A Journalist's Sacrifice

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

SALIH SAIF ALDIN was one of those extraordinary Iraqis who have responded to war and upheaval in their homeland by becoming journalists. A native of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's home town and once one of the centers of the Sunni insurgency, he began documenting events there, first for an Iraqi newspaper and then, beginning in January 2004, for The Washington Post. His commitment to the toughest assignments frequently put him in harm's way, so much so that The Post transferred him to Baghdad partly for his own protection. But there, too, Mr. Saif Aldin repeatedly took on the most dangerous assignments -- not because he was foolhardy but because, as he once told the newspaper's office manager, "what's life, really, if we don't leave something good behind us?"

On Sunday afternoon, Mr. Saif Aldin, 32, was killed in one of Baghdad's most dangerous neighborhoods. He was shot once in the forehead. Apparently he had been taking pictures of houses that had been burned in Sadiyah, an area plagued by sectarian violence. It's not clear who killed him: One witness blamed the Shiite-dominated Iraqi army unit in the neighborhood, while police suggested Sunni militiamen were responsible.

What is indisputable is that Mr. Saif Aldin did leave something good behind. His tireless and fearless reporting made it possible for The Post to publish groundbreaking reports on such subjects as corruption and human rights abuses in Tikrit and the continuing sectarian bloodshed in Baghdad. In that respect he was like hundreds of other Iraqi journalists who have tried to help build a better future for their country by accurately reporting on the horrors of the present. Nearly 100 have died since 2003, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists; Iraqis make up most of the at least 120 journalists killed in the war, and their deaths far outnumber the reporters killed in most other modern wars.

"Salih's death reminds us once again of the central role Iraqi journalists and others have played in our coverage of the war," said David E. Hoffman, The Post's assistant managing editor for foreign news. "They have often borne the risks and made the sacrifices in pursuit of truth. We grieve at Salih's loss, and that of all journalists killed in this conflict, and salute their determination and courage."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company