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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Atwar Bahjat: The Kitty Genovese of Samarra

We have to stop this kind of stuff ASAP:

By the time filming begins, the condemned woman has been blindfolded with a white bandage.

It is stained with blood that trickles from a wound on the left side of her head. She is moaning, although whether from the pain of what has already been done to her or from the fear of what is about to be inflicted is unclear.

Just as Bahjat bore witness to countless atrocities that she covered for her television station, Al-Arabiya, during Iraq’s descent into sectarian conflict, so the recording of her execution embodies the depths of the country’s depravity after three years of war.

A large man dressed in military fatigues, boots and cap approaches from behind and covers her mouth with his left hand. In his right hand, he clutches a large knife with a black handle and an 8in blade. He proceeds to cut her throat from the middle, slicing from side to side.

Her cries — “Ah, ah, ah” — can be heard above the “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) intoned by the holder of the mobile phone.

Even then, there is no quick release for Bahjat. Her executioner suddenly stands up, his job only half done. A second man in a dark T-shirt and camouflage trousers places his right khaki boot on her abdomen and pushes down hard eight times, forcing a rush of blood from her wounds as she moves her head from right to left.

Only now does the executioner return to finish the task. He hacks off her head and drops it to the ground, then picks it up again and perches it on her bare chest so that it faces the film-maker in a grotesque parody of one of her pieces to camera.

The voice of one of the Arab world’s most highly regarded and outspoken journalists has been silenced. She was 30.

This is the story of the murder of Atwar Bahjat. She was one of the new Iraq's top TV journalists until she was abducted and killed after reporting live from the outskirts of Samarra on February 22. Earlier that day, Samarra's golden-domed Shi'ite mosque had been blown up, either by Sunni terrorists or by a faction that wanted it thought that it was Sunni terrorists.

Roadblocks prevented her from entering the city and her anxiety was obvious to everyone who saw her final report. Night was falling and tensions were high.

Two men drove up in a pick-up truck, asking for her. She appealed to a small crowd that had gathered around her crew but nobody was willing to help her. It was reported at the time that she had been shot dead with her cameraman and sound man.

We now know that it was not that swift for Bahjat. First she was stripped to the waist, a humiliation for any woman but particularly so for a pious Muslim who concealed her hair, arms and legs from men other than her father and brother.

Then her arms were bound behind her back. A golden locket in the shape of Iraq that became her glittering trademark in front of the television cameras must have been removed at some point — it is nowhere to be seen in the grainy film, which was made by someone who pointed a mobile phone at her as she lay on a patch of earth in mortal terror.

A friend of Bahjat reveals other details of her horrible death:
The friend, who cannot be identified, knew nothing of her beheading but had been guarding other horrifying details of Bahjat’s ordeal. She had nine drill holes in her right arm and 10 in her left, he said. The drill had also been applied to her legs, her navel and her right eye. One can only hope that these mutilations were made after her death.

We don't know what side, what faction, what religious sect is responsible for this savagery, which may be the first atrocity committed by an Iraqi death squad that has been captured on video. Her fearless reporting seems to have angered Shi'ite and Sunni extremists, along with al Qaeda in Iraq.

Bahjat, with her professionalism and impartiality as a half-Shi’ite, half-Sunni, would have been the first to warn against any hasty conclusions, however. The uniforms seem to be those of the Iraqi National Guard but that does not mean she was murdered by guardsmen. The fatigues could have been stolen for disguise.

A source linked to the Sunni insurgency who supplied the film to The Sunday Times in London claimed it had come from a mobile phone found on the body of a Shi’ite Badr Brigade member killed during fighting in Baghdad.

But there is no evidence the Iranian-backed Badr militia was responsible. Indeed, there are conflicting indications. The drill is said to be a popular tool of torture with the Badr Brigade. But beheading is a hallmark of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, led by the Sunni Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

According to a report that was circulating after Bahjat’s murder, she had enraged the Shi’ite militias during her coverage of the bombing of the Samarra shrine by filming the interior minister, Bayan Jabr, ordering police to release two Iranians they had arrested.

