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There's speculation in the press. No accusations, just hints, allegations, and things almost said...
FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES OF STEVEN VINCENT, THE AMERICAN FREELANCE JOURNALIST kidnapped and slain in Basra yesterday, believe he was killed because he spoke out against the threat Islamic religious extremism poses to Iraq's nascent democracy. In his last dispatch on his blog ( www.redzoneblog.com), Mr. Vincent, author of In the Red Zone: A Journey Into the Soul of Iraq, described an interview he and Layla, his Iraqi translator, conducted with an Air Force captain in charge of doling out business to Iraqi contractors. Mr. Vincent portrayed the session as an example of American naivet頩n the face of the danger posed by Shiite militants.The Times of London:
US reporter murdered in Iraq had written his own epitaphAnd the always bold NY Times:
Steven Vincent's final story, reprinted today, told of a police 'death car' operating in Basra. Shortly afterwards he was bundled into a pick-up and shot in the head
He wrote: "An Iraqi police lieutenant, who for obvious reasons asked to remain anonymous, confirmed to me the widespread rumours that a few police officers are perpetrating many of the hundreds of assassinations, mostly of former Baath Party members, that take place in Basra each month. He told me that there is even a sort of "death car": a white Toyota Mk II that glides through the city streets, carrying off-duty police officers in the pay of extremist religious groups to their next assignment."
Driving through central Basra with a Times journalist a few days before the article was published, he spotted an identical vehicle near the waterfront. "That's the death car," he said. Another journalist reassured him that the rumour was that a different vehicle was now being used for assassinations.
On Tuesday night, as he walked with Ms Itais to exchange some money outside the Merbid Hotel, he found out what the new death car was: a white Chevrolet pick-up without registration plates but with the word Police on it.
Witnesses said that armed men jumped out of the vehicle and bundled him inside. Having written extensively about the Islamic militias who enforce their own harsh law on the city, Mr Vincent struggled to get away. His shoes were later found in the rubbish that litters Basra's streets. Locals who saw the abduction and were brave enough to inquire what was going on said that the gunmen shouted out that they were policemen. No one dared to intervene.
An officer in the Basra police department said Mr. Vincent had been working on an article about the role of policemen in the recent assassinations of former Baath Party officials.That last quote especially reminded me of a Mudville series from this past June, where we compared media stories and blog reports from Iraq. An excerpt:
More excerpts from Steve Vincent's blog In the Red Zone:The past few days have been interesting in Basra--and of course, in Iraq, "interesting" means general mayhem and bloodshed. Cases in point: over the weekend, unknown assailants--the assailants are always unknown, there are no uniforms or name tags here--assassinated five people in the streets. The victims, or so I hear, were ex-Baathists (there is no such thing as an "ex" Baathist to some, evidently), but, as Samir, the night clerk at the funduk put it, "We have courts and judges to decide matters like this. It is not up to people who chose to take life so cheaply."In another incidentThe sharp ripping sound erupted somewhere close to the hotel. Automatic weapon fire, I thought, flashing back to Baghdad, where the same noise was--and still is--a constant part of city life. Perhaps it's just a wedding. But it was 9 a.m., and besides, everyone knows that the Hauwza--the religious establishment in Najaf--has outlawed the casualty-producing custom of celebrating nuptials by firing guns into the sky.
A few hours later, we got the news. On the street just behind the funduk, four masked men in a Toyota emptied their AKs into a parked car, killing a police colonel from Zubair, who had come to Basra for medical treatment. The assassins are unknown, as is their motive, although rumors have it the murder had something to do with "smuggling."
"Summer is coming," an Iraqi man grunted in the hotel lobby. "The Wahhabi have been quiet for awhile, but we are expecting their return with the hot weather."
The NY Times ($) offers their coverage of the same attack:In other violence, insurgents gunned down Iraqi security officers in the major cities of Kirkuk and Basra, police officials said Friday...Gripping reporting! How silly of Vincent to be satisfied with "The assassins are unknown, as is their motive..." when a quick glance in the Times would reveal they were insurgents.
In the Basra attack, which took place in the center of the city at 10:20 a.m., four men wearing black masks showered bullets into a car carrying the security officers, Col. Abdul-Karim al-Daraji and his brother Kosay. Both died, while a third brother in the car suffered minor injuries. Ammar Hussein, a medical assistant at the Educational Hospital of Basra, said that Colonel Daraji died immediately, while Kosay died later as a result of chest wounds.
