Why did Yasser Salihee die?

There's a famous expression in journalism about "burying the lede," which means taking the most interesting or newsworthy part of the story and (usually accidentally) putting it in the middle or near the end.

In this case, the most interesting part of a widely circulated Knight-Ridder article about a rash of killings in Baghdad that could be the work of Shiite (and presumedly pro-government) "death squads" came in a small italic note at the end of the piece.

First, the story, bylined by Tom Lassiter and Yasser Salihee:

BAGHDAD - Days after Iraq's new Shiite-led government was announced on April 28, the director of Baghdad's central morgue began noticing that the bodies of Sunni Muslim men were turning up after the men had been detained by people wearing Iraqi police uniforms.

Faik Baqr, who is also the chief forensic investigator at the morgue, said the corpses first caught his attention because the men appeared to have been killed in methodical fashion. They were blindfolded and their hands had been tied or handcuffed behind their backs, Baqr said. In most cases, the morgue director said, the dead men looked as if they had been whipped with a cord, subjected to electric shocks or beaten with a blunt object and shot to death, often with a single bullet to the head.

Iraqi and American officials said the killings were not being investigated systematically, but in dozens of interviews with families and Iraqi officials, and a review of medical records, a reporter and two special correspondents found more than 30 examples of this type of killing in less than a week. They include 12 cases with specific dates, times, names and witnesses who said they might come forward if asked by law-enforcement officials.

Now, the stunning note at the end:

Yasser Salihee was a special correspondent. He was shot and killed last week in Baghdad in circumstances that remain unclear.

We searched in vain for a news article that contained more information (imagine, in contrast, how many news stories there'd be about the murder of a working journalist in the U.S.) about the murder and found none. Did he ask too many questions?

We hope that his colleague Tom Lassiter, or some other reporter, can get to the bottom of this. If the media is unable to do its job -- and there have been many killings of journalists in Iraq -- than Iraq will never truly be free.

Posted on June 29, 2005 02:51 PM

"If the media is unable to do its job -- "

You mean like the job that CNN used to do in Saddam's Iraq - where they spiked accounts of Saddam's repression in order to maintain access?

I'd like to know more about this story myself and who this guy was a special correspondent for. Plus, it appears the Shiites are quitely engaging in some payback for the aftereffects of Gulf War I.

But quit pretending you guys are the only gateway for freedom in Iraq - elements of the Western media, namely CNN, kowtowed to the dictator in the past there.

Posted by: db_cooper at June 29, 2005 03:13 PM

Dang, Will, I didn't follow your story at first. Salihee was K-R.

You don't have any K-R inside channels to find out what K-R knows about it?

Posted by: db_cooper at June 29, 2005 03:23 PM

This was a veerry interesting story that had Salihee's byline:


control of mosques in Iraq


Knight Ridder Newspapers

BAGHDAD, Iraq - (KRT) - At a humble, green-domed mosque in the heart of Baghdad, a grizzled preacher named Sheik Ahmed Yassin was standing his ground. Gunmen had killed five of his followers and kidnapped two of his sons. Threats had thinned his congregation, and the worshipers who still came rushed to their cars after prayers to avoid becoming the latest victims.


Looks like he was reporting about a very nasty religious feud.

For all the reporting of the insurgency, I think getting into the middle of a Shiite-Sunni religious feud would be just as dangerous, if not more.

Posted by: db_cooper at June 29, 2005 03:26 PM

It appears that "he was killed with a single shot to the head by Americans in a passing convoy." As Chris Allbritton clarifies, no one knows if this was because he was a journalist or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

For more info go to Chris' blog - he's now back in Iraq, and he's still as much on what's happening as he was before he went to Beirut on "vacation" - I guess it was like being in hell and going to purgatory for a rest.

ADDENDUM AFTER PREVIEWING COMMENT - I guess we don't support html comments here - the link is

Posted by: fatbear at June 29, 2005 03:33 PM

DB, get your own blog.

Posted by: frenchy lamour at June 29, 2005 04:02 PM

"U.S. officials, who have advisers in the Interior Ministry, have said they are aware of the abductions and killings, but think insurgents posing as police are responsible."

Huh? This police force was created by us specifically to root out Sunni insurgents. The whole Interior Ministry is Shiite. But we're supposed to entertain the idea that Sunnis are dressing up as Shiite Police, torturing and killing other Sunnis, and then dropping their dead bodies off in front of the Interior Ministry?

Yeah, I totally buy into that theory.

RIP, Yasser Salihee.

Posted by: Gloria at June 29, 2005 04:52 PM

Before the speculation spins completely out of control, let me explain that Knight Ridder didn't reported on Yasser Salihee's death until today because his widow asked us not to. She was afraid that insurgents might seek revenge if they found out that her husband had worked for an American organization. With her consent, Tom Lasseter in our Baghdad Bureau has written a story today that tells what we know about Yasser's death, which is still under investigation by American forces in Iraq. That story has been posted at krwashington.com, and it also may appear on other Knight Ridder Web sites. Baghdad Bureau Chief Hannah Allam, who hired Yasser when he decided to forsake medicine for journalism, is at work on an appreciation of this courageous, intrepid reporter who was devoted to telling the world what was happening in and to a country he loved very much.
John Walcott
Washington Bureau Chief
Knight Ridder

Posted by: John Walcott at June 29, 2005 05:47 PM

Thanks, John -- I updated the blog with the new story. I couldn't really do justice, though, to such a remarkable person.

Posted by: will at June 29, 2005 06:13 PM