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.
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.
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.
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.
[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.”
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.)