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Iraq: the Logic of Withdrawal



See also The Strange Kidnapping of Margaret Hassan (pdf)
(doc version )

TARGETING PACIFISTS IN IRAQ (download version - doc file)

Matt Bojanovic

October 22, 2004

In Iraq, the occupation has caused social and economic collapse.  One of the few sectors to show explosive growth has been the kidnap for ransom industry. It has become so prevalent as to cause migration; those who can afford it, now send the family abroad.

In countries where ransom kidnapping is big business there is usually evidence of collaboration between police and kidnappers.  In Baghdad, the story is told of some kidnappers calling to arrange for ransom payment.  They congratulate the family for being real smart: they had not called the police, and the kidnappers knew it.

In Iraq there have been a few cases of reporters and foreign aid workers being disappeared.  Oddly enough, they were all known to oppose the occupation or were suspected of working against the interests of the Baghdad regime.

*  *  *


Nicolas Berg was an inventor and self-employed radio tower repairman.  He attended a government-sponsored convention on the rebuilding of Iraq and decided to go check things out in Baghdad.  The Telegraph of London on May 13 tries to give us an idea of what kind of guy Nick Berg was:

'At the Al Fanar Tower Hotel in Baghdad, friends spoke fondly of a body-building adventurer who shrugged off danger... Andrew Duke, 49, a Colorado businessman, pointing to a large communications tower across the Tigris, said, "I know he worked on top of it.  His business was climbing those towers and tuning those little bits of metal at the top. If it was raining or the wind was blowing he still had to be up there so he was in phenomenal physical shape... Nick was well educated, articulate and confident.  He didn't consider the political risks any greater than the physical risks of climbing up a radio tower."... he would pad around the hotel in the same pair of torn jeans, T-shirt and baseball cap and often wore a safety harness around his waist...  Mr. Duke said he still could not believe his friend, who he estimated had been making more than 11,000 a month in Iraq, had been murdered. "He told me he had been looking forward to going sailing in Turkey and then going on home." '


On March 24, 2004, Nicolas Berg was detained at an Iraqi police roadblock in Mosul.  The Washington Post reports on May 12 as follows:  'Daniel Senor, spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority... said today it was "incorrect" that Berg was ever held by U.S. authorities. "He was arrested and detained by Iraqi police," Senor said. "He was at no time under the jurisdiction or within the detention of coalition forces." '

Nick Berg was held past his scheduled departure on March 30, until April 6, the day after his father, Michael Berg, filed a habeas corpus suit in Federal Court in Philadelphia.

According to a CNN report dated May 13, "Coalition spokesman Dan Senor said that  Berg was visited three times by FBI agents and that US military police checked he was being treated properly. He said the agents concluded Berg was not involved in terrorist or criminal acts and referred other questions relating to Berg's detention to Mosul police."

Nicolas Berg's father, Michael Berg, a retired teacher and peace activist, commented to AP: "The Iraqi police do not tell the FBI what to do, the FBI tells the Iraqi police what to do. Who do they think they're kidding?"  According to a CNN report on May 13, Berg's brother David told reporters that "the family received e-mails from Berg after his release in which he made clear he had been held by U.S. forces."

According to an AP report dated May 13,  police chief Maj. Gen. Mohammed Khair al-Barhawi told reporters Thursday that his department had never arrested Berg.  "The Iraqi police never arrested the slain American," he said. "Take it from me... such reports are baseless."

The Telegraph of May 13 tells us that "according to friends, Mr. Berg said he had been in Iraqi custody for just a few hours before being transferred to a US military facility."  CNN on May 13 reports interviewing Hugo Infante, a Chilean photographer, who said that "Berg had told him he was held in a coalition facility where Syrians, Egyptians, Jordanians and Iranians suspected of entering Iraq illegally were also detained."


Why was Nicolas Berg arrested?   According to an AP report dated May 13, 'in Baghdad, U.S. officials said Iraqi police arrested Berg in Mosul on March 24 because local authorities believed he may have been involved in "suspicious activities."' quotes  Brigadier General Carter Ham, who heads the Olympia Task Force as saying that "Berg was in Mosul. He was traveling alone. The Iraqi police found him without any documentation. Iraqi police were suspicious and took him into custody. FBI asked (police) to keep him until they knew who he was."

According to AP of May 13, 'a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Berg was detained by Iraqi authorities "for his own protection" because his behavior in Mosul seemed unusual for a westerner. He had been seen traveling in taxis and moving about the dangerous city without any escort, the official said.'

 U.S. officials in Iraq came up with one "dog ate my homework" story after another. Clearly the FBI could check out Berg's identity within hours if not minutes. The idea that they had to lock him up for two weeks while his papers were being checked out is as disingenuous as the tale that Iraqi police can decide to jail Americans.

Surprise at finding an American in a dangerous place is not ground for arrest.  G.I.'s are very surprised when young Americans and Brits pop up in Fallujah or Najaf, coming across from enemy lines, waving white flags or holding up their passports.  They are adventurous freelance reporters or human rights observers.  They don't get arrested by American soldiers.  Russian soldiers might be allowed to run amock, arresting and disappearing human rights workers in Chechnya.  Brits and G.I.'s still behave differently.  They have not been sufficiently brutalized by war yet.

The story that he did not have his passport with him was also untrue.  Travelers may lose their passport, they may have their passport stolen, but do not misplace it, certainly not in Mosul.  They check in at the hotel, they pay, and they put the passport back in their pocket.  They know they will need it at the next checkpoint.

