Sunday, April 11, 2004


The circumstances fueling the account by Lee Gordon of the London Telegraph has so many eerie similarities to the New York Times John Burns piece on the Golden Mosque that they fairly jump out. A team from a writer or newspaper respected by conservatives is captured on the road. The journalists are taken to a picturesque location where they are first greeted with hostility, then granted surprising liberty. A sense of shared danger bonds them with their captors. Scenes are provided to lend color. Due to a surprising coincidence, the captured journalists stumble on information every Western intelligence agency wants to know. The preparations to defend the Golden Mosque, the fate of the missing German counterterrorism agents. Then, as quickly as they were captured, they are released. Not for them is the long and slow incarceration of Terry Waite, but a hearty goodbye, encumbered only by the promise that they will tell the world the truth, on their word as Americans or Englishmen.

This sounds like a disinformation operation targeting journalists. Maybe their captors went to the same school.

New York Times

Daily Telegraph

The Capture and Initial Suspicion

A reporter and photographer for The New York Times had a rare — and unplanned — opportunity to see Mr. Sadr's battle troops up close on Tuesday. A 100-mile drive from Baghdad for a supposed news conference by Mr. Sadr ended up with no news conference, and a handful of the newspaper's Baghdad staff, including drivers, security guards and an interpreter, detained for nearly eight hours. They were suspected, their captors said, of being Special Forces operatives or intelligence agents for the United States, Spain or Israel. My car was stopped, and with my driver I was hooded and bundled into the back of a pick-up truck and taken to a small house. As I stood against a wall at gunpoint, for a moment the world went black. The interrogation began. Who was I? What was I doing in Gharma? Where was my satellite telephone?

They tried repeatedly to trick us into admitting to something we were not - to being spies. But that was hardly surprising. Britons are hated as deeply as Americans by these people.

After a few questions, acceptance

But before and after being driven away blindfolded to a makeshift prison deep in the semidesert landscape outside Kufa, the visitors were left under loose guard at the mosque's main entrance and, for about an hour, inside the courtyard. I answered their battery of questions, about Kuwait, British soldiers in Basra, whether I had been to Israel, whether I was Jewish. My translator, a Palestinian, worked the crowd, persuading them that I was not a spy. Suddenly the ice seemed to crack. Smiles broke out and we were offered a bowl of water, a sign of acceptance.


As night fell, the militiamen and several of the detained Iraqis became visibly more nervous, and tensions rose as all of the detainees pondered what might happen to them if American troops began a nighttime assault on the mosque in an effort to capture Mr. Sadr. What was life like among the mujahideen? To this stranger, they were polite, if suspicious; they gave me their food - sometimes from their plates. They laughed rudely at my awkwardness eating with my fingers, yet they hunted for a spoon. They joked at my discomfort squatting on the floor, but found a crate for me to sit on. And when, one night, a deadly attack was expected they insisted on providing an escort to the safer borders of their territory even though they needed every spare man for the battle.

General Message: Hatred of America

Hatred for America was pervasive. One man of about 25 thrust a long-bladed knife into an imaginary belly, telling his companions, "This is what I will do to the American infidels when they enter here." Another man approached a reporter, asked his citizenship, and turned away to spit and grind his boot on the courtyard floor. "This is our message to Bush and Blair," he said. A 12-year-old boy spoke of helping to launch missiles at US convoys. "It felt powerful standing next to the missiles," he said. "I know it killed Americans - thanks to Allah."

Specific Message: Disinformation

The Whereabouts of Moqtada al-Sadr

The Death of the GSG-9 Agents

If Mr. Sadr was anywhere around, there was no sign of any special protection for him, and little attempt to control the wanderings of the worshipers who came and went. But there were signs of preparations for a siege. In the early afternoon, vehicles pulled up to the mosque and unloaded cardboard boxes full of food. Later, several ambulances unloaded boxes of medical supplies, labeled in English as containing bandages, cotton balls and syringes. Some were marked with Christian inscriptions in English, suggesting that they originally came from Christian medical charities operating in Iraq. I hear how the Germans came to die. They had been travelling last Wednesday in a six-vehicle convoy of white 4x4s which had crashed through a mujahideen checkpoint on a highway running between Baghdad and Jordan. During the ensuing high-speed chase, gunfire erupted between the Iraqis and the convoy. When the Iraqis, using rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire, hit the tyres of the last vehicle it swerved off the road and pulled up by a small building that was once a school. There would be no escape. Only yesterday did I learn that German officials were still looking for two of their staff who had gone missing on the way from Amman, the Jordanian capital, to the German embassy in Baghdad. According to some German media reports, the men were anti-terrorist commandos, trained in hostage release.

