Armed with a pen and steadfast courage

Susanne Fischer, the Iraq country director of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, pays tribute to Sahar al-Haideri. Gunned down on 7 June, she had defied extremists and carried on reporting from her home town of Mosul until the end

She knew she was in danger. Sahar al-Haideri was not naïve, not out of touch with reality. She was well aware of what the men of the selfdeclared ‘Iraqi Islamic Emirate’– with her hometown Mosul as the intended capital – were capable of. For the past three years, she wrote for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) about the growing influence of extremists in Mosul.

‘Murder has long become a daily companion for the inhabitants of this northern city,’she noted, after several female teachers at Mosul schools were murdered. ‘Life for women is particularly hard in Mosul. They only go out veiled and never alone.”

Except for Haideri. She defied terror wherever she could, armed with a pen and steadfast courage.

‘Our psychological state is unbalanced because we live and think in fear and worry and always think about our destiny and that of our family,’she wrote in March 2007 for Press Gazette. ‘But I never thought about quitting, as journalism is my life, and I really love it.”

Haideri attended the first journalism training course run by IWPR in 2005. Once introduced to international standards of independent journalism, she felt she had discovered a whole new world.

Born in 1962, Haideri was a remarkable woman. Strong, independent, dedicated, and at the same time a loving wife and caring mother of four.

She had two conflicting views about her position, raising concerns over her security and seeking to leave, but continuing to report and write more than ever.

When, last month, we offered her the opportunity to join her family in Syria and work for a new IWPR project from there, she replied: ‘YES! I love you, my friend.”

But it seems she could not let go of her reporting from Iraq. It appears she had travelled from Damascus to Erbil, in the Kurdish area of Iraq, to pick up a salary payment and had decided to drive to Mosul and spend the night at her home.

She found a hit list pinned to her door, and her name was the fourth most wanted by the ’emir of the Islamic country in Mosul”.

When Sahar applied to IWPR in 2005, she told us she would be one of the reporters we would be proud of. She was right.

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