There is no confirmation of this and the Badr Brigade, with which she maintained good relations, protected her family after her funeral came under attack in Baghdad from a bomber and then from a gunman. Three people died that day.

Bahjat’s reporting of terrorist attacks and denunciations of violence to a wide audience across the Middle East made her plenty of enemies among both Shi’ite and Sunni gunmen. Death threats from Sunnis drove her away to Qatar for a spell but she believed her place was in Iraq and she returned to frontline reporting despite the risks.

It is obviously important that Bahjat's killers be brought to justice. However, of more importance is the elimination of the conditions that allow subhuman thugs on any side (or no side) to operate freely while Iraqi citizens stand by and turn Bahjat into the Kitty Genovese of Samarra.

[T]he manner of her death testifies to the breakdown of law, order and justice that she so bravely highlighted and illustrates the importance of a cause she espoused with passion.

Bahjat advocated the unity of Iraq and saw her golden locket as a symbol of her belief. She put it with her customary on-air eloquence on the last day of her life: “Whether you are a Sunni, a Shi’ite or a Kurd, there is no difference between Iraqis united in fear for this nation.”

Whoever did this, there is no escaping that ultimately this is our responsibility. Colin Powell's "Pottery Barn rule" may not properly apply to Pottery Barn, but it is still viable, at least to a certain extent, for countries we liberate from sadistic tyrants. I may be starting to sound like a broken record, but it's my considered opinion that the murder of Atwar Bahjat was made possible by Donald Rumsfeld's refusal to listen when people in positions to know told him we needed more boots on the ground to properly handle Iraq's reconstruction.

We have to stop this kind of stuff ASAP.

Update: Mudville Gazette, Jeff Goldstein, Jihad Watch, Ed Morrisey, Jawa Report, Michelle Malkin and Ace of Spades have more.

(Via Counterterrorism Blog's Newslinks.)

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's so tiring to read of these atrocities committed by subhumans and then see them blamed on a member of our administration, in this case, Donald Rumsfield. Oh, please, grow up. We could have had a zillion troops there and atrocities still would have been committed simply because humans are humans and crazies exist everywhere. How about blaming it on a religion that allows such horrors to exist in the name of their 'allah'? Or on the crowd that stood around and DID NOTHING to stop just two mere men do horrible things to a woman. Which makes me bring up another aspect of this religion and the culture it has bred: namely that there exists absolutely no concept of chilvary toward women and the desire to protect them against aggressors who would harm them. Rather, it teaches the killing, oppression and enslavement of women because of their Allah- sanctioned status as inferior to men and vastly dangerous to them. Donald Rumsfield had absolutely nothing to do with that cowardly crowd or with the cowardly and woman hating religion that created them.

Blogger The Cranky Insomniac said...

It's so tiring to read comments when the anonymous commenter completely misrepresents what you said and then tells you to grow up.

I never, ever, ever blamed Rumsfled for the death of Atwar Bahjat. What I said was that her murder was made possible by Rumsfeld's idiotic insistence on overruling the many people who told him we needed to have more boots on the ground in order to properly handle Iraq's reconstruction.

There's a huge difference between the two, but one that's apparently too subtle for you to grasp.

Yes, some atrocities might "still be committed" if we had "a zillion troops there," but do you honestly believe that they would be committed with anywhere near the same frequency? Are you suggesting that Rumsfeld hasn't totally fucked up our post-war planning, if there's even been any?

And I did blame Bahjat's murder partially on "the crowd that stood around and DID NOTHING" to stop it. I even put this blame in the title of the post, and linked to an explanation of who Kitty Genovese was. Don't hold me accountable because you did't know who she was but weren't intellectually curious enough to click on the link I provided.