The Telegraph reports that Berg told Hugo Infante that he was arrested because he had a Jewish last name and an Israeli stamp in his passport.  Infante was quoted saying: 'Then the Iraqi police put him with the US military because they thought he was a spy. Nick told me all this.  He wasn't mad.  It was just an adventure for him.  He said, "This shit happens.  It was bad luck." '

On May 13, CNN heard the same story from Hugo Infante: 'Nick told me, "Iraqi police caught me one night, they saw my passport and my Jewish last name and my Israeli stamp.  This guy thought I was a spy so they put me with American soldiers and American soldiers put me in a jail for two weeks."'

 According to a Seymour Hersch report in The New Yorker of June 21, 2004,  the general assessment in Israel was "that America had lost in Iraq... Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government decided... to minimize the damage that the war was causing to Israel's strategic position by expanding its long-standing relationship with Iraq's Kurds and establishing a significant presence on the ground." 

Maybe it's professional  jealousy,  maybe it's the territorial imperative, but intelligence officers can be more curious about allied agents than about enemy agents.  This nice Jewish boy from Philadelphia was obviously not with the Mukhabarat.  However, he might have easily been with Mossad.  He seemed fearless; he was too much at ease; he had to be with Mossad.  The violation that attracted the attention of Iraqi police was DWJ, "Driving while Jewish."


Was there anything else that could possibly make Nicolas Berg a "person of interest" to the FBI and warrant a two-week vacation in Mosul?  Berg, in 1999, had allowed someone he met on a bus to use his computer.  Apparently this man had noted Berg's password and had given it to a terrorism suspect.  Berg had been questioned and cleared of that matter.

If he had been suspected of having links with terrorists, he would not have been locked up.  They would have slipped a tracking device into his bag's lining and he would have been followed by Iraqi agents.

The other possible cause for the very unusual practice of putting an American in jail for observation, was the fact that his father's name had appeared on an enemy list published on the pro-war site  His father had signed an anti-war petition, and had put down his son's company, for which he did some work, as affiliation.  A Google search would have brought up Berg's father and Prometheus Methods Tower Services Inc., as enemies of the American effort in Iraq.

Simple people take enemy lists very seriously.  Here are some comments that appeared on the site in question about the enemy list:  "Even though I should know better, I'm still shocked at the sheer number of enemies." "How nice to see our local Muslim terrorists are still aligned with communists, socialists, and unionists."  Here are some comments regarding a Coast Guard member who was on the list:  "Thanks for posting this and that Coastie's command has been notified." "I spoke on the phone to a senior chief yesterday in Virginia. He verified that the guy is a real Coastguardsman and assigned to a Cutter.  The senior chief could not believe what the guy was doing. He was both astounded and angry. I think ...[he] is in for some big, big trouble."

 This presence on the enemy list could explain the detention of Berg, at the hands of an unsophisticated intelligence officer.  It also explains the following line in a May 13 AP report:  'Berg, who was Jewish, had written materials which were "anti-Semitic" in tone, the official said without elaborating.'

Apparently Berg disagreed with his father on politics, and believed in President Bush and in his own mission of helping Iraq towards democracy.(The Telegraph, May 13)  No anti-Semitic tracts were written by Nick Berg, of course; that belief  must have sprung from the fertile mind of an intelligence officer who had found  Berg's father on the enemy list.  He must have made the logical leap from father to son, from signing to writing, and from anti-war to anti-Israel to anti-Semitic.

One investigator thought Berg was a Mossad man.  Another thought he was an enemy of Israel.  They might have made a bet, and told him he would rot in jail until he talked.  His family's federal suit sprung him out of jail.  He got back to Baghdad and disappeared.


 From Le Nouvel Observateur of August 4, 2004 came confirmation that Nicolas Berg was killed upon orders of Abu Rashid, a leader of Tawhid wal Jihad, which translates as Unity and Holy War.  In a report by Sara Daniel, who visited him in Fallujah, Abu Rashid is quoted saying:  "It's not a good thing to behead, but it's a method that works... look at the just response of the Philippines. Thanks to their attitude that allowed us to free our hostage, we've been able to show the world that we love peace and mercy too... Besides that, I tried to negotiate the exchange of Nick Berg, for some prisoners. It's the Americans who refused."

This viewpoint fits with what we know about the reasoning of Jihadi groups.  Anyone who collaborates with the occupation is seen as the enemy, even if he works unarmed, trucking in supplies, translating documents, or repairing radio towers.

Berg was in Iraq as a businessman, one of those who had answered the State Department invitation to come and rebuild Iraq.  His end came to be very useful to the Iraqi regime, since the outrage about the bloody murder created public support for the war.

Because of contradictory statements by different Coalition officials and because of perceived inconsistencies in the video released by the killers, suspicions arose that the Coalition was involved in Berg's death.  However, since Abu Rashid  claims his murder,  it makes sense  to accept that Tawhid wal Jihad was responsible.  Whether the decapitation was carried out on a live or a dead body is irrelevant.  Berg was murdered by Abu Rashid.  Conspiracy analysis about this murder is well researched but is no longer relevant.

U.S. officials lied a little because they were trying to hide the embarrassing paranoia or anti-Jewish prejudice of some intelligence or FBI officials.  However, there is no evidence of American or Iraqi police involvement in Berg's disappearance.

* * *


Enzo Baldoni was an adventurous Italian reporter, who had traveled with the Karen rebels in Burma, the guerrillas of Colombia, the resistance of East Timor, and the Zapatistas of  Mexico.  He was the Italian translator of the Gary Trudeau's Doonesbury strip, and on his blog he used the signature Zonker.  He was sent to Iraq by the Italian magazine Il Diario.  His writing on the occupation of Iraq was quite negative.

