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Military, Media Give Differing Perspectives of Reporter's Casualties - 2003-04-08

It has been a grim day for journalists covering the war in Iraq with at least three killed and three others wounded, all the casualties apparently the result of U.S. military fire in Baghdad. In the wake of the incidents, the military and the media are taking different perspectives about what happened.

Here at the Pentagon, a senior defense official inundated with questions about the deaths of reporters in Baghdad turns to a reporter and poses his own question.

And it goes like this: "How many American soldiers have to get killed before it's OK to fire back at hostile forces shielding themselves among journalists?"

But the U.S. based Committee to Protect Journalists is gravely concerned about the U.S. strikes on what it says were known media locations in Baghdad, the offices of the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera network and Abu Dhabi TV as well as the Palestine Hotel, where scores of international journalists are based.

The CPJ has sent a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, stressing journalists are civilians and protected under international humanitarian law.

It also says they "cannot be deliberately targeted."

The journalists group goes on to add that even if hostile fire was coming from the locations targeted by U.S. forces, the American response was disproportionate, using a tank, for example, to fire on the Palestine Hotel, allegedly to take out a sniper or snipers.

American commanders insist journalists are not being intentionally targeted in Iraq.

But they do say coalition forces on the ground in Baghdad reported coming under what they say was significant enemy fire from the locations where the journalists were located.

The U.S. Central Command links the incidents to what it calls the Iraqi regime's strategy of using civilian facilities for military purposes.

But it also says the events serve as a tragic reminder of just how dangerous life is on the battlefield.

"We are at war, there is fighting going on in Baghdad. Our forces came under fire. They exercised their inherent right to self-defense," said Victoria Clarke, the chief spokesperson for the Pentagon. "We go out of our way to avoid civilians. We go out of our way to help and protect journalists. That's been repeated again and again and again. But I personally have probably had 300 individual conversations with news organizations and bureau chiefs and some individual correspondents, and the essence of every one of those is war is a dangerous, dangerous business, and you're not safe when you're in a war zone."

So far in Iraq, in addition to the latest fatalities in Baghdad, at least eight others have been killed in action, including two journalists traveling with U.S. forces. They were a Spanish newspaper correspondent and a German reporter, both of whom died in an Iraqi missile attack.