I defy you to find anything I wrote that suggested that the ultimate blame for this horror lies with anyone other than the two Neanderthals who did the actual killing.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes, you did lay the blame on the killers of Atwar, and I apologize for missing that bit. However, I do think Rumsfeld is blamed too often for what has gone wrong over there. I object to that mainly because it's past history and we need to stand strong NOW despite what went wrong in the past. Fingerpointing only lends strengh to those who would have us cut and run. Besides, I, quite frankly feel for the man and believe he did what he thought best based on advice and info given at the time. It's just too easy to do monday morning quarterbacking and it's non-productive. I also think we just don't see the whole picture and there's lots that we just don't know that went into that decision. What I would really like to see is more emphasis placed on demanding human rights standards from the citizens of Iraq and encouraging them to understand that they themselves have the ability to stand up to these monsters and fight them off. Ultimately it will all come down to that anyway. And my sore spot (as a woman-I must admit) is just how much I hate, hate, hate the Islamic attitude toward women, and we in the West just don't know how awful it is in its entirety. I would also encourage you not to insult me (based on your statement: the 'I'm not subtle enough to understand' jab). I'm on your side, but have my own opinions and perspectives. For instance, I could demand of you just what info you have that implies he should have sent more troops over (did it all come from the mainstream press and their favorite icons? How reputable or trustworthy are they?? And why should they be believed over him?)Frankly, since I wasn't there in the room listening to everyone at the time the discussion was going on, I really don't know who is in the right, but my instinct is to support the one the MSM wants to take down. They are the one group I absolutely take with a grain of salt!

Blogger The Cranky Insomniac said...

I couldn't agree more with your comments about the Islamic attitude towards women, not to mention its attitude towards non-Muslims, apostates, "heretics," gays, and any other group I've left out.

And yeah, I probably shouldn't have thrown in the "too subtle for you to grasp" line. I think I was extra cranky at being told to "grow up," but, as you've apologize to me, I apologize back.

We'll just have to agree to disagree regarding Rumsfeld. While I sympathize with your "if the MSM is for it I'm against it" attitude, and am far from fully immune to it myself, I think his arrogance and overestimation of his own intelligence did (do) play a large role in fomenting the mess we find ourselves in now. There's a kind of understandable "sympathy for the underdog" sentiment that can arise when everyone is ganging up on someone the way they are on Rumsfeld, but I think it's important to remember that he actually brought this upon himself.

I agree that we need to "stand strong" now: I just think we'd best be able to do so with a new SecDef.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

shalom to you too. As for Rumsfeld, I honestly just don't know. There's just too much politics in Washington DC, too many undercurrents, backstabbers, powergrabbers, leakers, liars, wimps and can we ever know the truth?? So I will watch and wait, listen and weigh words. Maybe one day we'll know for sure. Hopefully sooner than later. Until then, I'm not an insomniac, and my bed is calling!
Good night!

Anonymous fmragtops said...

Sorry, chief. This stuff was going on before we got there, and would be going on no matter what we did. The only difference was then it was Saddam who ordered it. Now, it's the same orders being given by a different leader. These are animals, and should be treated as such.

I have no hard numbers, but I bet a persuasive argument could be made that the atrocities were more frequent before Donald Rumsfeld "totally fucked up our post-war planning." Not to say that he hasn't, but I don't know. Like the anonymous commenter said, who knows what all went into this. We'll never know.

A significant part of the problem is that in Bush's haste to declare early victory, he switched us into nation building mode too soon. Why isn't anything being besieged right now. Why don't we have some place surrounded as it's being bombed in preparation for a house to house sweep. And why the hell does nobody keep a running total of bad guys killed? I've e-mailed CENTCOM, and the guy that responded said he doesn't know if they keep that. I want a damn counter so we can do a happy dance for every thousand terrorists killed.

And damn it, I'm still waiting for all that Iraqi oil Haliburton stole to start flooding the market.

Sorry, I went off on a tangent there. I'll stop now.

Blogger The Cranky Insomniac said...

The only difference was then it was Saddam who ordered it. Now, it's the same orders being given by a different leader. These are animals, and should be treated as such.

The difference is that it's now happening on our watch, and under conditions our actions led to. In my opinion, getting rid of Saddam doesn't mean a helluva lot if we can't put an end to the majority of these atrocities.

I don't doubt that the level of atrocities now is lower than it was under Saddam, and I never meant to imply otherwise. I just think that with proper planning in the first place, the level would be much lower than it is now.

Other than that, we pretty much agree. I'm still trying to figure out how a war for oil resulted in higher gas prices, myself. I'm sure there's some "nuance" that I just don't understand.


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