PETALING JAYA: Even before the war, covering the situation in Baghdad was no simple matter.
Being trailed by Iraqi Special Branch officers, having their e-mail screened and remembering what they may or may not record on film were just some of the things TV3 assistant assignment editor Kamaruddin Mape and cameraman Johan Abdul Ghafoor had to contend with while on assignment in Iraq.
Kamaruddin, 34, and Johan, 33, were the first Malaysian journalists in Baghdad to cover the lead up to the war, arriving there on Feb 23.
“Security was very tight. The SB (Special Branch officers) were following us everywhere,” Kamaruddin said at TV3's Sri Pentas on Thursday.
He added that they had to check in at a media centre every day to get their “escort” before going about the city and there was no question of trying to get by without one.
Internet e-mail sites were blocked in an effort to control the flow of information in and out of the country. Journalists were allowed to use the Iraqi government’s e-mail service, but anything sent and received was screened and sometimes held for up to three days, Kamaruddin said.
As a cameraman, Johan also found many of the restrictions limiting.
“You cannot shoot whatever you like,” he said, adding that soldiers were under orders to fire at anyone caught filming “sensitive areas” like the presidential palace and bridges – no questions asked.
Moreover, they had to pay about US$310 (RM1,178) a day to the Iraqi Information Ministry just to operate as media crew.
During the duo’s coverage of Baghdad, they had the opportunity to speak to many ordinary Iraqi citizens.
“We found that the Iraqis were still living their lives normally. They did not seem afraid,” Kamaruddin said.
However, as the reality of a war began looming, they saw many Iraqis digging basement shelters in their homes.
Johan said many Iraqis disliked the Americans and boycotted products seen as symbols of Americanism but a large number was also not happy with ousted Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.
“On camera they may say that they like Saddam, but in their hearts, you know they didn’t,” he said.
Just four days before the war, Kamaruddin and Johan travelled to Amman for safety reasons on the advice of the Malaysian Embassy.
Although they tried returning to Baghdad a few days after war had broken out, they were turned back by the Jordanian border guards. They subsequently returned to Malaysia on March 31
Asked if they would have voluntarily returned to Baghdad on assignment if the war had not ended, both said they would.
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