One of Iraq’s most beloved broadcasters was wounded in an assassination attempt Sunday, the latest target in a string of attacks against journalists here.
Amal Mudarris, 58, a Baghdad radio veteran who began her career in 1962, suffered serious head injuries when she was shot several times outside her Baghdad home Sunday morning. Doctors said later in the day that her condition had stabilized and she was expected to recover.
Early today, the U.S. military announced the deaths of four American soldiers over the last two days.
Three were killed Sunday by a roadside bomb in eastern Baghdad that also killed an Iraqi translator. The fourth soldier was killed by small-arms fire, also in the eastern part of the capital, on Saturday.
Mudarris, whose broadcasts before and since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion helped calm millions of listeners, had voiced fears that she might one day fall victim to Iraq’s postwar violence.
‘You have to deal with it’
“Every time I leave my home in Baghdad, I expect either to be killed or kidnapped,” the international award-winning journalist wrote in the British newspaper the Observer in 2004. “But life has to go on. You have to deal with it.”
Police said her attackers had waited in parked cars near her home in the Sunni Muslim neighborhood of Khadra. Mudarris, a Shiite originally from southern Iraq, is host of a daily call-in show on a station of the state-owned Iraqi Media Network.
Iraqi television aired footage of Mudarris in a hospital recovery room Sunday night, grimacing with her head bandaged.
“I am an Iraqi and my work is for all Iraqis,” she was quoted as saying. “I’ve never been affiliated with any party or government. Why would anyone want to kill me?”
Iraqi journalists and media personalities have been frequent targets of assassins over the last year. Others have died in mistaken shootings by U.S.-led forces or during combat operations.
At least 79 Iraqi journalists have been killed and 15 kidnapped since 2003, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
This month, another well-known Iraqi journalist, Radio Free Iraq reporter Khamail Khalaf, was found shot to death two days after being kidnapped.
“They are targeting journalists who have nothing but their pens and free voices,” said Kareem Yousif, director general of Radio Dijla in Baghdad. “Nobody is immune from murder in Iraq.”
Iraqi Media Network, which was set up by the U.S. in 2003, has been a frequent target, with 13 employees killed over the last four years, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Mudarris’ tender voice and sympathetic delivery have earned her loyal fans across three generations of Iraqis. Locals nicknamed her the Palm Tree of Iraq for her integrity and dedication. She usually steered clear of partisan politics.
“Her voice is engraved in our minds,” said Muayad Qasim, 65, a retired teacher. “It has echoed in almost every Baghdad home since the early 1960s.”
Under Saddam Hussein, her programs about Iraqi culture, technology and even Hollywood movies stood out among the dull, government-produced propaganda usually aired on Iraq’s only TV channel.
After Baghdad fell, Mudarris and her colleagues continued to broadcast from their homes with little more than a transmitter and some cardboard insulation, according to a co-worker. Listeners said just the sound of her familiar voice brought comfort.
Her daily call-in show, “Studio 10,” has provided a voice and ear to thousands of frustrated Iraqis, who have vented about the continued U.S. military presence, government inaction, electricity shortages and inadequate security.
Elsewhere in Iraq, U.S. and Iraqi forces swept through the insurgent stronghold of Samarra after the city was blanketed with leaflets threatening attacks on police and the army.
“I was surprised to find a leaflet in front of my house with the message that I should quit my job,” said one Samarra police officer.
The leaflet was signed by the Samarra branch of the Islamic State of Iraq, an Al Qaeda-affiliated group that has claimed responsibility for several recent attacks.
Raids in Samarra
With an all-day citywide curfew in place, U.S. forces launched overnight raids in Samarra, arresting 36 suspects with alleged ties to Sunni Arab militants, U.S. military officials said.
Concurrent raids in Sunni-dominated Al Anbar province resulted in an additional 35 arrests and the seizure of bomb-making materials, the military said.
In Basra, a late-night blast killed six people. British military officials said they suspected a vehicle accidentally exploded while militants were using it to transport weapons and explosives.
Separately, a British soldier was killed by small-arms fire while on patrol in Basra, the British military said Sunday.
In the southern city of Karbala, police increased the death toll to 74 in a car bombing Saturday in a crowd of Shiite worshipers.
Meanwhile, Iraqi officials announced Sunday that Iran had agreed to send representatives to a regional meeting on Iraq this week in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheik.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who plans on attending the session, said in a TV appearance Sunday that she would not rule out a meeting with her Iranian counterpart.
Times staff writers Salar Jaff, Wail Alhafith and Suhail Ahmad in Baghdad and special correspondent Hameed Rasheed in Samarra contributed to this report.