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IRAQ: Murdering the messengers

May 10, 2008 |  8:10 am

Sarwa1_2 Sarwa Abdul Wahab was many things: a lawyer, a journalist, a daughter, a dreamer. Last week, she became a victim, another in the long list of media workers murdered in Iraq by extremists who target journalists for exposing the violence, corruption and human rights violations taking place in much of the country.

Wahab, who was 35, was in a taxi with her mother on the morning of May 4 when gunmen forced the car to stop. It appeared to be a kidnapping attempt. Wahab resisted and was shot to death in front of her mother, whom she was taking to a hospital to visit an ailing relative.

The killing occurred in the northern city of Mosul, which Iraq and U.S. officials say is the last holdout of Sunni Muslim insurgents loyal to Al Qaeda in Iraq. She wasn't the first journalist to die in Iraq, and sadly, she probably will not be the last. Many of the reporters, editors, and television anchors slain since the war began five years ago have been women, a reminder of the extra risks female journalists face in a country where rising religious conservatism creates hurdles for professional women.

In the past year alone, at least three female journalists have been killed in Mosul. They include Zeena Shakir Mahmoud, 35, who was killed on her way home from work last June.

Sarwa2_2_3 A few days earlier, 44-year-old Sahar al-Haidari had been slain in the city. Read more about their cases, and other Iraqi journalists' deaths, here.

Wahab had visited our Mosul correspondent's home just a few days before she died. She was described as a trusting and open-hearted woman who hoped to marry a fellow journalist with whom she had been in love since her college days.

"She makes you feel that she knows you for a long time, that there are no barriers," our Mosul reporter wrote us in a tribute to the lost friend. The correspondent asked not to be identified for security reasons. Sometimes, our reporter worried about Wahab's eagerness to share her private thoughts with people whom she barely knew. "I even recall saying to her, 'don't tell me you have secrets...you tell everyone everything.' She answered with her loud laughter."

The object of Wahab's affection was a Kurdish man. She was not a Kurd, and that was the reason he gave her for not being able to marry. "She died without having the man of her dreams," her friend wrote, adding that friends counseled Wahab to find someone else to no avail. 

Wahab had been supporting her family, including her mother and several siblings, since her father's death recently. It wasn't an easy life, and it wasn't the one she necessarily dreamed of. But, her friend says, she kept on smiling and spent what little extra money she had on colorful scarves and accessories to brighten up her life, and the lives of those around her.

--Tina Susman in Baghdad and a Times correspondent in Mosul

Photos from top: Sarwa Abdul Wahab at a news conference last year; Zeena Shakir Mahmoud (in pink) sits across a table from Sarwa Abdul Wahab at a news conference. (L.A. Times stringer)

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