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Reuters withdraws its Baghdad bureau chief after threats from Shiite militias

Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi in Baghdad, Iraq, on Sept. 10, 2014.

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

By STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 13, 2015

The Reuters news agency announced that its Baghdad bureau chief has left Iraq after he was threatened on Facebook and denounced by a Shiite militia television station following a Reuters report alleged lynching and looting in Tikrit.

Threats against journalist Ned Parker, an American with years of experience in Iraq, began on a Facebook page run by a group calling itself "the Hammer" and believed by an Iraqi security source to be linked to armed Shi'ite groups, Reuters said. The April 5 post and comments demanded that Parker be expelled from the country. One commentator said Parker should be killed as “the best way to silence him,” Reuters said.

Three days later, the television station Al-Ahd, owned by the Iranian-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, broadcast a report on Parker including his photo. The television report accused Parker and Reuters of defaming Iraq and urged viewers demand the reporter he expelled, Reuters said.

An April 3 report by Parker and two colleagues detailed human rights abuses in Tikrit after government forces and Iranian-backed militias captured Tikrit from Islamic State militants. Reuters said two of its reporters saw an Islamic State fighter lynched by Iraqi national police. The report also described widespread looting and arson in the city, which local politicians blamed on Iranian-backed militias.

A Reuters spokeswoman said the agency stood by the accuracy and fairness of its report. Facebook, acting on a request from Reuters, removed a series of threatening posts.

Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, a moderate Shiite, is scheduled to meet President Barack Obama in Washington on Tuesday to discuss the war against the Islamic State, which seized huge areas of Iraq last summer.

On Monday, the Committee to Protect Journalists today on Iraqi authorities to investigate death threats against Parker and ensure that journalists are able to work in Iraq without fear of reprisal.

“Threats aimed at silencing journalists, no matter from where they come, cannot be tolerated. The Iraqi people deserve to know and to share information about the extreme violence and volatility wracking their nation," said Sherif Mansour, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "We call on authorities in Baghdad to investigate this act of intimidation and hold the perpetrators to account."

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