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Tuesday 28 February 2017

Reuters chief flees Iraq after death threats over story

Independent.ie News Desk

Members of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia
Members of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia

The Baghdad bureau chief for Reuters has left Iraq after he was denounced by a Shi'ite paramilitary group over reports detailing lynching and looting in the city of Tikrit.

The threats against journalist Ned Parker began on an Iraqi Facebook page run by a group that calls itself "the Hammer" and is believed by an Iraqi security source to be linked to armed Shi'ite groups.

The post and subsequent comments demanded he be expelled from Iraq.

One commenter said that killing Parker was "the best way to silence him, not kick him out."

Read More: War crimes fear as bodies found

Three days later, a news show on Al-Ahd, a television station owned by Iranian-backed armed group Asaib Ahl al-Haq, broadcast a segment on Parker that included a photo of him.

The segment accused the reporter and Reuters of denigrating Iraq and its government-backed forces, and called on viewers to demand Parker be expelled.

The pressure followed an April 3 report by Parker and two colleagues detailing human rights abuses in Tikrit after government forces and Iranian-backed militias liberated the city from the Islamic State extremist group.

Read More: Iraq declares 'magnificent victory' over ISIS militants in Tikrit stronghold


Two Reuters journalists in the city witnessed the lynching of an Islamic State fighter by Iraqi federal police.

The report also described widespread incidents of looting and arson in the city, which local politicians blamed on Iranian-backed militias.

A Reuters spokeswoman said the agency stood by the accuracy and fairness of its report.

The threats appear to be part of a broader power struggle in Iraq. The country is divided between its Shi'ite Muslim majority, which now dominates the government, and its Sunni Muslim minority, which held sway under the late dictator Saddam Hussein.

Read More: Iraq teams exhume bodies from mass graves following Isis's departure


Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, a moderate Shi'ite, is attempting to defeat Islamic State - a radical Sunni offshoot of Al Qaeda that has seized huge portions of Iraqi territory - while at the same time trying to mend fences with the broader Sunni community.

The Iraqi military is rebuilding following its collapse last June, which has forced Abadi's government to rely on a constellation of Shi'ite paramilitary forces backed by Iran.

Read More: Saddam's tomb damaged in fighting

The paramilitary forces, which include Asaib Ahl al-Haq, routinely denounce Western media coverage of Iraq's internal conflict.

Rafid Jaboori, a spokesman for Abadi, said the government was "definitely against any message that encourages hatred or intimidation, whether it comes from a local or international network."

Ned Parker
Ned Parker

Reuters

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