While the White House claims the war in Iraq is for democracy and liberation, U.S. forces have been accused of intentionally attacking a major pillar of democracy – the press.

U.S. military forces launched what witnesses called a deliberate attack on independent journalists covering the war, killing three and injuring four on April 8.

A U.S. tank fired on the Palestine Hotel, where most “non-embedded” international reporters in Baghdad are based. Journalists who witnessed the attack rejected Pentagon claims that the tank had been fired on from the hotel. “I never heard a single shot coming from any of the area around here, certainly not from the hotel,” David Chater of British Sky TV told Reuters. Footage shot by French TV recorded quiet in the area immediately before the attack.

Earlier in the day, the U.S. launched separate but near-simultaneous attacks on the Baghdad offices of Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV, two Arabic-language news networks. Both outlets had informed the Pentagon of their exact locations, according to a statement from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). As with the hotel attack, Pentagon officials claimed that U.S. forces had come under fire from the press offices, charges that were rejected by the targeted reporters.

The airstrike against Al Jazeera killed Tareq Ayoub, one of the channel’s main correspondents in Iraq, and injured another journalist, prompting Al Jazeera to try to pull its remaining reporters out of Baghdad. Personnel at Abu Dhabi TV escaped injury from an attack with small-arms fire.

Al Jazeera, which the Bush administration has criticized for airing footage of American POWs, has been attacked several times by U.S. and British forces during the war. Its offices in Basra were shelled on April 2 and its camera crew in that city fired on by British tanks on March 29. A car clearly marked as belonging to Al Jazeera was shot at by U.S. soldiers on April 7. Al Jazeera has also been targeted prior to the Iraq War. During the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Al Jazeera’s Kabul offices were destroyed by a U.S. missile.

Marines raided the Palestine Hotel, on April 15, saying intelligence reports said it wasn’t “100 percent safe.” Footage from Associated Press Television News showed Marines kicking down doors, rousting journalists from their beds and pointing M-16s in their faces.

International journalists and press freedom groups condemned the U.S. attacks on the press corps in Baghdad. “We can only conclude that the U.S. [forces] deliberately and without warning targeted journalists,” Reporters Without Borders declared. “We believe these attacks violate the Geneva Conventions,” wrote CPJ in a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The International Federation of Journalists is calling for an independent international inquiry. “There is no doubt at all that these attacks could be targeting journalists. If so, they are grave and serious violations of international law,” said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ. “The bombing of hotels where journalists are staying and targeting of Arab media are particularly shocking events in a war which is being fought in the name of democracy.”

With the death of Argentine camerawoman Veronica Cabrera on April 14, the first female journalist to die while covering the war in Iraq, the total number of journalists killed in this conflict had reached 13 by mid-April.

In related developments, Reporters Without Borders voiced its concern that a CNN crew’s security escort returned fire with an automatic weapon when the crew came under fire near Tikrit. CNN has been using a private security firm to protect some its crews. The use of firearms is a practice contrary to all the rules of the profession, the organization said.

“Such a practice sets a dangerous precedent that could jeopardize all other journalists covering this war as well as others in the future,” Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Robert Ménard said. “There is a real risk that combatants will henceforth assume that all press vehicles are armed,” he warned.

“Journalists can and must try to protect themselves” by wearing bulletproof vests, etc., “but employing private security firms that do not hesitate to use their firearms just increases the confusion between reporters and combatants,” Ménard added.