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Amid Iraq violence, journalists struggle about government control

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"The way of killing journalism, it continues. They are just changing the way of violence to legal violence, under the law," says Ziad al-Ajili, director of the Iraqi Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, a free speech watchdog.

Deputy Interior Minister Adnan al-Assadi has called media freedom a "threat to national security." And a new press law under consideration would impose tough penalties for spreading information "against the public interests," and limit access the Internet.

Freedom House lists Iraq as "not free," and in its 2011 report said the country "remained one of the world's most dangerous places for journalists," complicated by "increasing" restrictions and lawsuits.

"Al Qaeda killed journalists [before]," says Mr. Ajili. "But now the army and police, when they prevent you [from] going to news events or taking pictures or filming, and the government legislates laws to stop you getting information from their sources – so you are dead."

Ajili should know. He formed his group in 2004 with a string of observers across Iraq, who tabulated killings of journalists, one name at a time.

In an interview with the Monitor in 2006, Ajili said he slept with an AK-47 assault rifle beside him "like a soldier going out on a mission." Colleagues used to call him to reserve space on his website, which posted photographs and details of killed journalists. Even back then, journalism in Iraq was "going backwards," Ajili told the Monitor. When insurgents and militias saw the government shut out key Arabic-language television channels like al-Arabiya and Al Jazeera, they "think they have a right to kill journalists."

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