Friends and Enemies

Today righties are linking to this London Times story about the murder of Iraqi television journalist Atwar Bahjat. She was killed in an unspeakably cruel manner; you may wish not to read about it. [Update 5/8: It is reported the video is a hoax.]

Here’s a typical Right Blogosphere response to the story at

There are those who will respond with disgust to the details of Bahjat’s murder, but temper that disgust with a feeling that she somehow brought this on herself through her provocative journalism–and, by extension, conclude that the United States is ultimately culpable for her death for going into Iraq in the first place. This line of reasoning is utterly false. The people responsible for her death are the monsters who sawed at her neck and stomped on her stomach. Such people would not be peacefully sipping tea in Samarra had we not deposed Saddam Hussein. It is not their way. And if they could do this to Atwar Bahjat, what could they do to any of us if given the chance? Bahjat’s death is a tragic illustration of the fanatical and vicious violence that we fight and which, for her sake–for all our sakes–we must keep fighting.

The problem with this reaction (beside the straw man “There are those who will respond with disgust to the details of Bahjat’s murder, but temper that disgust with a feeling that she somehow brought this on herself through her provocative journalism….”) is that it’s not at all clear who the murderers are and which side they are on. The murderers appeared to be wearing Iraqi National Guard uniforms, but of course the uniforms could have been stolen. The Sunni insurgency supplied the video but claimed they found it on a cell phone captured by from the Shi’ite Badr Brigade.

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.

Anything is possible. They may have been Sunni insurgents or even al Qaeda. But they just as easily could have been from one of the Shi’ite militias — groups our little maladministration in Iraq unleashed. The Shi’ites and Kurds are the people our troops liberated from the Sunni Saddam-supporting Baathists, and the Shi’ites dominate the new government George W. Bush is so proud of.

Last month Tom Lasseter reported for Knight-Ridder that, after ignoring the growth of the militias for two years, U.S. officials are finally admitting the Shi’ite militias are responsible for “more civilian deaths than the Sunni Muslim-based insurgency.”

Among U.S. officials’ missteps:

_White House and Pentagon officials ignored a stream of warnings from American intelligence agencies about the mounting danger posed by two Shiite militias, the Badr Organization and the Mahdi Army. The Badr Organization is the armed wing of the Iranian-backed Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the most powerful Shiite political faction in the country; the Mahdi Army is loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

_A group of high-ranking Iraqis appointed in 2004 to persuade militia leaders to disband their groups received no funding and was allowed to wither away.

_U.S. diplomats in Baghdad were slow to recognize that the majority Shiite population’s ascent to political power would expand rather than diminish militia activity. Many believed that the groups’ members would retire or would be integrated into the security forces without significant problems.

_Acting against the Shiite militias would have undercut the administration’s arguments that foreign terrorists and holdovers from Saddam Hussein’s regime were the problem in Iraq. It also would have raised doubts about the administration’s reliance on training largely Shiite security forces to replace U.S. troops in Iraq.

The American military’s inability to curb the Sunni insurgency, in part because U.S. troops are spread thin in Iraq, also played a role. As the insurgency continued to kill Shiite civilians, Shiites came to see the militias as their only reliable means of protection.

In the weeks since the February bombing of a Shiite shrine in the town of Samarra, the militias and their allies in the Interior Ministry are thought to have been responsible for the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of Sunnis, who’ve been shot, hanged or tortured.

The London Times reported “The drill is said to be a popular tool of torture with the Badr Brigade.” Even if the murderers who used a drill to torment Atwar Bahjat were Sunni, the Shi’ite militias have perpetrated the same cruelty on others.

Last November, Robert Dreyfuss reported that the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior was also into drilling:

So far, it appears that the facts are these: that Iraq’s interior ministry, whose top officials, strike forces and police commando units (including the so-called Wolf Brigade) are controlled by paramilitary units from Shiite militias, maintained a medieval torture chamber; that inside that facility, hundreds of mostly Sunni Arab men were bestialized, with electric drills skewering their bones, with their skins flayed off, and more; that roving units of death-squad commandos are killing countless other Sunni Arab men in order to terrorize the Iraqi opposition. Even the Washington Post, that last-ditch defender of America’s illegal and unprovoked assault on Iraq, says:

    Scandal over the secret prison has forced the seven-month-old Shiite-led government to confront growing charges of mass illegal detentions, torture and killings of Sunni men. Members of the Sunni minority, locked in a struggle with the Shiite majority over the division of power in Iraq, say men dressed in Interior Ministry uniforms have repeatedly rounded up Sunni men from neighborhoods and towns. Bodies of scores of them have been found dumped by roadsides or in gullies.

