Iraqi journalist killed near Basra, radio station says

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Assailants on Friday gunned down an Iraqi journalist who had been working for a local radio station run by a Shiite political party that is the chief rival of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the station and police said.

Jassim al-Batat, 38, was killed by gunmen in a speeding car as he left his house in the town of Qurna in his own car, said Adnan al-Asadi, the head of the local al-Nakhil radio station based in the southern city of Basra. Qurna is 55 miles north of Basra.

Police also confirmed that al-Batat was killed in the attack.

Al-Nakhil radio is run by the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council. Its leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim has sided with the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki since Iraqi security forces launched a crackdown on al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia in Basra a month ago.

Journalists have frequently been targeted or caught up in attacks in Iraq. More than 175 journalists and media support workers have been killed since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Reporters without Borders, the Paris-based advocacy group, said Friday that 211 media assistants and journalists, including al-Batat, have been killed since the invasion began.

The fate of another 14 journalists and assistants who were kidnapped is not known, the group said.

"The toll of victims of the fighting in Iraq continues to mount, especially for the news media," the group said in a statement that also urged the government to investigate al-Batat's killing.

"The impunity reigning in Iraq for the past five years encourages armed groups to keep attacking journalists, who have become easy targets," it said.

Hundreds of Iraqi journalists also have been forced into exile since the war started five years ago, Reporters Without Borders said in a report in March. Most fled to Jordan or Syria after receiving threats or surviving murder attempts.

That report found that Iraqi journalists face the unique danger of being targeted by multiple groups including Sunni and Shiite militias, al-Qaida in Iraq, the police and U.S.-led forces.


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