Although the original AP story from which the Times culled their quote called them "gunmen":Also Friday, gunmen killed the dean of the police academy in the southern city of Basra and an Iraqi soldier was killed when a roadside bomb exploded in the central city of Mashru.And a google cache of another version of the NY Times story reveals an even more in-depth re-write:
In the Basra attack, which took place in the center of the city at 10:20 a.m., four men wearing black masks showered bullets into a car carrying the security officers, Col. Abdul-Karim Daraji and his brother Kosay.But as the political haggling dragged on, insurgents once again showed how seemingly easy it is for them to strike and escape. In the Basra attack, which took place in the center of the city at 10:20 a.m., four men wearing black masks showered bullets into a car carrying the security officers, Col. Abdul-Karim al-Daraji and his brother Kosay. Both died; a third brother in the car survived.It's certainly not clear who committed this crime, but evidence suggests that in this case those "insurgents" made their first appearance at the Times editor's desk in New York City.
A few weeks later and it's likely the Times, in reporting Vincent's murder, can't even grasp the irony:
An officer in the Basra police department said Mr. Vincent had been working on an article about the role of policemen in the recent assassinations of former Baath Party officials.Do you suppose the Times might stop pinning all murders in Iraq on the insurgency?
It's certainly much more complicated than that, but perhaps there's a simple solution. Perhaps they could switch to the term "thugs". There is indeed a power vacuum in Iraq, and many would struggle to fill it by becoming the next Saddam Hussein, or the next Ayatollah Khomeini. The biggest thug on the block.
What Iraq needs, of course, remains elusive. Iraq needs its first statesman, someone to rise and unite, to cut across divisions, provide hope amidst despair. The good people of Iraq, as with anywhere else, outnumber the thugs. This must not be forgotten, even in the midst of the current darkness. Especially in the midst of this current darkness.
Steven Vincent knew this. He was an eyewitness to darkness on 9/11, having seen a plane hit the Trade Center - not on TV, but before his own eyes. From the same post linked above, he describes seeing the same thing again. But this time it was on TV in his hotel room in Basra, when a Dubai-based channel aired "Rudy: the Rudolph Giuliani Story."
Ten minutes into the movie, the real-life footage began: the gaping hole in the north tower; fire erupting from the south; smoke streaming from the largest skyscraper fires in history; people on the upper floors waving white distress flags; the downward plunge of the south tower into its foundations; avalanche-like billows of white debris pouring down Vesey Street and over the spire of St. Paul's Church as the north collapsed...and for a moment, I was no longer in my hotel room, but back in New York, on the roof of our building, once again witnessing the horrible, the unimaginable, the obscene.It's overly simple, perhaps, but it seems more accurate than "insurgent". Maybe the NY Times could use "fascist thugs" to describe Steven Vincent's killers.
Upsetting, yes; but somewhat eerie, too, to watch these scenes replayed in Iraq. For, of course, the reason I was even in this Basran hotel room--the reason America and Britain forces invaded Iraq, drawing thousands of people, including myself, into this country--was the nearly 3,000 people murdered on September 11. Strange, too, were the words I remember the real Mayor Giuliani expressing that day--especially his awful, emotionally wrenching statement that the "loss of life today will be more than any of us can bear"--given Arabic subtitles. Did Iraqis watching this show--say, my friendly hotel staff--identify with the mayor, or with the terrorists who humbled the Great Satan? Did they cheer the law and order sheriff or the Robin Hood of the Middle East?
I can't say for sure, of course, but knowing Iraqis, my money's on Rudy. The people here desperately need--and deserve--law and order, a sense that justice can prevail against malevolent powers stalking their nation. The idea that a single man can galvanize a society to stand up to Ali Baba, be they mobsters or terrorists, and survive--unlike, it seems, the police colonel from Zubair--can only bring hope to these demoralized and suffering people. "We need leaders," a Iraqi journalist said to me over dinner last week. "But where can we find them in such a society?"
Hollywood being Hollywood, Rudy's war on crime (the same war that cleaned our block of the heroin gang that had ruled it for years) was depicted with a montage of cops rousting the homeless and squeegie men and prostitutes, scored by a ominous soundtrack that evoked thoughts of fascist thugs crushing the spirit of democracy. I had to laugh. Here in Iraq, real fascist thugs--and not the imaginings of hysterical lefists--seek to crush the spirit of democracy. Here in Iraq--where serving as a policeman is the most dangerous job in the world--people can only pray for a force that is incorruptible, efficient and effective against Saddamite psychos and bloody-thirsty jihadists. They wouldn't call a man like Giuliani a "fascist," and they certainly would not call police officers "pigs." And that's not just because they're Muslims.
Or maybe not.
The NY Times, from their report on his death:
Mr. Vincent resolved to go to Iraq, where he lived a hardscrabble life in a $15-a-day hotel and wrote articles about what he regarded as Islamic fascism."...what he regarded as Islamic fascism."
