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Journalists complain of intimidation in Iraqi Kurdistan

Two journalists have been killed in the semiautonomous region in the last two years as concerns mount about press freedom.

July 25, 2010|By Asso Ahmed and Ned Parker, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Sulaymaniya, Iraq, and Baghdad — The deaths of two Kurdish reporters in northern Iraq in the last two years has prompted charges that authorities in the semiautonomous Kurdistan region, long hailed as the country's success story, are complicit in the intimidation of journalists.

In May, journalist Sardasht Osman was kidnapped in Irbil. His body was discovered a few days later in the troubled city of Mosul. No one has been arrested in the killing of the reporter, who had written a satirical column mocking the daughter of the Kurdistan region's president, Massoud Barzani.

The attack comes two years after a young Kurdish reporter, Soran Mama Hama was shot to death in front of his house in Kirkuk. His killers have not been found.

A few hundred journalists and supporters gathered in Sulaymaniya last week demanding results in the Hama case. The editor of the magazine Hama worked for has accused Kurdish authorities of being involved in the killing.

Kurdish officials say the death is not their responsibility because Kirkuk is outside their region, but detractors say the main Kurdish parties hold sway with members of the security forces there.

Journalists in the region regularly complain that they are pressured by the Kurdish government. But the authorities deny all such charges, calling them baseless and politically motivated.

After Osman's death, the Kurdistan regional government issued a statement pledging to bring the killers to court and defended its record of protecting journalists.

"It is extremely unfortunate that the tragic death of this young Kurdish student has been exploited for the personal political gain of a few," the statement said. Osman was in his final year of college, pursuing a degree in English.

The self-ruled Kurdish region is dominated by the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Despite the relative prosperity and security, some Kurds have come to resent the two main parties, which they accuse of corruption and authoritarian rule, a charge that both parties fiercely dispute.

The discontent fueled the birth of a new party, Goran, or Change, that has challenged the PUK in its traditional strongholds.

Ahmed Mira, editor of Livin magazine, for which Hama worked, spoke bitterly about the government of Kurdistan.

"Why are the Kurdistan authorities spilling the blood of its sons who write and criticize freely the authorities and the wide-scale corruption in the region?" Mira said. "What is going on?"

n

ed.parker@latimes.com

Ahmed, a special correspondent, reported from Sulaymaniya. Parker reported from Baghdad.

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