By way of arguing his guys really aren’t so bad, the Iraqi interior minister noted that nobody was beheaded.

Righties want the Iraqi conflict to be divided up neatly between good guys versus bad guys. It doesn’t seem the conflict is cooperating.

12 thoughts on “Friends and Enemies

  1. I think they would’ve been sipping tea, at least after the torture, because they would’ve probably been working for Sadaam. Seems like the invasion just drove these guys underground where they’re obviously harder to identify and catch. This idiots strawman arguement could just as well apply to him. We don’t know either way if the U.S. invasion would/would not have spared her. God they’re dumb. Reminds me of a headline in The Onion above an article about an Iraqi citizen killed by Shock and Awe right after the invasion…”Dead Iraqi Man Would Have Loved Democracy”

    Like George Carlin said last spring when I saw him, anyone who is connected with the U.S. in Iraq will be killed. The sooner we leave the better. In the meantime, maybe this chickenhawk coward (whats this “we” shit? Re:…”we must keep fighting”) can go to Iraq and capture these murderers.

  2. I think they would’ve been sipping tea, at least after the torture, because they would’ve probably been working for Sadaam.

    Not if they were Shi’ites, they weren’t. Or wouldn’t have been.

  3. Actually there are clear good guys and bad guys in Iraq. The tortured and murdered journalist was on the side of good, and her killers on the side of evil. Unfortunately for the Bushiviks (and for the US, and the Iraqis themselves) the US isn’t fighting on her side (or theirs). Or even ours. Having blundred into Iraq without a plan beyond “things will go wonderfully” the Bushiviks have placed our military in a situation where we are accomplishing nothing, other than an increased body count. One hopes for the sake of the Iraqis the good guys will ultimately prevail. But the US military cannot, and it is past time to bring them home.

  4. The overwhelming majority of Iraqis are not members of death squads, whether shi’a or sunni or what have you. They’re just the ordinary people that history hardly ever talks about, riding out the storm and trying to stay out of the crossfire.

    It’s difficult to escape the underlying racism of so many of the war supporters on the right: these people need us to teach them what a civil society is like, and when our (deliberately bungled and undermanned) efforts to do so don’t pan out, it must be because they’re irredeemably savage.

    That’s one of the reasons George,Jr trotted out the exporting democracy spiel after it had become pretty obvious that there were no WMDs: many people who supported him undoubtedly began to feel a certain unfocused guilt about having supported an unjustifiable war, and needed to have their doubts about heir own motives and their character assuaged. Who says he’s dumb?

  5. I have had conversations with a couple of military guys who have been in Iraq. One, who was never off a US base except to drive to the base, said it was ‘just a great and fun place’ and he ‘felt so very alive there’.

    The other said his unit spent most of their time as protectors of KBR [Halliburton sub], except for some now and then meaningless [his word] drive-around patrols which he guessed were sort of ‘to show muscle’. He very clearly said, “We do not belong there.”

    What I did not know until he told me was that the US military has a rule that all Iraqi traffic has to get out of the way whenever our guys are traveling….and that our soldiers are to automatically shoot any Iraqi who gets within so many meters. This includes any on-coming traffic across a median. When I asked him if all the Iraqis clearly understood the ‘new US rules of their roads’, he said sheepishly that he thought so…then went on to say that his unit did not automatically shoot those too near….first they just shot toward that vehicle. He thought that those who got too near were just ‘playing chicken’ and would usually scramble away when the shots began.
    He had a laptop full of pictures, some of which I wish I had not seen. This whole thing hurts my heart. Both these soldiers are fine guys……I cannot fathom letting them die in order to ‘protect KBR’ or ‘drive patrols to show muscle’ or use bullets to enforce occupier rules of the road that lower Iraqis to second-tier status on their own roads in their own country.

    America has to have a deep reckoning about our energy future, and decide whether we want to keep on strong-arming whole populations like this to acquire permanent military bases and control of oil-rich countries.

    The righties want to say that we are there to fight evil terrorists….. I don’t believe that is why we are staying there……. the violence such as the horror against the journalist Atwar [what a name] would not be happening if we were really there to ‘stabilize and protect the country’, because our troops would be busy on patrols to actually protect Iraqis instead of just showing muscle and protecting American corporations …….. it has always been about oil, and the terrorism issue is the perfect cover story for folks who idolize Bush and who will use any new atrocity to reinforce their head in the sand posture.