Steven Vincent's family requests that donations be made in his name to Spirit of America.
What I thought was really ironic was the Lt Col of police telling them all sorts of details about the police car picking them up and then being held for 5 hours at a house nearby before being shot and left on the street.
then he says they have no idea who did it.
And the other irony was the US official saying they would wait for the official investigation from the Basra police. That was nearly laughable.
I'm hoping that the "iraqi security" guards on the interpreter are really for her safety and not to keep her there and keep her sequestered until the media attention goes.
I'm very worried for her.Posted by kat-missouri at August 4, 2005 11:26 PM
"... wrote articles about what he regarded as Islamic fascism."
Even after almost four years the NY Times came come to grip to what the real problem is. Incredible!Posted by Don Miguel at August 4, 2005 11:46 PM
Can't use the term "thug", that's religious discrimination. Thuggee was ostensibly crushed over 150 years ago, but enough details of the practice remain to make it a viable option as religious practice.Posted by drlivipr at August 5, 2005 12:20 AM
Don Miguel, it's not that the NY Times can't come to grips with it, it's that they've never seen a fascist movement they didn't admire.Posted by Arty at August 5, 2005 11:26 AM
I'm glad more and more people are identifying the enemy by its real name: fascism.
Then we can also call the so-called "insurgency's" defenders what they really are: fascist apologists.
It's going to take a long time for Iraq to be a fully modern state. Where they are now is about where the western US was in the years before statehood. There will be corrupt local bullyboys and corrupt officials for some time.
It's horrible but it's reality. We can only keep helping the people rebuild and work toward the best.
I doubt if Mr. Vincent would want us to give up in the face of his death. It's a terrible blow but it makes the importance of the mission all the more urgent.Posted by Dean Esmay at August 5, 2005 01:59 PM
Look, it's wrong that this guy was killed, and I'm sure he was a good man doing the right thing. But I have a hard time getting too worried about people smoking "ex"-Baathists.
The Iraqi police and Army aren't strong enough yet to completely control Baathist strongholds and wipe out the Baathist right wing death squads. Until then, the Baathists are supporting daily terrorist attacks that are slaughtering thousands of Iraqis, undermining the authority of the government, and reducing the general likelihood of the Iraqi government ever getting running (albeit just barely). I understand you can't just go around killing people in a free soceity, but Iraq isn't a free soceity yet, and the Iraqis have no other way to stop the Baathists from murdering their wives and children. So, it looks to me like these cops are arresting guys who are later let loose or never charged (bribe their way out), and they are taking matters into their own hands. Reprehensible, yes. But if our only interest is American national security, and this activity is more likely to undermine the power of the Baathist rebellion and improve the odds of a free and demcratic Iraq, should we be stopping them?
It's easy for us to sit here and say, "No, a free and democratic nation must respect the rights of ALL its citizens!" But, let's be honest, if Scientologists were blowing themselves up in crowded malls, controlled entire towns, and were consistently able to avoid any sort of government action, something tells me we wouldn't all be such upright "citizens" about it. No, we'd play it like a thug. Next, hear the shot of a magnum slug.
p.s. As an historical aside, does anyone recall if groups like these cops were operating in Germany and wasting Nazis in the years after WWII? Anyone remember what happened to the "Werewolves"?Posted by Just Some Guy at August 5, 2005 02:09 PM
And, yes, I am aware who is operating in Basra, and I am no fan of Sadr, even though the cops probably are:
That reporter was ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. Sadr must be stopped, stripped of his power, and made subordinate to the Iraqi government.
However, I am also aware that the Baathists were slaughtering the police in Basra by the truckload this time last year:
This is horrific.
I had no idea that Mr. Vincent had been killed.
When I saw this entry of yours, I went back to my hit counter... because I saw that I had recently (on August 4th) gotten a visit via a comment that I had posted at a January 2nd entry at 'In the Red Zone.' This is the first time (that I know of) that a blogger who I had been e-mailed by, and at whose weblog I had commented at, has been murdered.
Thank you very much for posting this news... And please, please keep us up-to-date on the investigation and latest updates surrounding this atrocity.Posted by Aakash at August 6, 2005 09:42 PM
Steven was my friend.
I too smelled the burning cremains of ground zero and the fearfull sad days after Sept 11.
The only fitting thing I can say for my friend is this.
Why WE fight. Why WE are right and Why American Values are just BETTER!
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
American Values ARE just better!
TPosted by Ted and Diane at August 8, 2005 02:32 AM Hide Comments | Show/Add Comments in Popup Window(9) | (Note: You must refresh main page to view newly posted comments here)