He arrived in Baghdad on August 6, and by August 16 had managed to go along with a mystery mission into Fallujah and one Red Cross run into Najaf, in the middle of the battle.  Baldoni got into Fallujah and Najaf thanks to his driver, Ghareeb, an unemployed Palestinian engineer whose official name was Mohammed Hussein Ramadan.  Born in Quwait, he had been expelled with many thousands of Palestinians upon Liberation, at the end of Desert Storm.

Here is a bit from Baldoni's blog:  'I cover him with the Americans and their Iraqi guard dogs [showing passport and press card] and he covers me with the Mujaheddin. So I became his Amanah, his custodian angel, and he became mine. Ghareeb is nervous. I have never seen him so tense. Just think that this big kid has driven an ambulance loaded with ten wounded in Fallujah, and when the American snipers shot them up, he still managed to get out of there both ambulance and patients. He gives me precise instructions: "Try to look Iraqi. Don't hold on to the strap. Don't hang on to the handle. No, no safety belt, that tells them you are a foreigner.  There is the Mujahaddin checkpoint.  Don't say a word, I talk." '

Ghareeb, however, was more than a driver and fixer for reporters, he was organizing aid convoys to cities under siege, working often with Bridge to Baghdad, an Italian aid organization.  On his trip to Fallujah, Ghareeb had a mission with the insurgents, one on which Baldoni did not inquire.

Ghareeb had good relations with both Shi'ia and with Sunni insurgents. He was in Fallujah when Jeffrey Gettleman of The New York Times was detained.  Ghareeb guaranteed for him and he was freed.


When it became known that Najaf was without water and medicines, Ghareeb asked Baldoni to discuss the idea of a convoy with his old friend Dr Giuseppe de Santis, chief of the Italian Red Cross mission in Baghdad.  The good doctor liked the idea of bringing help where it was needed.

Rome gave its approval, but after De Santis received American clearance and after Ghareeb made some phone calls and received the blessings of Mukhtada al-Sadr, Rome vetoed the use of Red Cross vehicles.  Ghareeb then managed to make the aid convoy happen anyway, with Italian supplies and doctors, but with Iraqi Red Crescent vehicles, on August 15.

In Najaf, near the frontline,  at every intersection,  Enzo Baldoni very slowly walked ahead of the convoy,  with a big Red Cross flag,  past American tanks waiting down the side streets.  He called out, "Red Cross! Don't shoot, boys!" He never saw the soldiers, but he knew he was being watched from inside the alien machines.

 Baldoni was worried, a friend and colleague had been killed in a similar situation, by a nervous Israeli gunner.  He described the Bradley: "It's some kind of sand-colored toad on a sand-colored street in between sand-colored houses. It stays there, indifferent, tetragonal, squatting, ready to shoot out his sticky tongue to capture the insect. Except that, hell, I am that insect."

 They delivered water and medicines to the Mausoleum of the Imam Ali, and the convoy returned to Baghdad safely.  A couple of days later, Dr. de Santis saw that the situation had changed and organized a new mission to Najaf.   Dr. De Santis, who was later attacked for his decision, had excellent arguments for going to Najaf.  First, the earlier mission with the Red Crescent had been successful.  Second, the Allawi government had announced that al-Sadr's men had surrendered and the battle was over.  Third and most important, the mission of the Red Cross is to bring aid to war victims.

 The second trip to Najaf used five Italian Red Cross vehicles and two private cars. We have detailed reports of Baldoni's second trip to Najaf in Il Diario of September 3 and in the story of Helen Williams, a British woman living in Baghdad. The convoy was made of two trucks, an ambulance, and four cars. The vehicles were bearing the signs of the Red Cross. The convoy took off from the Italian hospital on August 19.

About 50 kilometers from Baghdad, near Latifiya, there was an explosion, which wounded a Red Cross worker and smashed windshields and windows of a couple of vehicles. All drivers managed to keep control of their vehicles and continued without stopping.  Half a mile down the road, they stopped for an assessment of the situation.  The only rational choice was to proceed, after kicking out the truck's windshield.

Arrived in Najaf, it appeared that the surrender of al-Sadr had been an Allawi fantasy.  Fighting was continuing. The usual procedure was followed: an Iraqi and Baldoni, on foot, preceded the column waving the Red Cross flag.  They got as far as the battle lines, but were turned back by the Americans.  So they went to Kufa, where they set up their field hospital and clinic, tending the sick and wounded.  The return trip, on August 20, was uneventful as far as Latifiya, near Mahmudiya.


Pino Scaccia,  reporter for state-owned Italian Radio, tells us that on the highway near Latifiya and Mahmudiya there was an ambush spot so well established, that knowledgeable drivers would sometime take a detour off the highway, through town.  When his driver left the highway,  Scaccia says that the thought came to his mind that he was being kidnapped.  Instead, they were just bypassing what I would call an AAA,  an "Authorized Ambush Area," the Iraqi equivalent of a good old-fashioned American speed trap.

Pino Scaccia mentions that on an a previous occasion a Red Cross convoy had taken the detour and that Commissioner Scelli of the Italian Red Cross had confirmed using the detour. The decision on whether to take the detour or not was made by Iraqis, not by Italians. That decision could have been made on the basis of  either divine inspiration or inside information.  Apparently Ghareeb did not have the advantage of either. (14.09.04 Quel Crocevia. See also note posted 14.09.04 at 16:45)

Pino Scaccia had gone to Najaf with the Red Cross convoy.  He returned before the others, and took the detour.  The Red Cross convoy did not take the detour. There was an explosion, smoke, and confusion.  Most drivers managed to stay on the road, proceeding at full speed, but they saw that Ghareeb's car had gone off the road.  Stopping would have meant being shot, they had no armed escort.  Half a mile ahead, there was a checkpoint of the ICDC, the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps.

