Sunday, September 26, 2004

"A French passport doesn't protect you anymore."

Katrin Bennhold has an article in the International Herald Tribune on When even the French become targets in Iraq:
In the latest sign that France, the most vocal opponent of the American-led campaign in Iraq, is not immune to the wrath of Islamic extremists in the war-torn country, two major French television networks pulled their crews out of Baghdad this week for fear of seeing them taken hostage.

Within two days of each other, TF1, France's main commercial TV network, and the state-financed rival France 3 announced that teams returning from Iraq would not be replaced until the security situation improved.

More than 100 foreigners have been abducted since April in what appears to be a deepening campaign aimed at civilians. Most hostages have been released, but about 30 have been killed.

French news media companies are not the only ones to flee Iraq.

Germany's biggest television network, ARD, said Friday it also planned to bring home its two correspondents in Iraq after the Foreign Ministry warned that German journalists could be at risk. Like France, Germany opposed the war in Iraq.

Separately, the Spanish government has urged television stations and newspapers to pull out their correspondents, the newspaper El Mundo said on its Web site. The EFE news agency of Spain has withdrawn its only Spanish correspondent from Baghdad.

According to Catherine Nayl, deputy news editor at TF1, being French no longer protects journalists, who have increasingly become "pawns" in a conflict devoid of any rules.

"Until three or four months ago, our journalists still felt relatively safe, being French," Nayl said. "But a French passport doesn't protect you anymore."

At France 3, Ulysee Gosset, news director, agreed.

"French nationals are not out of harm's way," Gosset told the French radio station Europe 1 on Friday. "France is not an enemy state for the Iraqis, but it's a Western country, and all Westerners, including journalists, are now potential targets."

In the past week, the hostage crisis has dominated the headlines. Two American engineers were beheaded by a group that threatened to kill a British colleague of theirs as well. And the fate of two Italian aid workers, known as the two Simonas, remained uncertain.

On Aug. 20, the first two French hostages were taken, two journalists, who were abducted south of Baghdad.

The kidnapping of Christian Chesnot, a correspondent for Radio France, and Georges Malbrunot, from the daily Le Figaro, not only shook news media outlets with staff in Iraq. It came as a shock to a nation that has long prided itself on its special relationship with the Arab world.

…The failure so far of government to free Chesnot and Malbrunot, in spite of rallying a number of Muslim leaders behind their cause, has reinforced a growing sense of impotence in the French capital.

…Nayl stressed that the decision to stop coverage from Baghdad was provisional and that the network was in daily contact with its local guide and driver in Baghdad to assess when a crew could be sent out again.

The irony is that in many ways the situation in Iraq has proven the French government right in its reasoning to oppose the war [said Guillaume Parmentier, director for U.S. studies at the French Institute for International Relations].

"The French view was that the war in Iraq would increase terrorism, and there is a very argument good that it has," he said.

Terrorism has increased for everyone, indeed, with the possible exception of Iraqi citizens, of course, who no longer have to fear being abducted by state policemen entering their homes with impunity and taking them away to amputate their limbs, cut out their tongues, or shoot them like a dog…