Andrew Marshall served as Reuters’ Iraq bureau chief, based in Baghdad, from August 2003 until June 2005. There, Marshall spent much of his time protecting his staff, several of whom were threatened, detained, wounded, and — in three instances — killed. He joined Reuters in 1994 and has reported from 20 countries, covering stories ranging from the violence in East Timor as the country transitioned to independence to the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Liz Cox Barrett: How do you respond to some of the most common criticisms of the reporting coming out of Iraq — usually from critics safely stateside — such as that good news is under-reported or not reported on at all, that things on the ground are better than reporters would have readers believe, or that reporters are out of touch with the day-to-day life of Iraqis because they’re safely in the Green Zone, in their hotels, etc?
Andrew Marshall: I reject any suggestion that the international media are presenting an inaccurate picture of the situation in Iraq. It is a complaint that I have never heard from any of the ordinary Iraqis I have worked with and lived with over the past two years. It is certainly true that some progress has been made since the invasion of Iraq — hospitals are functioning, schools are open, some areas of the country are relatively free from violence, and on election day millions of Iraqis braved the threat of violence to vote. And this progress has been reported by the media in Iraq.
But large areas of the country are gripped by a relentless insurgency, crime and kidnappings are rife, and the level of reconstruction has fallen far short of expectations. Every single day, civilians are killed in Iraq, sometimes by insurgents, sometimes by Iraqi forces, sometimes by U.S. troops. In many parts of the country, particularly the major cities and the regions where the insurgency is strongest, Iraqis live their lives in a climate of fear and great uncertainty. We would be doing the Iraqi people a great disservice if we did not reflect this in our reporting. Anybody who argues that the media is giving a false picture should come to Iraq to see the country for themselves, and spend time living and working with Iraqis.
It is true that the daily drumbeat of bombings, mortar attacks and shootings sometimes drowns out the broader picture of what is happening in Iraq, and that journalists in Iraq must be careful to set events in context. That is one of the many reasons it is essential for foreign journalists, who are increasingly pinned down in fortified compounds behind vast concrete blast walls and rolls of barbed wire, to ensure that they spend as much time as possible talking to ordinary Iraqis about their lives and the conditions they face. It is our duty to report on the violence, and on political developments, and on the reconstruction effort, and to ensure that we tell the full story of what is happening in Iraq. I strongly believe that we have done that.
LCB: How many Iraqi stringers does the Reuters Baghdad bureau work with now? Are Iraqis still eager to do this sort of work in spite of the ongoing danger? And how reliant are you on their assistance?
AM: Our Iraqi staff are the backbone of our operation. It is only because of their courage, determination and loyalty that we are able to operate at all in Iraq. Because of the dangers facing foreigners in Iraq, foreign journalists have extremely limited mobility, unless they are embedded with U.S. forces. Iraqi journalists also face great dangers, but they are able to move around the country and report the news more safely than foreigners. In Baghdad, Reuters has a team of around 15 full-time Iraqi reporters, video journalists and photographers. We also have more than 30 stringers, spread across all major cities in Iraq. It is the Iraqi staff who provide the vast majority of information we need for our reporting.
Our Iraqi journalists are well aware of the dangers they face, but they take great pride in their work and have shown exceptional courage over the past two years. For me, the most difficult thing about leaving Baghdad was saying goodbye to the Iraqis who kept our bureau running. I hope I will see them again before too long, and in less dangerous circumstances.
LCB: How much mobility did you and your staff actually have? How many stories/what sorts of stories have you had to let go on account of safety issues? And beyond safety issues, what other sorts of roadblocks did you encounter in pursuing stories/newsgathering?