The Red Cross workers pleaded with the soldiers to go back, to save the missing men.  The bombing had occurred seconds earlier.  The soldiers understood very well what had just happened, it was explained to then in Arabic; they were not interested.  The convoy had to proceed to Baghdad. (Il Diario, September 3,

 As one can see from the photo of the highway, taken by Pino Scaccia when the convoy stopped after the first attack on the road to Najaf,  this is a major four or six-lane highway, very straight, with long-range visibility.   

It would strain credulity to say that there was no conscious collaboration between soldiers and attackers half a mile from each other on this kind of wide straight road.  The members of the convoy said the distance was about a kilometer.  Ismael Hakki, president of the Red Crescent,  says that the distance was no more than 800 meters, which is exactly one half mile.

Pino Scaccia  adds that this is the same spot where an Iraqi Red Crescent convoy was attacked and set on fire, with loss of life, on August 22. (note posted 14.09.04 at 16:28)  This may or may not be the same convoy which Corriere della Sera of August 29  said was attacked and burned on August 23.

 It would appear that some people did not want to see aid being brought to cities held by al-Sadr, whether by the Red Cross or by the Red Crescent.


 There are a few possible reasons why the soldiers would not rush to save the victims of the explosion down the road:

a) the soldiers were afraid of confronting insurgents or bandits.

b) both soldiers and insurgents were policemen and this was a black bag operation. That's what they call an intelligence operation in which evidence is planted,  or you try to make it appear that your actions were committed by your opponents.  Historically, such operations are common;  for example,  during the Indochina conflict, government forces would don clothing ususally worn by guerrillas, and terrorize an area, hoping to turn the population against the rebels.

c) soldiers and insurgents had reached an understanding.

In times of civil conflict, it's quite common to have an informal truce or an understanding  between government and opposition forces.  In a possible arrangement, the rebels or bandits allow unimpeded passage to the shipments of the good guys, i.e., merchants who are friends and family of regime personalities.  In exchange, they are authorized to tax, rob, or kill the bad guys, i.e. business or political competitors of regime personalities.  The authorization  may come from the local governor or chief of police.  The most successful bandits become warlords.  The most successful warlords aspire to the presidency.

Why attack a Red Cross convoy?  Certainly not for booty, the trucks were returning from delivering aid.  They were traveling on the main highway to Baghdad, which brings in the most valuable imports,  unloaded in the harbor of Umm Qasr.  For bandits, to hit a Red Cross car or truck would be a waste of time and explosives. The only items of commercial value in the convoy were the vehicles, but Ghareeb's car was set on fire after the incident.

On August 24 Baldoni appeared in a video on Al-Jazeera. The Islamic Army in Iraq demanded that Italian troops be withdrawn.  Rome answered that what's needed is "fermezza", firmness.  The detention of Baldoni was greeted with satisfaction by some in the Italian pro-war press.  His spirited, moving stories and photographs were not sympathetic to the occupation. Some called him an adventure seeker, a troublemaker.

The Islamic Army could have used Baldoni to weaken the Berlusconi government, to build up a crisis in Italy.  They could have made millions of dollars off their prisoner:  Italians do not deny that they pay ransom when necessary.  The kidnappers, however, did not seem to have any special need for money or interest in creating difficulties for Italian leaders.  On August 26 they published the image of Baldoni's dead body.

The Italian pro-war press promoted Enzo Baldoni to martyr in the war on terrorism.  His body was never found. 

The body of  Ghareeb was found at the morgue in town, with four bullet wounds in the head.  Apparently he was executed at the site of the ambush.  The motive for that would remain unclear until the release of the kidnapped Italian women.

If anyone wants to see Enzo Baldoni, his photo is on his site,  He is pictured next to a man on a wheelchair, holding mismatched false feet.  That man's name is Mohammed.  The Coalition shot out his legs, and gave him new ones, but they did not match.  Worse, they did not fit, pieces were missing.

Emergency is an Italian charity that has maintained hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan for a number of years.  Baldoni promised to bring Mohammed to Emergency's hospital in Soulaymaniyah.  He got killed before he could do it. The good folks at Emergency  put the picture in the paper, looking for Mohammed.  Before they found him, twenty men appeared, claiming to be Mohammed.  So Emergency took them all in,  and named the gang in need of new feet Baldoni's army.



 The guerrillas have had in their hands a number of reporters and internationals.  In ancient societies two instincts are often present at the same time, suspicion of the foreigner and hospitality.  As soon as it is realized that the foreigner is not working against the rebels, suspicion is usually switched off and hospitality kicks in.

The Telegraph of August 14, 2004 tells us that British reporter James Brandon 'had been treated harshly during his seizure at a hotel in central Basra. "All sorts of unpleasant things happened." But he added: "... Once they knew I was a journalist I was treated very well." '

Detentions of reporters are becoming very common in Iraq.  Between the middle of August and the middle of  September,  American journalist Micah Garen and his interpreter, Amir Doshe, were released on August 22, after an eight-day detention in Nasiriyah. Canadian reporter Scott Taylor, was freed on September 14, after a five-day detention in Northern Iraq in the hands of non-Iraqi Islamists. Turkish reporter Zeynep Tugrul, was freed on September 12, after a three-day detention in Tal Afar and Mosul.  This does not count all the times that American ar allied reporters have been stopped by very threatening  and suspicious rebels, to be allowed to proceed after a document check.

 On August 21, 2004, two French reporters, Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot were reported missing.  They had last been heard from on August 19.

The tape sent to Al Jazeera demanded that the French law prohibiting religious symbols in public schools be repealed. That was an odd demand, suggesting that the kidnappers did not have merely nationalistic interests.

