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

Iraq: March ‘08

Many journalists trained by IWPR now working for top Iraqi media.
The IWPR Iraq project – which celebrates its fifth anniversary this spring – has been credited with helping to lay the groundwork for an independent media in the war-torn country.

Since the programme was founded in 2003, it has helped construct a network of professional reporters through its journalism courses, say participating journalists.

Over the past five years, IWPR Iraq has trained at least 550 students in courses ranging from basic journalism skills to investigative reporting. The organisation has published 972 stories in the Iraqi Crisis Reports, authored by nearly 200 writers.

Some of the writers have been prominent figures, such as Ali A. Allawi, who has served as minister of trade, finance and defence; Ahmad Al-Rikaby, founder of Radio Dijla in Baghdad; and Kanan Makiya, founder of The Iraqi Memory Foundation.

Other names, while less well-known, have strengthened the Iraqi press through their tenacious reporting.

Journalists working with IWPR in Iraq have gone on to report for some of the top Iraqi news organisations and international media, including the Financial Times, the BBC, Al-Hurra television and Al-Jazeera. IWPR trainees and Iraqi staff also founded award-winning Iraqi journalism rights organisation, the Journalistic Freedom Observatory.

“IWPR has helped to create a new generation of professional journalists who have respect for fairness in reporting,” said Mariwan Hama-Saeed, IWPR Iraq editor and an IWPR-trained journalist.

“It’s very difficult to find a news organisation in Iraq where at least one of its journalists has not been trained by IWPR. That is a huge accomplishment.”

Hama-Saeed, who began his journalistic career at IWPR in 2004, will be awarded a Foreign Press Association prize in New York in May. He was also the first Iraqi chosen to participate in the Journalism and Democracy fellowship in Sweden in 2005, and has held training for the Kurdish press.

“IWPR has become well known in Iraqi media circles,” said one trainee and Baghdad-based journalist, who has trained and written for IWPR since 2003.

Prior to that, the journalist, who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons, worked as an agronomist. He had always loved writing, he said, and IWPR opened the door for his journalism career.

He has now worked with Iraqi media, as well as a prominent international news organisation. In addition to taking IWPR courses in basic journalism skills, safety, photojournalism and election coverage, he and several other IWPR-trained journalists have also attended international courses with the Institute’s help.

Yasin al-Rubai, newsroom manager for Radio Dijla, one of the top radio stations in Iraq, began training with IWPR in 2004. He noted that many of the trainees now have senior posts in the Iraqi media.

“The professionalism and independence of IWPR has made a huge impact on Iraqi journalism,” he said.

Rubai began with a basic training skills course and participated in three other IWPR training sessions, including an advanced reporting course.

“After each course, I felt I was a much better [journalist] than before,” he said.

“Because of what I learnt from IWPR, the news department of Radio Dijla is regarded as the top news organisation in the country and regionally.”

Rubai has enrolled his reporters and editors in IWPR courses, noting that “their news writing and editing skills improved significantly”.

IWPR has also successfully built the women’s press corps in Iraq by training hundreds of female journalists in radio, television and print media.

“IWPR training was really important for me. Like many other journalists in the region, I started as an amateur journalist with just very, very basic training from local newspapers,” said Talar Nadir, who has trained and written for IWPR since 2004. Nadir has written extensively for the Kurdish media, including women’s magazines.

“IWPR training was different because I learnt how to write news, how to use quotes and how to seek information from my sources. The writing style I learnt from IWPR training was totally different from the way we used to write,” she said.

“[IWPR] has greatly impacted women journalists who have participated in the training. The courses have given them confidence in their skills and abilities.”

Journalism has become one of the riskiest jobs in Iraq, and some IWPR-trained reporters have paid a price for their work. Many have been threatened, and three trainees have been killed in random acts of violence.

Sahar al-Haideri, an award-winning journalist and IWPR trainee, was gunned down near her home in Mosul in 2007.

“It is just incredible that while most of the [international] NGOs have left Iraq because of security concerns, IWPR has been determined to stay and train Iraqi journalists,” said Hama-Saeed.

IWPR continues working in Iraq because of the passion of the students and journalists, who consistently request training to become better journalists.

“If IWPR continues to improve the skills of Iraqi journalists, I am sure that Iraqi journalism will be incredible in the next five years,” said Rubai. “IWPR will play a great role in developing Iraqi journalism.”