Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Iraq: Feb/Mar ‘10

IWPR hostile environment training proves invaluable for Babil photographer.
By Farah Ali

An Iraqi news photographer covering a tense demonstration said he was able to assist an injured colleague thanks to skills he acquired at an IWPR hostile environment training course.

Issa Kadhum al-Atwani, a photographer with Al-Sumariya, a leading Iraqi news website, said he was on assignment at political rally in Babil ahead of parliamentary elections in March.

Atwani said he was with a reporter at the demonstration when the crowd became unruly and they ran for safety. As they did so, Atwani’s colleague sliced his leg on barbed wire.

Recalling the first aid lessons he was at taught at the IWPR course, Atwani tied a shirt around the reporter’s leg, reducing the bleeding until he got him to hospital, where the wound was stitched up.

“I wouldn’t have been able to help my friend without the instruction I received at the course,” he said.

IWPR Iraq has trained 195 Iraqi journalists, including 81 women, in critical safety awareness and first aid skills since October 2008.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 141 journalists have been killed in Iraq since Saddam Hussein’s regime was deposed in 2003. The country is one of the most dangerous places for journalists in the world.

During the five-day course in IWPR’s training centre in Erbil, journalists are taught skills such as risk assessment, safety and travel planning, hostage prevention and conflict and anger management.

The training also raises students’ awareness about weapons and unexploded ordnance.

"The course was extremely beneficial for all participants,” said Ahmed Noori, head of the Najaf provincial council’s press office, a recent attendee. “We really need this information as we face new challenges each and every day."

The course was designed by IWPR Iraq’s head of security, Richard Mackenzie, and is taught by chief hostile environment trainer and IWPR Iraq security officer Ismail Abdul-Aziz.

While many Iraqi journalists are accustomed to war, Mackenzie said they often aren’t equipped with skills to operate safely in the field and lack medical training.

First aid skills and lectures by Iraqi doctors are integral to the course. Students are taught how to keep a colleague alive who has been injured in a shooting, a bomb blast, a car crash and other potentially-fatal incidents.

“It is a known fact that after a bomb blast many people who are still alive die in the minutes after the explosion, before the medical services can 1get to them,” Mackenzie said. “This newly acquired medical knowledge can be a life saver.”

After attending the course, an Iraqi journalist “has more confidence than before when out and about in dangerous situations”, he said.

Noor Hussein, a news reporter in Basra, said the course enabled her to assess potentially dangerous situations immediately after taking the course.

While waiting for a taxi in Baghdad on her way home from IWPR in Erbil, she noticed that one of the passengers was carrying a loaded weapon.

“He claimed that his gun was licensed and threw carelessly inside the car. Something in the back of my mind told me that something bad would happen if I didn’t urge that man to make sure his gun was locked, and that’s what I did,” Hussein said.

"I realized then that I had become more aware of danger and could predict it by using my instincts.”

Seham al-Mukhtar, a Babil-based journalist, said she learned that journalists should “act as chameleons” by not standing out when they cover stories.

“Journalists should always adapt to their environments so that they can emerge unscathed and with a good story when they report,” she said.

Farah Ali is an editorial coordinator and translator with IWPR Iraq.

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