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Part II. Part I here)
Are there two sides to every story? Would that it were so simple. There are an infinite number of sides to every story. Perhaps our mirror is a prism?
Or a rhetoric-spewing machine?
Let's turn the ugly dial up a bit, shall we?
ISTANBUL -- The allegations can be heard almost everywhere in Turkey now, from farmers' wives eating in humble kebab shops, in influential journals, and from erudite political leaders: American troops have raped thousands of Iraqi women and young girls since ousting dictator Saddam Hussein.
... a front-page article on Oct. 22, stated: ''In addition to the occupation and despoilation, thousands of Iraqi women are being raped by American soldiers. There are more than 4,000 rape events on the record.''
One of the most dangerous aspects of these rumors, say Turkish and Western officials, is that people who do not at all fit the stereotypes of suicide bombers -- people like Ilyas Kuncak -- may be motivated to drastic action. The embassy official noted that Kuncak's son and one of his daughters told the Turkish media after their father blew up the HSBC office building in Istanbul's financial district that their father had been upset about the rape reports in the days before he set off the blast.
The US Embassy in Ankara, the Turkish capital, has strongly denounced the reports, calling them ''outrageous allegations . . . based on a US `source' best known for her pornographic websites and erotic television program.
Some of you may not want to move further into our prismatic house of mirrors.
I note here that someone is lying, and that those lies are resulting in death. And that those who lie in these cases do so in full knowledge that their lies result in death.
Eight young Iraqis arrested in Basra were kicked and assaulted by British soldiers, one of them so badly that he died in British custody, according to military and medical records seen by The Independent on Sunday.
Amnesty International has urged its members to protest directly to Tony Blair about the death of Baha Mousa, the son of an Iraqi police colonel, and to demand an impartial and independent investigation into the apparent torture of the Basra prisoners. A major at 33 Field Hospital outside the southern Iraqi city said that one of the survivors suffered "acute renal failure" after "he was assaulted ... and sustained severe bruising to his upper abdomen, right side of chest, left forearms and left upper inner thigh".
A friend that survived the ordeal will be a crucial element of the next tale too. But let's take a few steps further down this mirrored hall before we turn that way.
"We were put in a big room with our hands tied and with bags over our heads. But I could see through some holes in my hood. Soldiers would come in - ordinary soldiers, not officers, mostly with their heads shaved but in uniform -- and they would kick us, picking on one after the other. They were kick-boxing us in the chest and between the legs and in the back. We were crying and screaming.
"They set on Baha especially, and he kept crying that he couldn't breathe in the hood. He kept asking them to take the bag off and said that he was suffocating. But they laughed at him and kicked him more. One of them said: 'Stop screaming and you'll be able to breathe more easily.' Baha was so scared. Then they increased the kicking on him and he collapsed on the floor. None of us could stand or sit because it was too painful."
SADDAM HUSSEIN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT - So where are the Americans? I prowled the empty departure lounges, mooched through the abandoned customs department, chatted to the seven armed militia guards, met the airport director and stood beside the runways where two dust-covered Iraqi Airways passenger jets -- an old 727 and an even more elderly Antonov -- stood forlornly on the runway not far from an equally decrepit military helicopter.
And all I could hear was the distant whisper of high-flying jets and the chatter of the flocks of birds which have nested near the airport car park on this, the first day of real summer in Baghdad.
Only three hours earlier, the BBC had reported claims that forward units of an American mechanised infantry division were less than 16km west of Baghdad -- and that some US troops had taken up positions on the very edge of the international airport.
But I was 27km west of the city. And there were no Americans, no armour, not a soul around the runways of the airport whose namesake, in poster form, sat nonchalantly in the arrivals lounge in a business suit, cigar in hand. Even more astonishingly, there was no sign of the 12,000 Republican Guards whom the US division expected to fight.
Indeed, Saddam Hussein International Airport looked as if it was enduring an industrial strike (let us not conceive of such an event in Saddam's Iraq) rather than an imminent takeover by the world's only superpower.
Was it true, the Iraqi minister of information was asked at his daily 2pm press conference (11pm NZT) - a routine institution of usually deadly tedium - that the Americans were at the airport?
"Rubbish!" he shouted. "Lies! Go and look for yourself."
So we did.
And, alas for the Anglo-American spokesmen in Doha and the US officer quoted on the BBC, the Iraqi minister was right and the Americans were wrong. But it's a good idea to take these things, if not with a pinch of salt, then at least with the knowledge that there are always two reasons for every decision taken in this violent, ruthless land.
So whatever truth may be involved in the tale is certainly tainted by the teller.
Thst's not always the case.
Part III here.