The Tearful Goodbye and the Sound Bite

The security officials who had arrested them came through the door, smiling broadly. "Everything is O.K. now," they said, without further explanation. "You can go home."

As the detainees were taken back to the mosque, the driver, who gave his name as Khadem, gave a hint of his thinking. With magnesium flares fired by militia outposts lighting the night sky outside Kufa, the man, who said he was 40 and a technical college graduate, explained how he had had spent two years in prison under Saddam Hussein for belonging to a banned Shiite religious party.

But when he was asked if he had not welcomed the American forces who toppled Mr. Hussein almost exactly a year ago, as many Shiites did, he turned suddenly combative.

"It was God who finished Saddam, not the Americans," he said. "The Americans broke all their promises to us, and they have brought their infidel beliefs to Iraq. We hate them, and they are worse than Saddam."


Their only condition was that I reported their side of the story accurately, which I promised to do. So, with a vice-like shake of my hand, the commander agreed to take me under his wing. A promise is a bond, my translator warned. Then he cracked a limp joke about my name, the Chinese and Kung Fu, at which I laughed loudly.

When the commander explained the mujahideen's motivation to me, he said that they would fight the coalition, the Iraqi Governing Council - whose members they denounce as collaborators and placemen - and any of Saddam Hussein's supporters.

"They will be made to leave the country. We do not agree with what happened in Fallujah when the Americans were burned and hung. We will make them surrender or we will kill them. It is simple. But there are so many angry people," he said from his command centre, a one-room outhouse beside a simple bungalow. ...

"We do not hate the Americans and British, we hate the ideas they have brought here. We will now fight every person who tries to bring those ideas, including the Iraqi Governing Council.

A Third Coincidence

Hat tip: reader RC. I kid you not. A third incident from same info-kidnapping playbook, this time from the Toronto Globe and Mail's Orly Halpern. If you don't believe me, follow the link. I can hardly believe it myself. The same modus operandi. The kidnapping. The initial hostility. The dramatic change of heart. A glimpse into the resistance. A sudden release. The tearful goodbye. The parting soundbite.

A large open-bed truck passed next, carrying more armed men wearing checkered kaffiyeh scarves and mismatched clothes, all of them with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and AK-47s that they were firing at our vehicle. ... Five minutes before the attack, the trip was proceeding uneventfully. But near Fallujah, on the main highway to Baghdad, we stopped before a roadblock where U.S. soldiers said we couldn't continue because the marines were conducting an operation. So we followed our hired Iraqi taxi driver to a side road, which led us straight into a hotbed of insurgents who were engaged in one of their largest running battles since the end of last year's war.

I was hauled out of the vehicle by a black-clad young man carrying an AK-47. "We are journalists, journalists," I repeated clearly in Arabic. He slapped me as he shrieked orders at the dozens of others surrounding us on the road. Two gangs tried to separate us, but Steve forced his way over to me and grabbed my arm. I was thrown into a taxi and Steve pushed himself in, too, and was head-butted by the man in black who screamed that we were intelligence agents. Because they were Muslims and I was a woman, I would not be killed, he said. But Steve was going to die.

Suddenly a black sedan screeched to a halt and another young man holding a walkie-talkie jumped out of the car. He saw Steve's press badge and yelled at the others to free us. "What are you doing?" he said frantically. "They're press." We had our reprieve. "We are the mujahedeen," the young man said after we were transferred to his custody. "Don't worry, we won't hurt you."

We were dropped off again, at the home of the village leader, the mukhtar, and led to a guest room where a 60-year-old mujahedeen leader entered in a flurry, followed by armed flunkies. We had an interview sitting on the floor of that room: an American, a Briton and an Iraqi resistance leader. "I need for you to tell the news," began the man, who called himself Abu Mujahed, in halting English. "I need to know why the American army is killing the people of Iraq." Then he answered his own question: "The petrol." "I ask Bush or Blair: Why do you need to kill people for the petrol? Today, Americans killed three children, ages 5, 3, and 4. Why? Americans are all around Fallujah now. Democracy is [about] killing the people? This is the lie of America. The American people -- no problem. The American army -- problem."

After he left, the mukhtar's family took care of our needs. Lunch and tea were served and our belongings arrived. But night was falling, and the mukhtar's family refused to let us return to Baghdad alone, insisting we be led by another car. "God willing, you will leave here happy," the mukhtar said. "We will make sure you get to Baghdad safely. It's too dangerous to go alone."

Third time is a charm. It is definitely a special forces operation. The question is: whose special forces?