BAGHDAD — Gunmen in military uniforms burst into the offices of four independent newspapers in Baghdad, stabbing and beating employees, staff and officials said Tuesday.
One editor said he recognized the attackers as members of a Shiite militia, saying the raids came after his newspaper published an article criticizing a prominent hard-line cleric. It underscored the dangers facing the media in Iraq, one of the most dangerous places in the world for reporters.
Also Tuesday, gunmen killed two men and kidnapped another in a trailer camp on a remote gas field near the Syria-Iraq frontier. Iraq intelligence officials say al-Qaida militants are growing stronger in the border region, taking advantage of the lawlessness on the edge of Syria's civil war.
In Baghdad, some 50 assailants participated in the coordinated, brazen Monday evening attack, said Bassam al-Sheikh and Ali al-Daraji, two editors of newspapers whose offices were attacked.
The raiders attacked reporters with batons and knives and smashed computers and furniture in the offices of al-Sheikh's newspaper, al-Dustour al-Jadida, the editor said.
Al-Daraji said the attackers who came to his newspaper, al-Mustaqila, smashed windows and set fire to a car. "It was so horrifying that we could not do anything," he said.
A health official said four newspaper staffers were hospitalized with stab wounds and another was badly beaten. A police officer said an investigation was under way.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak to the media.
Al-Sheikh said that he recognized the attackers as militant Shiites belonging to a hardline group headed by cleric Mahmoud al-Sarkhi. He said during the attack they berated him for publishing an article in his paper accusing al-Sarkhi of trying to dominate the holy city of Karbala.
Al-Sarkhi's office was not available for comment.
The city, 90 kilometers (55 miles) south of Baghdad, is home to two revered Shiite shrines. In the last decade it has witnessed power struggles between Shiite militias.
"The message of the assailants was to shut mouths," al-Sheikh said. "This is a dangerous precedent," he said.
Al-Daraji said they had run a similar story, but also published a response from the Shiite cleric's office. He said the assailants did not say anything during the raid, and he did not know why the newspaper was attacked.
The two other attacked offices belonged to al-Parliman and al-Nas.
The four newspapers are considered medium-sized to small. The largest, al-Dustour, claims a run of 12,000 copies daily.
In response to the attacks Tuesday, blue-khaki clad police set up checkpoints through the middle-class Karradeh neighborhood, snarling traffic. Other security forces in drab beige khaki, masked faces and heavy weaponry deployed on a main Baghdad thoroughfare.
Government officials were not available to comment.
Iraq is ranked among the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Hundreds were killed in the country since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
But such attacks have been less common of late. The last major attack on reporters was the slaying of a television presenter Ghazwan Anas in July 2012, who worked for a channel in the predominantly Sunni northern city of Mosul.
Also in Iraq, a provincial official said gunmen attacked workers at a remote gas field near the Syria border, killing two men and kidnapping one.
Farhan Farhan, the mayor of the western town of al-Qaim, said the gunmen set fire to workers' trailers at a camp near the gas field, killing an engineer and a manual laborer. The kidnapped man is the brother of the head of the Iraqi company building the camp site.
Farhan said the attack took place on Monday. He says the Iraqi company was contracted by South Korea's KOGAS to build the trailer camp before developing the gas field. No KOGAS employees were on site.
Al-Qaim is about 320 kilometers (200 miles) west of Baghdad, just across the border from Syria. Iraqi officials are taking advantage of Syria's turmoil and the porous border to rebuild their strength in this region.
© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.