Military's Killing of 2 Journalists in Iraq Detailed in New Book

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A new book by a Washington Post reporter provides a graphic, second-by-second description of the U.S. military's 2007 killing of two Reuters journalists in Baghdad, an incident that the news organization says it cannot investigate fully because the Pentagon has withheld key records of the event.

The Reuters photographer and driver were carrying cameras and walking with a group of Iraqi men, some of whom appeared to be armed, when a U.S. helicopter crew mistook them for insurgents, according to an account by David Finkel in the book "The Good Soldiers," published Tuesday.

Reuters has been pressing the U.S. military for more than two years to turn over all materials containing information about the shootings on July 12, 2007, of its staff photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and driver Saeed Chmagh, 40, in the helicopter strike in a contested neighborhood of East Baghdad.

"We continue to have questions whether or not the actions taken by the soldiers in the area that led to the deaths of the two Reuters journalists were necessary and appropriate," Reuters chief counsel Thomas Kim said. "My goal is to understand the basis on which the military concluded that the shooting was justified."

Sixteen journalists have been killed by U.S. military fire in Iraq, leading to calls by Reuters and groups such as the Committee to Protect Journalists for the Pentagon to undertake timely and thorough investigations of each case and make them public.

But the U.S. military has withheld key information on the 2007 shootings on the grounds that it is classified, and has not released to Reuters a video taken from the gunship that captures the complete sequence of radio communications and imagery that unfolded on the streets below.

That recording appears to form the basis for a description of the incident in one chapter of the book, about a U.S. infantry unit in Baghdad.

According to Finkel's account, Noor-Eldeen and Chmagh arrived in Baghdad's east Al-Amin neighborhood during a morning of clashes between insurgents and the U.S. military. Working independently and without the knowledge of the U.S. ground unit or Apache crews operating in the area, Noor-Eldeen and Chmagh were walking along a street with seven other Iraqi men, two of whom appeared to be holding a rifle and a grenade launcher. The photographer and driver initially were both carrying cameras, which the Apache crew mistook for weapons.

After crew members gained permission to fire and circled a building that blocked their view, they flew the Apache in for the attack, Finkel wrote.

"Light 'em all up."

One second before the first burst, Noor-Eldeen glanced up at the Apache.

"Come on -- fire."

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