NYT: Is Basra sending a message?

iraq map.jpgToday’s New York Observer stops short of saying so outright, and so does the NYT. Monday afternoon, the NYT’s Bill Keller confirmed that trusted Times Iraqi stringer Fakher Haider had been executed in Basra, less than two months after the similarly-targeted murder of Steven Vincent in that city.

According to Tom Scocca, foreign editor Susan Chira acknowledges that “[w]e believe that insurgents, or whoever these people are, read Web sites” but that the NYT is still processing the details and that it’s “too soon” to establish whether Haider’s NYT affiliation was connected to his death.

But it’s hard not to read a message coming from Basra which has become a top outpost for Shi’ite insurgency (as Vincent reported in the article that was published two days before his death). Both murders were targeted, both were done execution-style, both after important stories were published in the New York Times. Scocca talked to NYT reporter Kirk Semple, who had been in Basra last month reporting on a story on Vincent’s death, in which Haider was a key role, accompanying Semple on meetings with “unfriendly officials, on their turf.” Haider had also been credited in the Times and his i.d. card identified him as a Times employee.

“Too soon,” then, to make the call officially but it looks pretty obvious, and ominous. Haider is the 68th journalist to be killed thus far in the Iraq war, the 19th this month, the second from the NYT in an increasingly unstable Basra. Which makes it all the more risky for the NYT to be there — and all the more important for it to be.

Times Newsroom Begins To Absorb Iraqi’s Murder [NYO]
Reporter Working for Times Abducted and Slain in Iraq [NYT]
Switched Off in Basra, by Steven Vincent [NYT]