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Reuters soundman killed in Baghdad, police blame U.S.


August 29, 2005

Reuters soundman killed in Baghdad, police blame U.S.

By Alastair Macdonald

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A Reuters Television soundman was shot dead in Baghdad on Sunday and a cameraman who was wounded was still being questioned by U.S. troops 12 hours later. 

Iraqi police said the two, both Iraqis, were shot by U.S. forces. A U.S. military spokesman said the incident was being investigated. The cameraman was being held and questioned because of "inconsistencies in his initial testimony", he added. 

An undated file photograph shows Reuters Television soundman Waleed Khaled who was shot dead in Baghdad on August 28, 2005. (REUTERS/Ceerwan Aziz)

Waleed Khaled, 35, was hit by a shot to the face and at least four to the chest as he drove to check a report, called in to the Reuters bureau by a police source, of an incident involving police and gunmen in the western Hay al-Adil district. 

"A team from Reuters news agency was on assignment to cover the killing of two policemen in Hay al-Adil; U.S. forces opened fire on the team from Reuters and killed Waleed Khaled, who was shot in the head, and wounded Haider Kadhem," an Interior Ministry official quoted the police incident report as saying. 

Cameraman Kadhem, 24, who was wounded in the back, told colleagues at the scene: "I heard shooting, looked up and saw an American sniper on the roof of the shopping centre." 

The only known witness, he was later detained by the U.S. troops. For 10 hours, U.S. officers said they could not trace Kadhem. Finally a spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Whetstone, said he was being held at an unspecified location. His "superficial" wound had been treated "on location", he said. 

He declined to specify any suspicions or accusations against the cameraman, who was based in the southern city of Samawa and had been in Baghdad only two days on a brief assignment. He was despatched to the scene of the incident by senior Reuters staff. 

The driver was a Baghdad local and knew the area well. 

Two Iraqi colleagues who arrived on the scene minutes after the shooting were briefly detained and released: "They treated us like dogs. They made us ... including Haider who was wounded and asking for water, sit in the sun on the road," one said. 

A U.S. statement on the incident said: "Task Force Baghdad units responded to a terrorist attack on an Iraqi Police convoy around 11:20 a.m. (0720 GMT) ... which killed and wounded several Iraqi Police. One civilian was killed and another was wounded by small-arms fire during the attack." 

Asked about the incident at a news conference marking the adoption of a draft constitution for Iraq, U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said: "Sometimes mistakes are made." 

REUTERS DEEPLY SADDENED 

Reuters Global Managing Editor David Schlesinger said: "This tragic incident must immediately be investigated thoroughly and impartially. 

"A brave journalist has lost his life and another has been wounded and detained when their only actions were as professionals reporting the facts and images of the war. We are deeply saddened at this loss." 

Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based media rights group, called it "extremely disturbing" and said the Reuters soundman was the 66th journalist or assistant killed in Iraq since the invasion of 2003, three more than died in 20 years in Vietnam. 

"Our outrage is compounded by the fact that they arrested Kadhem, the only eyewitness, who was himself injured," it said. 

Iraqis complain of frequent killings of civilians by U.S. forces, most of which go unreported and uninvestigated. American commanders say their troops are trained to be vigilant against suicide bombers and to avoid firing on civilians. 

Reuters correspondent Michael Georgy, who arrived at the scene about an hour after the shooting, said the soundman's body was still in the driver's seat, the face covered by a cloth. 

Entry and exit wounds could be seen on the face indicating shots from the victim's right. There were several bullet holes in the windscreen and at least four wounds in the chest. 

His U.S. military and Reuters press cards, clipped to his shirt, were caked in blood. In one, there were two bullet holes. 

To the right of the scene, a U.S. soldier, apparently a sniper, was posted on the roof of a shopping centre. 

A British security adviser working for Reuters said it seemed likely that high-velocity rounds had been fired at the car from roughly the direction of that building. 

The car, an ordinary, white four-door passenger vehicle, was heading down an offramp, about 200 metres from a main road. 

U.S. armoured vehicles blocked off the scene. After a brief inspection of the car, they allowed Reuters staff and the dead man's family to have it towed away. One soldier said there were no suspicious items in the car. Colleagues and relatives were handed a military body bag to remove the corpse. 

A U.S. officer said: "They drove into fighting". 

As Waleed's tearful relatives inspected the body at the scene, a U.S. soldier said: "Don't bother. It's not worth it." 

Waleed was a jovial character loved by colleagues with whom he had worked for two years. He leaves a seven-year-old daughter and his wife, who is four-months pregnant. 

Two Reuters cameramen have been killed by U.S. troops in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003. A third was shot dead by a sniper in Ramadi last November in circumstances for which Reuters is still seeking an explanation from U.S. forces. 

Reuters' cameraman in the city of Ramadi, Ali al-Mashhadani was arrested by U.S. forces three weeks ago and is being held without charge in Abu Ghraib prison. U.S. military officials say he will face a judicial hearing as soon as Monday but have still given no access to the journalist or said what he is accused of. 

   

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