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Reporter For Post Is Fatally Shot In Baghdad

 Salih Saif Aldin, 32, a highly-valued correspondent for The Washington Post in Iraq.
Salih Saif Aldin, 32, a highly-valued correspondent for The Washington Post in Iraq. (Karin Brulliard - AP)

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By Joshua Partlow and Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, October 15, 2007

BAGHDAD, Oct. 14 -- On Sunday afternoon, Salih Saif Aldin set out for one of Baghdad's most dangerous neighborhoods. He knew exactly where to go. He nodded, smiled, grabbed his camera. There was nothing he needed to say.

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Saif Aldin always came back -- from death threats, from beatings, from kidnappings, from detentions by American soldiers, from the country's most notorious and deadly terrain -- but on Sunday he didn't. The 32-year-old Iraqi reporter in The Washington Post's Baghdad bureau was shot once in the forehead in the southwestern neighborhood of Sadiyah. He was the latest in a long line of reporters, most of them Iraqis, to be killed while covering the Iraq war. He was the first for The Washington Post.

"The death of Salih Saif Aldin in the service of our readers is a tragedy for everyone at The Washington Post. He was a brave and valuable reporter who contributed much to our coverage of Iraq," said Leonard Downie Jr., executive editor of The Post. "We are in his debt. We grieve with his family, friends, fellow journalists and everyone in our Baghdad bureau."

At 2 p.m., Saif Aldin took a taxi from The Post's office to Sadiyah to interview residents about the sectarian violence there between Shiite militiamen and Sunni insurgents. It was his third trip to the embattled neighborhood within a week. For him, there were no red zones, no green zones, no neighborhoods out of bounds.

Two hours later, a man picked up Saif Aldin's cellphone and called a colleague at The Post to say he had been shot.

Residents of the neighborhood and Iraqi military officers at the scene said Saif Aldin was killed while taking photographs on a street where several houses had been burned. His wounds appeared to indicate he was shot at close range. His body was later observed lying on the street, covered with newspapers.

The area Saif Aldin was visiting is dominated by the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Some residents at the scene said they feared that soldiers from the Iraqi army, believed to be infiltrated by the militia, were responsible for his death.

"They killed him," one man whispered, pointing at members of the Iraqi army brigade on the street.

Iraqi police officers said they believed Saif Aldin was killed by Sunni men belonging to the nascent organization known as the Awakening Council, a tribal organization aligned with the U.S. military that started in the western province of Anbar and has spread to parts of Baghdad. Iraqi government officials have accused these Sunni tribesmen of abusing their partnership with the Americans to kill and kidnap residents.

Saif Aldin's death adds to a list of at least 118 journalists who have been killed in Iraq while on duty, nearly 100 of whom were Iraqis, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Michael Kelly, a columnist for The Post, was killed in April 2003 in Iraq when a Humvee he was traveling in drove into a canal.

Saif Aldin was killed in the same neighborhood where a journalist for the New York Times, Khalid Hassan, was shot and killed in July. Western news organizations rely heavily on their Iraqi staff members to navigate the hazards of reporting here: to witness scenes of car bombs, the carnage in hospitals, the grief inside the homes of Iraqis who have died in this war.

For The Post, no one did this more regularly, confidently and fearlessly than Saif Aldin, the divorced father of a 6-year-old daughter, Fatima. He had a striking presence: bald and barrel-chested, with a jagged scar on his bulging neck from a fight in his youth. He was a Sunni from Tikrit, the home town of Saddam Hussein and the epicenter of the insurgency early in the war.


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