French parliament, in an attempt at placing an obstacle to Islamic radicalization of youth of  Muslim background, had passed a law forbidding large crosses, yarmulkes, Sikh turbans, and Muslim hijabs, in French public schools.

All French Muslim organizations declared solidarity with the government.  The most radical opponents of the veil law, those who had invited students to resist it, appeared on television with Interior Minister Villepin.  Organizer Fatiha Abjil declared: "I do not want blood on my veil."

Chesnot and Malbrunot had for a number of years lived in the Middle East and speak Arabic.  Chesnot worked for Radio France Internationale and for the anti-war monthly Le Monde Diplomatique.  Malbrunot had since 1990 lived in Jerusalem and covered the Intifada for Le Figaro. Neither could be accused of anti-Arab or anti-Muslim prejudice.

France was the major power which actively worked against the Iraqi War. That made all Frenchmen honorary pacifists, in Iraq at least. The detention of the Frenchmen gave satisfaction to some.  In an AP story we read that "The kidnapping proved false the notion that France's opposition to the Iraq war and its generally pro-Arab policies may to some extent have inoculated it from Islamic terrorism."

Many do not know that the French have been attacked by terrorists,  and that they have responded with notable efficiency.  Paris was the first target of an airliner-as-suicide-weapon plot, in which a hijacked airliner was to hit the Eiffel Tower in 1994. The French allowed the airliner to land in Marseille for refueling and solved the problem, killing the four hijackers.  Paris has for many years supported the war against Islamists in Algeria.

The detention of Chesnot and Malbrunot seemed a good argument against French neutrality in Iraq.  The Allawi government had hoped that the event would bring closer relations with Paris.  Instead, the French diplomats seeking contacts with the kidnappers made every effort to avoid any appearance of  collaboration or even consultation with the Baghdad regime.  That upset Allawi, and he told Le Monde (August 30): "France will not be spared....The governments that decide to stay on the defensive will be the next targets of the terrorists. There will be attacks in Paris, Nice, Cannes, and San Francisco."

In view of the proved competence of Prime Minister Allawi in the field of car bomb production, (The New York Times, June 8, 2004)  that sounded almost like an ominous warning.  San Franciscans fortunately do not read Le Monde, but the French do, and they were not pleased.  The visit to France of Iraqi President Ghazi, scheduled  for September 6, was promptly canceled.


The Islamic Army in Iraq appeared in February 2004 with a well-produced propaganda film, distributed in Salafist mosques.  The Islamic Army seemed to be well financed.

Islamists affirm that Islam should be the state religion, since it provides the perfect model for a legal and political system.  Some Islamists believe that other religions should not be tolerated.

Salafists are revivalist Islamists.  They believe that in order to win the battle against leftists and secularists, they must return to the earliest models of Islam as it appeared in the first millennium.  They believe that all sorts of  modernisms that arose in the 11th Century must be purged from Islam.

Wahabis are Salafists inspired by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahab, who proposed a very strict version of Islam in the 18th Century. His view of the world is proposed today by the Saudi royal family, although they do not necessarily abide by it in their peresonal lives. In the 19th Century, Wahabis went to war against non-fundamentalist Muslims.

The majority of the people in the Persian Gulf area are Shi'ites. The rulers of Saudi Arabia fear being overrun by a Shi'ite tide. Wahabi Salafists feel equally threatened by Crusaders, Jews, secularists, and Refusers. That's what they call Shi'ites, because they refused to follow the Prophet's "legitimate" successors.  Think of the Christians of the 1400's, who hated, feared, and loved to kill Jews, Muslims, heretics, and schismatics (such as the Greek Orthodox) all at the same time.

The German weekly Der Spiegel of September 1 tells us of a piece in the French weekly  Le Canard Enchaine.  It says that French intelligence believes that the Islamic Army in Iraq is the creation of members of the Saudi royal family.  Le Canard Enchaine is a satirical weekly well known for its serious investigative work in the field of French politics.  The motives for Saudi actions in Iraq would be to prevent radical Shi'ites from coming to power in Iraq.

This would not be unexpected, since the Saudi royal family has financed other right wing extremist movements, from Bin Laden's Afghani network to Lebanon's militias.


Le Monde of September 3 tells how Sheikh Fakhri el-Qaissi was in Lebanon, when  the French reporters were captured.  He was visiting Sheikh Mahdi Al-Soumaidai, known as the Emir of the Salafists.  An emir is a ruler or commander.  Sheikh Fakhri immediately returned to Baghdad, and soon the mosques in Latifiya were issuing a declaration to the effect that if anything unpleasant happened to the French reporters, the entire group involved in the kidnapping would be executed.

At that point Sheikh Fakhri thought the case would be solved soon, but the televised declarations by personalities from the Council of the Ulemas in favor of a release had the opposite effect.  Le Monde quotes Sheikh Fakhri saying: "You must understand that for the simple souls who form groups like the Islamic Army of Iraq, the Council of the Ulemas, which collaborate with the government, are infidels. So they may have began to listen to foreign elements, perhaps arrived from Saudi Arabia."

While not necessarily in control of all sections of the Islamic Army, Saudi Arabia seems deeply involved in the Iraqi war, financing both a right wing faction of the insurrection and the American war debt.

Chesnot and Malbrunot had taken off for Najaf, with their Syrian driver, Mohammed Al-Joundi. The Islamic Army in Iraq may have captured them at the Latifiya-Mahmudiya  AAA on the same day they took Baldoni.

