The Independent, along with several British and American papers, still covers stories in Baghdad in person, moving with hesitation - not to mention trepidation - through the streets of a city slowly being taken over by insurgents. Only six months ago, it was still possible to leave Baghdad in the morning, drive to Mosul or Najaf or other major cities to cover a story, and return by evening. By August, it was taking me two weeks to negotiate my dubious safety for a mere 80-mile journey outside Baghdad.
I found the military checkpoints on the motorways deserted, the roads lined with smashed American trucks and burnt-out police vehicles. Today, it is almost impossible. Drivers and translators working for newspapers and television companies are threatened with death. Several have asked to be relieved of their duties on 30 January lest they be recognised on the streets during Iraq's elections. In the brutal 1990s war in Algeria, at least 42 local reporters were murdered and a French cameraman was shot dead in the Algiers casbah. But the Algerian security forces could still give a minimum of protection to reporters. In Iraq, they cannot even protect themselves. More