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Iraqi journalist hailed as 'symbol of courage'

By Khalid al-Taie

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Iraqi journalist Rana al-Ajili was killed by a mine planted by the 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria' as she covered military operations in western Anbar. [Photo courtesy of Rana al-Ajili Facebook page]

When Maryam Tariq Mehdi called her mother on the night of November 15th, she had no idea it would be the last time she would hear her voice.

Shortly after their conversation, her mother, Rana al-Ajili -- a war correspondent who had been covering the military operations in western Iraq -- was killed by a mine planted by the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).

During their final conversation, Maryam -- an elementary school student and the eldest of her four siblings -- said she had asked her mother if she was alright.

"She said: My daughter, do not worry about me, I am [as strong as] 100 men."

"We talked at length, but at the end of the call she told me to watch over my four siblings and take care of them, and this made me more worried," Maryam told Diyaruna.

The next day, Maryam learned her mother had been killed.

'A symbol of courage'

Al-Ajili, 38, was killed as she covered the activities of the Iraqi forces, as they worked to secure al-Qaim in western Anbar and clear it of explosives.

Photojournalist Montazar Adel and the driver of the vehicle al-Ajili was traveling in were wounded in a blast that occurred when their vehicle struck a mine.

After the first explosion, her mother got out of the car and tripped, Maryam said.

She was killed "in a second explosion that took place very close to her".

"My mother gave her life to the media," al-Ajili's daughter said. "She used to tell us that she was also a soldier, and her mission was to convey truth honestly to people."

Maryam said she is proud of her mother, who has become "a symbol of courage and a model of the loyalty of the Iraqi woman to her country and its people".

"My mother was our only breadwinner since my father's illness," she said, noting that the Iraqi government has pledged to assist the family.

Documenting ISIS abuses

Al-Ajili was a member of the Iraqi Journalists' Syndicate, and had worked for several media organisations before taking a job as a war correspondent as part of the military media team covering the Iraqi battles against ISIS.

She had documented many of the group’s abuses on her Facebook page, and had these words for ISIS in her last post, written the day before she died:

"All that is left of you is a false, bygone memory in the name of religion, you who have no religion," she wrote.

Al-Ajili is the second female Iraqi reporter to die covering the battle against ISIS this year. On February 25th, media professional Shafa Kurdi was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) as she covered the battles in western Mosul.

Al-Ajili "was a role model of a courageous and Iraqi woman", said Ibrahim al-Sarraj, president of the Iraqi Journalists' Rights' Defence Association.

She provided "superior" coverage of the Iraqi victories, "debunking the falsities of the terrorists and curtailing their false propaganda", he told Diyaruna.

"Her loss was a huge shock and loss for journalists," he said, calling on "all concerned parties to quickly extend a helping hand to the family and provide them with housing, because they live in a rented house".

Iraqi journalists under threat

According to the Iraq Observatory for Press Freedoms, 21 Iraqi journalists were killed between May 2016 and May 2017, most as they covered the war on ISIS.

The loss of this large number of war correspondents requires examination, said Kazem al-Miqdadi, head of al-Farabi University College's faculty of media.

"The problem here is related to the mechanism of working as a war reporter, which requires extensive experience in navigating the course of events in environments fraught with danger, such as battlefields," he told Diyaruna.

"Courage, the pursuit of a scoop and sacrifice are attributes worthy of respect," al-Miqdadi said. "But we also must point out the need to acquire the necessary skills, undergo sufficient training and observe the rules of occupational safety."

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