  6. This report is one of the most chilling, horrible things I’ve read.

    I blame Bush (and his lackey Blair) for bringing the evil genie out of the bottle.

    I blame a large chunk of the American people for their self-centred stupidity in electing and supporting a president who simply wants to make sure he and his oilmen buddies make lots of money.

    I blame the Muslim world for not standing up to the ultra-violent minority amongst them who has elevated hate, torture and death to the status of religious rapture.

    I wonder if there is any way to turn this behemoth of death and destruction around.

  7. General Zinni was on Cspan this afternoon. It was like breathing fresh air after suffocating in the presence of Rummy and all. I intend to read his book. These military guys have so much wisdom and experience. It’s a tragedy for our nation that this administration did not listen to them. What a mess. One image Zinni shared was that this administration thought it was striking a spark to bring the fire of democracy into being in Iraq. Instead, they struck a spark that could torch the whole place down. I say, don’t let children play with matches.
    I cannot imagine how much suffering is taking place over there right now.
    Donna, I’m glad you’re getting a sense of what’s going on from some of the soldiers over there.
    Jonathan, I appreciate your valuable insights. I’ve sensed the racism from the beginning. It’s enough to make the head spin.
    And this tossing back and forth of whose fault it is – military, Rummy, Bush. What are we doing about it now? People are living in terror and they are continuing to die.

  8. The video is what made this thing a hot topic for the right wing bloggers you link to in this story. It’s war porn that now fits the totally barbaric enemy narrative they pitch endlessly. Interestingly none of these blogs had a word to say about Bahjat when she was killed back in February, when Iraq was in a flood of sectarian violence that still continues.. Oy.

  9. My friend’s son is a Marine who was in the Falluja mess. We went to see him in Februrary and boy was he a basket case. He is a classic example of PTSD- drinks too much, uncontrollable rages, drunken crying jags full of guilt for things he’d done. Fortunately he is now getting help for that from a Christian counselor (not the Military). So now this twenty year old is trying to decide if he’ll stay in the Marines. He doesn’t have much money and is struggling to get by since he moved off base. He said the barracks were too dangerous- seems they’ll take all kinds of creeps these days. Well, problem solved! KBR has offered this twenty year old BOY over $300,000/year to go back to Iraq if he’ll work for them. His mother is furious- she barely got him back the first time- he has three purple hearts. Don’t even get her started on her feelings about George Bush.

  10. What gets me is the average Republican citizen’s twisted logic. I have Republican family, friends, and neighbors. They all go into raptures about how the good stuff isn’t getting reported and how we are there to bring democracy. But when they do get called on the all the bad going down, it’s “We should nuke them, turn the middle east into glass!” So why are we there again? If it’s the high minded bringing democracy to the people, how can they be thinking of nuking them? Then they fall back on the war on terror but if you remind them that Iraq had no WMD and had nothing to do with 9/11 they basically either say that all muslims/arabs (they think anyone who is muslim is arab) are terrorists anyway or go into a sputtering rage about how I and anyone who questions Bush is anti-American.

    Almost anything on the Republican/conservative agenda has to do with the inferiority and subjugation of other people. Women, gays, brown skinned people, people of other nations, and especially brown skinned people of other nations…they all need to be controlled or exterminated. It’s even true of workers and consumers, we’re just expendable peons. There are some average Joe conservatives who either don’t understand this, refuse to believe it, agree with it but won’t admit it, and then there are the bigots who embrace it heartily.

    I’ve heard alot of liberals argue that the Republican power brokers and politicians aren’t actually racist, sexist, etc but that they are using wedge issues in a cynical way to get the base riled up. I disagree. They simply hate and fear more people than the average Republican voter. They are like the aristocracy and gentry in the Victorian ages or earlier. Their hate and fear is NOT unreasonable like the Archie Bunker types. They hate and fear anyone who is a threat to their wealth and power, which includes women, gays, brown skinned people, people of other nations, especially brown skinned people of other nations, and the worker and consumer peons.

  11. Donna in WI –

    Boy, you hit lots of nails on the head! Your last paragraph also brings up the murky issue concerning the illegal immigrant problem. The elite pretend they are not racist, while taking selfish advantage of cheap labor, and the middle class pretend they are not racist while protesting it.

    KyCole – your story is an example of what we should be hearing on the media, not the war porn that The Heretik brings to our attention, nor the “missing white women.” The experiences of the shattered families in the US and in Iraq are what we should be focusing on. But I suppose that’s caving into the enemy somehow? God, we’re warped.

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