War Reporter Who Fooled The Taliban, Was in US Arrest, Is Wanted By Houthis

Mohammed Al Arab has covered eleven wars. He was a field reporter in Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan, among other countries. He was wounded several times and escaped death by a hair's breadth. Yet something draws him, lures him to war zones. How does one become a war correspondent? Why does one put his life at risk? Magyar Nemzet asked Mohamed Al Arab about is experience at the 3rd Media Forum in Riyadh.

2024. 02. 26. 16:37
Mohammed Al-Arab iraki-bahreini hadi tudósító. Fotó: Mohammed Al Arab
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Do you remember your first war? How does one become a war correspondent?

I've been a war correspondent for thirty years. I've been to Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, the Gaza Strip and lived in Yemen for six years. I remember the first war very well. I was born in Iraq, near the southern border, so I lived through the US invasion in 2003. It takes a lot of skills to be a good war correspondent.

First of all, you must also learn to fight.

I didn't do military service, but as an Iraqi I knew my way around weapons. With three decades of experience behind me, I can use them, and I can spot minefields from afar. Besides, there is a lot to learn. A war correspondent must have the place, its culture, religion, and political conditions at his fingertips. For example, when I was covering the insurgency in southern Thailand, I did a lot of reading to dig into the context.

How does your family cope with this being your profession?

It's difficult, of course. My wife does her best to provide a safe family background. But you know, if I stayed away from war, I'd go nuts. When I hear there's a war somewhere, I have to go. When the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, all my colleagues fled, because there was no telling what was coming. That's when I went there! I pretended to be an ordinary worker and filmed with a hidden camera. Maybe God chose me for this job. After thirty years, I'm thinking about retirement, but I don't know what the future holds.

Have you been in a lot of tough situations?

I got wounded six times. I got this one on my hand in Yemen when my car got shot at with a rocket launcher.

It was in Yemen that I didn't even realize for two weeks that I'd got shot in the neck. I felt the burning pain, but I didn't have the chance to go to hospital. When I finally got there, after the X-ray they asked me in surprise: what happened to you? Not everyone was as lucky as me, many of my colleagues and friends died. Houthi terrorists don't care whether or not you're a journalist.

If you are behind enemy lines, you will be shot at.

You should also know that I am a one-man correspondent. I don't have an assistant, a cameraman, an editor, I do everything myself. I have a good relationship with the tribes, so I can get close to the front line. I was one of the first to use drones. Once I sent my drone into Sanaa, and the Houthis thought I was inside. This drove them absolutely crazy. They announced on television three times that I'd been caught and killed.

Mohammed Al-Arab iraki-bahreini hadi tudósító.
Photo: Mohammed Al Arab

Why do you feel it's important to risk your life to keep people informed? 

I can't give you a clear answer to that. I could say stuff like seeking the truth but that wouldn't be true. I believe that it's very important for journalists to be there on the front line, so that it's not only the soldiers' narrative that we hear. Perhaps with our stories we can help bring an end to a war.

If it is possible at all to compare wars, which one was the bloodiest?

Definitely the Iraq War of 2003. A lot of people died. By the way, I was the first war correspondent arrested by the Americans. They detained me for five days, but I got away unscathed. It's true though that I didn't cover the war against Daesh (Islamic State) as I was working in Yemen at the time. Earlier, however, I was the only journalist who was allowed to do an interview with Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi (one-time leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq).

How do you see the responsibility of the West in the wars you have been to?

The United States made a huge mistake in Iraq.

They wanted to fight Saddam Hussein? All right! But why did they disband the army and hand over power to the militias? More than twenty years have passed and Iraq is still unstable. You know, I met British Prime Minister Tony Blair on a few occasions. He once spoke about peace at an event, I couldn't believe my ears. I asked him,' Are you talking to us about peace?' Or look at Afghanistan, Syria, or Yemen. Unfortunately, Westerners only have ideologies, they get their information from books and newspaper articles, but they don't listen to those who know the region, those who are out there on the ground. They should have just asked me. Do you know how many mines have been planted in Yemen? Just make a guess!

One million?

I'll tell you, three million even at a conservative estimate. Do you remember Libyan leader Moammer Gaddafi? He has been dead for more than ten years, but there are landmines that he sent. And these weapons are indiscriminate. They kill civilians, children, animals, anyone who treads on them. You could do a report on how many people there are in Yemen living without legs... And most of them are Russian mines. They'll still pose a danger a hundred years from now. I just want to say that even if the war ends, this problem will stay with us.

Tribal gunmen supporting the Houthi rebels protest against the United States and Israel on January 29, 2024 Photo: MTI/EPA/Jajha Arhab

In Europe, we are 'used' to news of firefight in the Middle East. Now, however, a war is raging in our neighborhood, in Ukraine. Do you follow the events?

Naturally. I hope for peace as soon as possible, although I don't know if the political differences can be reconciled. The longer the war drags on, the more difficult this will be. In Yemen, I witnessed the capture of an important city by the Houthi militia. Government forces tried to recover it a hundred times, but failed. Then all it took was one mistake, and what couldn't be done in four years was done in three hours. It is quite possible that the same scenario will be repeated in Ukraine.

If the war doesn't come to an end now, then later Vladimir Putin will penetrate even deeper into Ukraine. And he won't go out.

Sometimes I'm afraid to open social media because it floods with violence from wars. How has social media changed war reporting?

I try to use it too. Look, a television report reaches a few hundred thousand viewers. On social media, the same thing can reach millions of people. I think that's the future. The social media has killed off printed media. Television is still alive, but YouTube has won over a lot of viewers. This is why I'm working on my own social media platform, and with God's help, it will be launched in a few months. That doesn't mean that war correspondents are no longer needed. It just means that their publishing platforms will change.

Photo: Mohammed Al Arab

Mohammed Al Arab was born in Fallujah, Iraq in 1975. He is a journalist, editor, documentary filmmaker, with for over thirty years of experience in the field of mass communication. He has worked as a senior correspondent for the Saudi channels Al Arabiya, Al Hadassah, Sky News Arabia and for leading international news agencies such as AFP, Reuters, AP, Sky News, NBC News, among others. He is also the author of several books. His activity has been recognized with numerous international awards and he has been selected as an ambassador for peace in the inter-tribal conflict in South Sudan. He is also an expert in cryptocurrencies and metaverses, the creator of the first Arab digital currency (HZMCOIN), and is developing his own social media platform called Pangeanis.

Cover photo: Iraqi-Bahraini war correspondent Mohammed Al Arab (Photo: Mohammed Al Arab)


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