Gunmen storm Iraqi TV station, kill seven

By Aseel Kami

BAGHDAD - Gunmen raided the offices of a new Iraqi satellite channel in Baghdad on Thursday and killed seven guards and employees in one of the biggest single attacks on Iraqi journalists, who are frequent targets of insurgents.

Hassan Kamil, executive manager of Shaabiya satellite channel, said masked gunmen had stormed the station's office in eastern Zayouna district at 7am (5pm NZT), killing two guards and five other staff, including the office manager.

He said the employees had been staying overnight in the station, which has not yet begun regular broadcasts. Most were shot as they lay sleeping in their beds, while one was shot in the bathroom. They were shot in the head and chest.

Kamil, who was not there at the time of the attack, said the gunmen had arrived at the station in five or six vehicles.

"Some of them were wearing police uniforms and other civilian clothing. All were masked," he said.

One employee survived the attack but was severely wounded and in hospital, he added.

A Reuters reporter saw blood spattered on furniture and on the floor in the station's reception area.

The Interior Ministry said eight people had been killed.

The killings come as sectarian and insurgent violence continues to rage largely unchecked in the city, despite a major security crackdown by US and Iraqi troops aimed at curbing suicide car bombings, shootings and death squad killings.

A roadside bomb exploded in central Baghdad's Bab al-Sharji district on Thursday morning, police said. When police and rescue services arrived on the scene a car bomb exploded. Police said the blasts killed five people and wounded 10.

Iraq is the most dangerous place in the world for journalists, according to international media watchdogs.

Reporters Without Borders says 109 local and foreign journalists and media assistants have been killed in Iraq since the US invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says 20 journalists have been killed this year alone.

Many of Iraq's newspapers and television stations are funded by political and religious groups. Their political affiliations make their staff targets for attack by militants from rival groups as well as Sunni insurgents.

But Shaabiya has so far only done test broadcasts, mainly of patriotic songs.

The state-funded Iraqi Media Network, which runs Iraqiya state television and al-Sabah newspaper, has suffered the greatest number of casualties since 2003, with 11 reported deaths.

Gunmen have frequently attacked Iraqi companies in Baghdad, staging mass daylight kidnappings or killing workers.

The fresh violence came a day after US and Iraqi researchers published controversial figures that suggested 655,000 Iraqis had died from the war.

President George W. Bush called the findings not credible and the top US commander in Iraqi, General George Casey, put the toll at 50,000. The Iraqi government also ridiculed the findings and said only 40,000 had died.

- REUTERS

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