Rome – Enzo Baldoni 56, was taken hostage on the road between Baghdad and Najaf in Iraq, the Italian government confirmed Thursday evening after viewing a tape given to Al-Jazeera. He was killed because the Italian government refused to withdraw their troops from Iraq. But a few hours ago on RAI (the Italian national news agency) said that the Italian government thinks that there is a possibility that Baldoni was first kidnapped by a gang of Iraqi’s who received money to turn him over to the Islamic Army.
The Italian newspapers said that Baldoni was caught in an ambush and his driver was found dead on Saturday. He was captured at the scene of fierce fighting between the US troops and the al-Mahdi Army of Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr. The group identifying itself as the Islamic Army, on Tuesday gave Italy 48 hours to withdraw its 2,700 troops from Iraq or Baldoni would be killed.
The Italian government rejected the demand, saying that it would maintain its “civil and military” presence in Iraq, but earlier on Thursday Rome said it was prepared to pull out its troops if the interim government in Baghdad requested it.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said, “There are no words for an inhuman act which at one swoop wipes out centuries of civilization and returns us to the dark times of barbarism”
Baldoni was a reporter for a Milan weekly called the “Diario” (Diary) and was also volunteering for the Red Cross while in Iraq. His son and daughter were interviewed on Rai 2, an Italian television station on Wednesday, saying, “He was trying to save human lives in Najaf by helping a Red Cross convoy in a spirit of solidarity which has always underscored his thinking and actions”
Before his murder, the director of the weekly “Diario” said that Baldoni is “motivated by humanitarian feelings for the world’s suffering people. He is an independent journalist and is totally autonomous” Another source at the “Diaro” stated , “We are counting on this explanation to show who Baldoni was, someone who had nothing to do with the policies of the Italian government and who found time to carry out humanitarian acts –” this should facilitate his release.”
The Italians had hope for his release based on his humanitarian instincts and his murder was a surprise to the locals. He was known for his rigor of investigative reporting and his independent tone, Baldoni was generally critical of the administration of Berlusconi and their support for the Iraq war.
If it is true that a gang was paid for the kidnapping of Baldoni, then it puts the lives of may journalists in increased danger. The risk of war reporting, changes most likely due to increased poverty in Iraq due to the loss of employment since the start of the war.
There has been 13 journalist and 9 supporters of reporters killed in Iraq in 2004 reports Committee for the Protection of Journalists. (CPJ).
A day before the murder of Baldoni, CPJ reports that the Iraqi police, masked and firing weapons threatened and detained dozens of journalists Wednesday night at the Bahr Najaf hotel in the southern city of Najaf. Knight Ridder News service, reported that the police fired shots and detained near 60 journalists quoting one of the officers shouting, “All the journalists, out now or we’ll kill you!”
Knight Ridder says that the journalist were transported in flatbed trucks to a local police station where they were held for an hour. The journalist had international press passes and included the Knight Ridder journalist, Getty photo agency and BBC were among some of those detained. The police also confiscated some satellite phones and computer equipment.
In a separate incident on Wednesday, five Al-Arabiyya employees were briefly detained by the Iraqi police after airing a news item that U.S. missiles had landed near the Imam Ali shrine.
Also on August 15, the Iraqi authorities in Najaf ordered all journalists to leave the city within two hours, while a plainclothes security officer warned journalist to leave in two hours or they would be “shot”. Al-Jazeera was also barred from working in Iraq for 40 days accusing the station of incitement to violence and hatred.
The Iraqi government seems to be taking the position to suppress the rights for the support of press freedom. This position along with the increased “gang activity” in Iraq clearly threatens the security and safety for journalist attempting to report from the ground in Iraq.
As it stands, many of the news agencies would rather pay freelance journalist who are willing to enter into the most dangerous places in the world than to hire reporters to enter under their corporate names. This is because of the concern of an increased risk to the agencies reputation, and financial concerns (lawsuits) if one of their own staff were to be kidnapped and murdered.
Journalist are increasingly pushed into a position of being freelance in a highly competitive career to remain in the same career job market. They need to purchase extra medical and life insurance, risk the loss of equipment, pay for the cost of satellite telephones, hotels, hiring security guards/translators and drivers.
Baldoni was one of those independent freelancers, whose heart was with humanitarian concerns wanting to help those that were in distress. His death may have been due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the suppressed economy in Iraq and greedy gang members who have traded the value of life for a few dollars.