Iraqi journalism -- which Washington had hoped would ensure a democratic, transparent government -- faces an intense government crackdown
A policeman in Kerbala / Reuters
BAGHDAD--Hadi Mehdi, one of Iraq's best-known journalists, knew he was a marked man. He had been arrested and beaten by Iraqi security forces after covering a large public protest earlier this year, and he feared the worst was yet to come. "Enough--I have lived three days of terror," he wrote on his Facebook page three weeks ago. That evening, he was shot dead at home by an unknown intruder, the latest of dozens of journalists killed here in recent years. The government says it's investigating his murder, but Mehdi's friends think they already know who did it: henchmen loyal to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, whose government is in the middle of an enormous crackdown on the press.
It wasn't supposed to be this way. When U.S. forces ousted Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration took particular pride in the emergence of what it described as a free and open press. It spent more than $500 million to develop new Iraqi TV and radio stations and to train young Iraqi journalists--the most money the U.S. has ever spent on such programs.
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Instead, Iraq's outlook is more like China's than America's. The onslaught began on Feb. 17 with the unsolved murder of Hilal al-Ahmadi, who focused on government corruption. Seven days later, soldiers stormed the office of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, the country's sole media-advocacy group. "They wanted to shut us up to clear the way for what they planned to do," says Ziad al-Ajili, the group's director. The troops confiscated hard drives, cameras, and other files.