In most civil wars, the border between right wing insurgents and banditry is vague. Insurgents may become used to the easy life of a robber. It might be helpful to the Allawi government to have discontent channeled from political insurgency into banditry.  A number of  bands would then develop, all competing over territory.  Arrangements could be worked out with the most reasonable bandit chiefs, bringing them and their territory into the regime's sphere of influence.

It is possible that the Islamic Army band that captured Chesnot and Malbrunot may have sold or transferred them to another group, one which may be more aware of the importance of establishing relations with unbiased foreign reporters.  Father Jean Marie Benjamin, who has significant ties to the Muslim world, was recently in Syria and Lebanon.  According to his sources, the French reporters have been guests of the Iraqi resistance and will be taken to the border upon completion of their assignment.

                                                                 *  *  *

                                                            A BRIDGE TO BAGHDAD

 The latest kidnapping involves "Un Ponte per...".  That translates as "A Bridge to...", the dots being filled with the name of  bombed cities.  In Baghdad it's "A Bridge to Baghdad,"  in Belgrade it's "A Bridge to Belgrade."  It is an Italian association started in 1991, inspired by the words of Father Ernesto Balducci, who said "We will have to give reparations to the Iraqis for what we are doing to them."  It was the time of  Desert Storm,  Italian airplanes were bombing  Iraq.

 "A Bridge to..."  became an organization ready to bring help and medicine even if it means to violate a Western blockade.  It was the target of vituperation in Italy because it remained in Iraq through the years of the blockade. In September 2004 it was still in Baghdad, running clinics and water purification projects. It was led by two young Italian women, Simona Torretta and Simona Pari.

Simona Torretta had been in Iraq since 1996. She had not endeared herself to the Coalition by accusing the liberators of using cluster bombs and bombing hospitals during the invasion. During the battle of Fallujah in April 2004,  Bridge to Baghdad had broken the siege, bringing in drinking water and medicines. After the battle, they continued to bring in water, with three tankers.  Once again, during the battle of Najaf, they brought drinking water to that city.  Their water tankers distributed more than 100,000 gallons throughout the city--where there was no electricity, no water, no gasoline.

 Twice the water tankers were hit by gunfire, although Torretta's report did not say whose fire. Clearly, not everyone applauded her efforts.  As an exasperated American officer told Enzo Baldoni in Najaf, "What, we put them under siege and you bring them supplies?" (Il Diario, September 3)

In a piece she wrote with Simona Pari for Il Manifesto of April 7, Torretta quoted a Shiite sheikh saying that many people agree that "the Americans are like Saddam."  In other reports she mentioned that government forces had expelled the patients and doctors from the main Najaf hospital, as well as from the children hospital and the maternity hospital in Najaf.  She accused Coalition forces of abuses.  She told tales which Iraqi doctors and Ministry of Health officials did not dare to tell.

Her stories appeared in Italian publications. Her human warmth and love for her work and the people she helped shone through the cold statistics of her formal reports. She was especially proud of her work in saving what was left of the Baghdad library after the looting.

 Simona Pari made inroads into the establishment media,  publishing a piece in a women magazine, Grazia, in which she told of  women's life in Baghdad:  "One day they came and took my father and brother. We never heard from them again...The war has freed us, but living today [September 2003] is complicated. No electricity... Water does not get to our house... My brothers have no work, like almost all of our friends. Every day they line up outside the government buildings, applying for work. ... I make clothes for the ladies in the neighborhood...but nobody wants to go out... it's dangerous: robberies, kidnappings. Many live in terror, people want to take revenge [against Baathists]...Saddam took part of my family, and the Americans have occupied our country and tell us only lies."


At about 4.45pm on September 7, some fifteen men, in military or paramilitary uniforms and flak jackets, arrived in three vehicles.  Ten men entered the house.  They took the Two Simonas, as they were called by reporters in Baghdad, and two of their Iraqi colleagues.  They traveled four or five hours, passing numerous Iraqi police roadblocks.

Even though the job worked out perfectly, it was a very dangerous operation, within sight of the guardhouse protecting UNICEF, 100 yards away.  One phone call from a guard, and you could have expected the road to be blocked,  with helicopters in the air.  One would have expected UNICEF employees to be able to directly reach American forces in the Green Zone.  The Green Zone's heliport is seconds away, by air.

One employee escaped onto the roof, jumped down into the garden of the neighbors, and called the police. According to Il Manifesto of September 24, there was no answer.

The raid took place at the very center of power in Iraq.  Il Gazettino on September 8 quotes Generale Carlo Cabigiosu, formerly military attache at the Italian embassy in Iraq, as noting that "in the area of the kidnapping  there are police, road blocks, Americans, and  private guards".

Indeed,  three or four minutes after the departure of the raiders, an American patrol passed by.  According to Il Manifesto of September 24,  the aid workers stopped the patrol.  The raiders had not bothered to tie anyone up.  The Americans came in, looked around, and left.  In rush hour traffic, the kidnappers could not have gone too far, and could have been spotted by helicopters. No effort in that direction seems to have materialized.

Clearly this was a very risky operation, but the targets were thought to be of such importance as to make the operation worthwhile.


According to La Repubblica of September 30, a caller to the office of the Iraqi Tribal Council proposed, on September 23, that it mediate the release of the Italian women.  Communications were opened with Rome.  The arrangements for the release were to be done in secrecy.

A number of people learned of the secret, including a reporter from a Kuwaiti paper.  Somehow, the newspaper presented itself as the channel used by the guerrillas for negotiating the release of the women. The idea that Iraqi nationalists would pick a Kuwaiti newspaper as their intermediary with Italy is as likely as Washington asking Mukhtada al-Sadr to please mediate in negotiations with Syria.

