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Straw praises war reporters

Embedded journalists have been able to witness events unfold on the frontline
Embedded journalists have been able to witness events unfold on the frontline

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw praised journalists who have risked their lives covering the war with Iraq, but cautioned the media against making "snap judgments on the basis of television pictures."

He also outlined a plan to rebuild Iraq after the war, saying the reconstruction process "will likely take years."

In an address at Britain's Newspaper Society's annual conference in London Tuesday, Straw paid tribute to correspondents on the front line, including those who have "paid the ultimate sacrifice in pursuit of truth."

The journalist advocacy group Reporters Without Borders says since the fighting began two journalists have been killed, two have been wounded and others are missing.

He also commended the press for their "invaluable service" of reporting "solid, factual coverage of the conflict."

"The benefits of hour by hour and day by day reporting from the front line far outweigh the disadvantages," Straw said.

But Straw cautioned the press against jumping to conclusions, citing the example of the first bombing of a market in Baghdad. Straw said it is increasingly probable that the bombing was the result of Iraqi, not coalition action, and that "it usually takes time for the truth to catch up with the image."

Straw compared the humanitarian crisis in Iraq to that of the one in the Serbian region of Kosovo in 1999, when Serbia was under leadership of then Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosovic, saying "unlike Milosevic, Saddam Hussein has conducted his reign of terror off camera."

"There are no TV cameras in Saddam's torture chambers or in the darkest corners of Baghdad, but the suffering and oppression are real," Straw said.

He described the regime's "apparatus of terror," saying Iraq has used branding, amputation, mutilation and beheadings as punishments for criminal offenses.

It will take years to heal "the psychological scars inflicted by Saddam" Straw said, but promised "we will rid the world of a brutal dictator... and ensure that the long-suffering Iraqi people will emerge from the shadow of dictatorship into the light of freedom."

Straw outlined four key commitments to help "reunite a country which has effectively been stolen by Saddam Hussein from his people."

• He promised emergency relief in the coming days and weeks to help the armed forces carry out their immediate obligations.

• He ensured that the United Nations will oversee the international aid program to Iraq, as it has in the past seven years in its oil for food program.

• He promised to work with the United Nations and others on the long term development and rehabilitation of Iraq, by seeking new Security Council resolutions to endorse an appropriate post-conflict administration.

• He ensured that Iraq's oil wealth will be used for the benefit of the Iraqi people, to develop the infrastructure and services the country so desperately needs.

Straw acknowledged there would be criticism and mistrust "of efforts to bring stability and prosperity to a country characterized by ethnic and tribal division," comparing it to the recent instability in Afghanistan.

"Following the downfall of the Taliban," Straw said "over 1.5 million Afghan refugees have returned to their homeland ... and it is the Afghan people -- not the Taliban -- who are making the decisions that will affect the future of their nation."

"We have the same aspiration for Iraq, an aspiration which many of the four million Iraqis who fled the terror of Saddam Hussein's regime will share. Nobody should underestimate our resolve to make this aspiration a reality."


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