The International Federation of Journalists today condemned as "outrageous and inexcusable" the action of American soldiers who carried out an armed raid on the Baghdad offices of the Iraq Syndicate of Journalists.So far, Centcom has no press release confirming this raid or giving any justification for it. It would have to be one hellaciously good justification. Otherwise, to raid an IFJ affiliate with government recognition is simply going to look like what many will call it - shameless supression of a free press so that information going to the world's media can be controlled by the U.S. military.
United States soldiers caused destruction and havoc last night when they broke into the offices of the Syndicate, which is a member of the IFJ's global union network. They destroyed furniture, ransacked the offices, arrested state-employed security guards, and confiscated 10 computers and 15 small electricity generators destined for the families of killed journalists.
"This is a shocking violation of journalists' rights," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "In the past three years more than 120 Iraqi journalists, many of them Syndicate members, have been killed and now their union has been turned over in an unprovoked act of intimidation."
The IFJ says the incident is incomprehensible because it comes just two days after the Iraqi Union received formal recognition from the Iraqi government. This new status allowed the Syndicate access to its previously blocked bank account and it had just bought new computers and satellite equipment.
"Just at the point when the Syndicate achieves formal recognition for its work as an independent body of professionals, the American military carries out a brutal and unprovoked assault," said White.
The IFJ says that the confiscation of computers and records of membership also suggests that US forces could now target all members of the Syndicate. "Anyone working for media that does not endorse US policy and actions could now be at risk," said White.
The IFJ is backing calls from the Syndicate for the immediate return of all the confiscated material and a full inquiry into who authorised the raid.
"The Iraqi union is one of those striving for justice and democracy amidst the chaos of civil strife provoked by the invasion of the country," said White. "It is unconscionable that the union should be targeted at a time when it is focused on providing humanitarian aid to journalists in need."
Over the past year the IFJ has been working closely with the Syndicate and its counterpart organisation in Iraqi Kurdistan on actions to strengthen protection for journalists.
A major appeal was launched to support Iraqi victims of violence on June 15th - Iraq National Press day, part of which focussed attention on the crisis of impunity in the killing of media staff, some of them at the hands of United States forces.
"At a time when the United States should be reaching out to potential partners in the search for stability and democracy in Iraq they have betrayed those who are striving for peace by their callous disregard for journalists," said White.
"We stand by our Iraqi colleagues in their protests and we will do everything we can to ensure that those responsible for this outrage are punished," he said.
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries worldwide.
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Update Michael Roston from Raw Story sent me an email about this. He writes "I contacted Centcom in Baghdad and they said the ISJ operation did not involve US forces. Now we'll have to wait and see if IFJ has any evidence of their claim - if they do, things will get interesting..." Interesting times.