The Kuwaiti paper had details about the prison menu available to the Two Simonas. They explained that the young ladies had asked for yogurt and that a million dollar ransom had been agreed to. After the liberation, it transpired that the Kuwaitis  had got almost every detail wrong, including the yogurt.

According to La Repubblica of September 29, the insurgents did not demand money for the Two Simonas, opting instead for humanitarian concessions.  They asked for seriously wounded Fallujah children to be taken to Italian hospitals.  They asked for Italy to work in Washington to end bombing in the Sunni triangle. They asked for a promise that Italy would help rebuild Fallujah and Ramadi.

When the Kuwaiti paper reported that $500,000 had already been paid, it caused a quarrel in which the insurgents accused the intermediaries of pocketing the money, which the kidnappers had not demanded. (La Repubblica, September 29)


Italians somehow do not feel morally constrained by Washington's wavering doctrines on ransoming prisoners.  They recall that President Reagan obtained the release of American hostages in Beirut through missile sales to Iran.  Four Italian "contractors," actually security guards, were captured on April 12 2004.  Italian leaders talked tough.  The rebels killed Fabrizio Quattrocchi on camera.

The families of the surviving prisoners  marched, blocked trains, and became a pressure group that could not be ignored.  When Premier Berlusconi paid undetermined millions for the liberation of the three, Italians approved.  Members of parliament and government officials openly spoke of the ransom payment.  A bank official discussed transactions involving the ransom.  Former Italian President Cossiga paid his compliments to Premier Berlusconi for "perhaps" paying the ransom--out of his own pocket, no less. ,

Italy paid $200,000 just for the dead body of  poor Fabrizio Quattrocchi , according to Abu Yussuf, the man who had recorded the murder.  We know Abu Yussuf was for real, because he had computers belonging to the four captured Italian bodyguards, as well as to dead Americans.  He was interviewed by Hala Jaber, in The Sunday Times of London, on June 27.

Ms. Jaber further documented her story, in an article on Corriere della Sera of July 1, where we see a photo of  Quattrocchi's seized weapon permit.

Hala Jaber wrote in her Sunday Times story: "Abu Yussuf said the captors had been paid $4m (2.2m) to let them live." This may have meant just a promise not to kill them.  For their liberty, the Italians may have had to pay more.

In the case of the Two Simonas it's unlikely that the ransom was paid, because not one in a million Italian lawyers, politicians, and secret service agents squealed, none at all.

It is possible that the million-dollar ransom story may have been invented by those who wanted to sabotage the release. Martyrs are more useful to a cause than released prisoners.


Key man in the release of the Two Simonas was Maurizio Scelli, commissioner of CRI, the Italian Red Cross.  He had been the point man in Italy's negotiations with the insurgents over the release of three Italian "contractors."  When that crisis had ended in a raid that freed the hostages, Scelli had expressed himself in an emotional manner.

Maurizio Scelli had no doubt been in other perilous situations, where he had shown his personal courage, but this experience of  being in the hands of the enemy was different.  He told, on the TV show Porta a Porta, as reported by Repubblica of September 29, how in Baghdad he met two Iraqis at a prearranged place. He did not know them. They approached him and Dr. Navar, an Iraqi doctor who works at the CRI hospital in Baghdad.  Maurizio Scelli crossed himself and got into a car with them.  He was not allowed to see where they were going.  For one hour and a half they drove. They arrived at a house, where his watch and cell phone were taken. The insurgents did not want the house to be located.

The insurgents complained that they "did not understand why the Italian government had sided with the Americans."  They asked Dr.Navar to swear on the Koran that the women were not spies and that Maurizio Scelli was a man of honor.  They all talked for eight hours.

Scelli and Navar were put in a cab, and driven to a deserted road behind a mosque.  Soon the veiled hostages arrived.  A cameraman was present, recording the event.  A hand reached from outside the frame and gave Scelli a handgun, as sign of the termination of hostilities.

Clearly, this was a release by insurgents who wanted to establish diplomatic relations with Italian government circles.  They might have seen it as a step towards establishing relations with moderates in the Coalition, with an eye towards recognition as a belligerent group and later as a negotiating partner.

It was an "interesting" experience,  and Maurizio Scelli emerged from it  blessed with great inner strength.  This was truly a conversion, a Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus experience.  Scelli had crossed himself, before getting into that car.  There may have been a vow to tell the truth, and let the chips fall where they may.


As reported by Panorama on September 29  Scelli revealed that in June 2004  the Coalition had organized the fake rescue of three Italian prisoners.  Being a diplomat,  he called it a "halfway raid."  The insurgents had called Scelli and given him the location where he was to go pick up the prisoners. The Coalition listened in and rushed to the scene,  grabbing the prisoners in a "let's pretend raid."

The weekly Panorama is owned by Premier Silvio Berlusconi's family.  That such a remarkable story could see the light on a pro-government publication is surprising, but not unheard of.  We can remember how pearls of truth could be found in Soviet era Pravda. The most effective pearl screening systems sometimes fail.

Scelli's revelation appeared in a three-line paragraph, within a long article. The three lines were under the subtitle "A box of sweets from the kidnappers." There is no mention of any box or of any sweets in that paragraph.  The box of sweets for the Simonas had already been discussed earlier in the article.

A possible explanation is that the paragraph was to be edited out, and that a rushed editor touched the wrong key, and the paragraph remained, but under the wrong heading.

All television in Italy is controlled by the government or by the Berlusconi family.  At the time of the raid and for the following week,  elaborate stories were told, in all the media, including newspapers of the left, about the discovery of the prison, the surveillance, the days of anxiety, the dramatic decision by Berlusconi to give the green light to a raid.  La Stampa of June 9 told us of "the anxious night" of the Prime Minister.  The media told Italians about the helicopters, the rush into the building,  the captured jailers. A brief video of the raid appeared on television.

