Today, at least 56 people were killed and 98 others wounded, when a gang of men attacked an Iraqi government building in the northern city of Tikrit. Among those killed in the attack was Sabah al-Bazee, a freelance journalist who worked for a number of news organizations, including CNN.
CNN Producers Mohammed Tawfeeq, Yousuf Basil and Jomana Karadsheh wrote this blog entry, remembering our fallen colleague:
When people ask us what it’s like being a journalist in Iraq, the answer would probably be much more upbeat on any other day.
Whenever bombs go off in Iraq, we get on the phone to sources to get casualty figures and details. But when Mohammed confirmed the dozens killed and wounded in the horrific siege in Tikrit on Tuesday, he didn’t realize for an hour that one of those killed was someone he has known for years.
Today, we mourn a colleague and a friend— Sabah al-Bazee.
Sabah was one of the many brave Iraqi journalists whose courage and skills made him one of the best local reporters in the deadliest war for journalists since World War II. Sabah has been a freelance contributor for CNN in the northern province of Salaheddin since 2006. One of his first assignments for us was covering the bombing of al-Askari Shrine in his hometown of Samarra that year; an attack that unleashed the country’s vicious sectarian war.
He reported for us from Tikrit and Samarra at the height of the brutal war, the days when al-Qaeda controlled many cities, including his own. But it was not only al-Qaeda that targeted journalists. Many other groups were also hunting down the media.
But Sabah survived those days, and so did his sense of humor.
Sabah would always want to joke and make us laugh. Even when you would wait for him to pick up the phone, you would get a recorded joke.
He was one of the most outgoing and proactive stringers we had. Most of the time, Sabah would call and give us the news before we’d call him asking about it.
Sabah’s English was not great, but he tried. Sometimes he would try holding a conversation with us in English and recently he started trying to write us a news report in English.
Jomana remembers a trip to a U.S. military base in Tikrit in 2008, where she met up with Sabah.
Because this was in his province, Sabah displayed the renowned Iraqi hospitality.
After lunch, he grabbed some fruit and put it in Jomana’s bag. She did not find it until hours later, when she got back to Baghdad.
Like most Iraqis we know and we work with, Sabah has hesitated for years about leaving Iraq to escape the threats and the violence - because he loved his country.
But a few weeks ago, Sabah asked Mohammed for his help and finally applied for asylum in the U.S., saying:
“I don’t want to live in Iraq ...at least not in the next five years... It is going to be very difficult.”
While Iraq today is not the Iraq of three or four years ago, it still is a place where hundreds are killed and wounded every month.
It is still a place where you can leave your home in the morning and never come back. Just like Sabah did today.
Today, we mourn a colleague and a friend— yet another one.
Sabah al-Bazee turned 30 one week ago today.