On the record Robert Fisk
Excerpted from a speech on November 23 at U of T's Macmillian Theatre. Rating: NNNNN
I'm not against journalists [in Iraq] who stay in their hotels. They have families. They are in danger even there. They have security guards hired by the newspapers and TV agencies who say, "No, you mustn't leave the hotel, it's too dangerous." I don't object to this if that's what the journalist feels and it's what the editor demands.
What I do object to is the fact that journalists who write from their rooms - and make calls on their mobile phones - don't tell their viewers, their listeners or their readers that they are not leaving the hotel, thus giving the impression when they report that American troops have killed 42 terrorists in north Baghdad that they've gone out and checked it.
I simply don't believe it. Indeed, when Iraqis come back with film, there are inevitably women and children among the dead. During the time of Saddam, the BBC always put a health warning on reports: "This report was monitored by the Iraqi authorities." Now we also need a health warning.
I practise "mouse journalism." I still go around the streets of Baghdad in a battered old Iraqi car with two Iraqi friends. I have no armed men and no guns.
What's it like?
In August there was a suicide bombing in the Baghdad bus station. I jumped in the car and raced to the scene. There it was, car smouldering, corpses all over the road. I took two pictures, one of a baby burning next to a bus. I had 20 seconds of interviewing an eyewitness, and then I had 40 enraged Iraqis beating on the roof of my car. So what did I do? I jumped in my car and off I went. Mouse journalism. That's the only alternative to hotel journalism.
In August I paid many visits to the city mortuary. Twenty minutes is enough time to get the guy with the mobile phone who's watching to call all the men with the guns and the car to come and pick up this rather stupid foreigner who's wandering about without any protection.
I went repeatedly to the mortuary, for periods of 15 minutes at a time. One Monday morning I was there. There were nine bodies by 9 am, 26 by noon including a woman whose hands were tied behind her back, a young woman shot three times in the head and a baby shot in the face.
There are death squads now in Baghdad, death squads run by everybody, the police, Sunni and Shiite militia and, I fear, the Iraqi government or elements of it. I got to know the mortuary attendants and was given permission to look privately at the Ministry of Health computer.
I found that 1,100 civilians had been killed by violence just in Baghdad in July alone. We know people are dying in other cities. If you include Mosel, Kirkuk, Amara, Najaf, Fallujah, Basra and others, you must be talking about 3,000 to 4,000 a month. We're not talking about people dying of heart attacks and strokes.
That means 36,000 to 48,000 Iraqis a year, which means that the figure of 100,000 [in the first 18 months of the war] pooh-poohed by Bush and Blair may be very conservative.