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Explosion wounds chief of Iraqi journalists union

A bomb goes off outside his office. The country's news media workers have often been targets of attacks.

September 21, 2008|Tina Susman | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — The head of Iraq's journalists union survived an assassination attempt Saturday when a bomb exploded outside the organization's offices in Baghdad, the latest in a long string of assaults on Iraqi news media employees.

The target, Muaid Lami, was hospitalized with arm and chest wounds, a colleague and police said. The blast injured five other people, who were near the offices of the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate in west Baghdad.

Journalists in Iraq are the most targeted in the world. At least 135 journalists, including 113 Iraqis, and 51 support workers, such as drivers and interpreters, have been killed since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Ten journalists have been killed in the country this year.

A week ago, a correspondent and two cameramen working for the independent TV station Sharqiya were abducted along with their driver as they arrived to film a reality show in the northern city of Mosul. They were found shot to death soon afterward.

Four days earlier, the Baghdad bureau chief for another TV station escaped an assassination attempt when a bomb planted in his vehicle was spotted before it went off.

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki issued a statement condemning the Sharqiya employees' killings, but his government has adopted laws that fly in the face of press freedoms. In May 2007, it declared bomb sites off-limits to news photographers, saying they might destroy forensic evidence. News media advocates said the law was intended to prevent negative images of Iraq from being circulated.

The Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, an Iraq media organization, issues frequent complaints about cases of Iraqi journalists being roughed up by Iraqi security forces.

In the attack Saturday, Lami suffered shrapnel wounds when the bomb went off outside the door of his office, said the secretary-general of the Journalists Syndicate, Saadi Sabi. He said the association was not politically or religiously aligned.

"We are not involved in these conflicts," Sabi said. "Iraqi journalists are being attacked because they are telling the truth."

He demanded that the government pass legislation guaranteeing press rights.

Lami has led the union since February, when the previous chief, Shihab Tamimi, was shot outside the building. He died of his injuries four days later.

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tina.susman@latimes.com

Times staff writer Saif Rasheed and a special correspondent contributed to this report.

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