mobile phone to summon gunmen to the scene in a car. So, after 10 minutes I am out. Don’t be greedy. That’s what reporting is like in Iraq.”
He continued: “This country is now hell — a disaster. You cannot imagine how bad it is. Nothing of the reporting I see generally, except The Guardian and Patrick Cockburn in The Independent, really conveys the absolute agony and distress of Iraq.
1,100 Iraqis Killed in Baghdad on July 1 Alone
“The Ministry of Health, which is partly run by Americans, will not give out any figures for civilian casualties; staff are just not allowed to give us these figures. When I went to the city morgue in Baghdad one day nearly four weeks ago, I arrived at 9am and there were nine violent-death corpses there.
“By midday there were 26 corpses. When I managed to get access to the computer system of the mortuary, I discovered that in July 1,100 Iraqis had been killed in Baghdad alone.
“Multiply that across Iraq and you are talking about 3,000 a month or more, which means 36,000 a year. So these figures claiming 100,000 Iraqi civilian casualties are not necessarily conservative at all. But no-one wants to report on this.
“One of the delights of the occupying powers is that the journalists cannot move. When I travel outside Baghdad by road, it takes me two weeks to plan it, because the roads are infested with insurgents, checkpoints, hooded men and throat-cutters. That’s what it’s like.
“It is almost impossible to get access to free information outside Baghdad or Basra. Most of the reporters who can travel are doing so as members of military convoys with armour to protect them.
“The last time I travelled to Najaf, the road was littered with burned-out American vehicles, smashed police vehicles, abandoned checkpoints and armed men. That’s Iraq today — it’s in a state of anarchy, and many areas of Baghdad are in fact now in insurgent hands.”
He added: “This is a war the like of which I have never reported before. Over and over again, we are escaping with our lives because we are lucky. And it is getting much worse, not better — don’t believe what Blair is telling you.
“It is very sad to have to say that I don’t know if we can go on reporting in Iraq. I don’t know if I can personally keep on going back. This last trip there was so dangerous and frightening, I actually said to some people that we were going to have to debate whether the risks are worth it all.”
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