The nation cheered the daring of Delta Force.  The Italian government basked in the glory of the splendid victory, which confirmed the wisdom of the government line of "fermezza."  Four days later, Italians marched to vote in a patriotic mood, many trembling with rage at the stuttering pacifist wimps and traitors who dared to ask questions, who dared to point out inconsistencies.

The raid was a poorly orchestrated job, an obvious fraud, but the media in Italy and all over the world pretended not to notice.  The freed prisoners gave general statements, but never broke their silence on the raid.  The given reason was that it was a crime under investigation.

Now that the protagonist in Baghdad has spoken, the event should no longer in doubt. The only thing that remains in question is the motivation for launching the fake raid.  Three possible motives can be entertained:

a)  General Sanchez wanted the glory of  being able to announce a rare, if not unique, successful operation, and the Italians played along.

b)  Washington was issuing a warning that it would sabotage any negotiation with the enemy, any ransom or exchange of prisoners.

c)  President Bush ordered the raid as a special favor to Premier Berlusconi, creating for him an October Surprise in June.

The anomaly of the press conference by General Sanchez was its brevity and lack of details, "to be released later." They never came.  In a later interview, General Kimmitt released a photo of the raid.  The generals were not in the least promoting themselves; they were acting as if this event, the greatest Coalition success since the capture of Saddam Hussein, were a minor episode, unworthy of wasting any time over. As if talking about it to the press was an embarrassing, unpleasant duty, taking the generals away from the important task of winning the war.

Washington did not publicize this operation as the great  success it appeared to be.  Everyone behaved as if the whole show was just a special favor to the Italian ally.  Premier Silvio Berlusconi just happened to be visiting Washington that day. ,


The three lines of Scelli on Panorama went unnoticed by the press at large.  Yet, an even more shocking revelation came from Commissioner Scelli.

A few cynics had assessed the raid on the Bridge to Baghdad as a classical government-run death squad operation. The cynics were wrong.  Something much more devious, brilliant, and sinister had taken place.

Maurizio Scelli explained on Porta a Porta, a television show, as reported by Reuters on September 29, that the Two Simonas "were considered spies since their names appeared on a  list that it seems originated from the offices of American secret services and identified them, according to the Iraqis, as espionage elements....the two young women were tied to Baldoni and to  Ghareeb."

In a separate report by the agency Adnkronos on September 29, we read that Scelli told the same Porta a Porta show that Ghareeb "was indicated as a Palestinian spy who in some way was working also for the Israelis. His death seems an execution."

That explains the death of  Ghareeb, heroic ambulance driver, organizer of aid convoys to Fallujah and Najaf,  killed with four shots to the head at the location of the ambush on the Italian Red Cross convoy on August 20.  That explains the killing of Baldoni, before the expiration of the ultimatum.

Usually Iraqi drivers for westerners are allowed to go. They have no intrinsic value to kidnappers.  Some drivers have been held and killed, after issuing demands that their company or their country quit Iraq.  Murdering a driver on the spot is particularly unusual.  The killers in wait on the highway appeared to know who Ghareeb was.

A leaflet shown on Al Jazeera together with the Enzo Baldoni video said that "an Italian citizen who claims to be a journalist is now in the hands of the brigades of the Islamic Army."  The insurgents may have believed they were dealing with an espionage group made of reporters and NGO workers who pretended to be be sympathizers of the the Iraqi resistance, but were really collecting information for the Americans. As long as they believed that their American agent list was genuine, it was not in the interest of the guerrillas to mention their own motives. They did not want to endanger their own agent in the Allawi police, the man who had procured the document.

A black bag operation is one in which evidence is surreptitiously planted to cause your targets to make a wrong move.  Placing false documents in the pockets of a dead man dressed as navy officer, and allowed to be found on a beach is a good example. That was a ploy to make the German command believe that the Normandy invasion was going to take place elsewhere.


Before and during WW2, Noel and his brother Hermann Field had worked in Nazi-occupied Europe outmaneuvering the Gestapo in occupied Czechoslovakia, working under the nose of the Vichy police,  helping thousands to escape to Spain and from there to England.  Noel also worked with Allen Dulles of the OSS in Switzerland.  After the war Noel and Allen parted ways: Noel Field was a communist.

In 1949, Colonel Jozef Swiatlo was an interrogation specialist for Polish State Security. He hated Jakub Berman, a high Polish official, and wanted to get rid of him.  Noel Field wrote Berman, looking for a job.  Because of his past association with Dulles, Field was suspect, and Swiatlo thought of framing up Berman as a spy for Field.  First, though, he had to approach Washington, to make sure that Field was not really with CIA.  He proposed his plan, and  Allen Dulles approved it.  Suspicious messages with significative words were sent to communist officials, who were promptly arrested.

Noel Field disappeared in Prague.  Hermann Field, brother of Noel, went to seek help from his old wartime friends in Warsaw, and disappeared.  Herta Field, Noel's wife, went to Prague seeking help from old friends, and disappeared.  Erica Wallach, Noel Field's foster daughter, went to Berlin, seeking help from old friends of her parents, and disappeared.

Thousands of Western-oriented Czechs and Poles who had come in touch with the Fields during and after the war were raked in and tortured.  Everyone who wanted to stop the torture had to confess.  Everyone had to have co-conspirators.  There were tens of thousands of arrests all over Eastern Europe.  Swiatlo reported on his good work directly to Lavrenti Beria, NKVD chief for Stalin.  There was no need for him to report to Allen Dulles; his successes were there for all to see, on the pages of Prague, Warsaw, and Budapest dailies.

In September 1954 Swiatlo appeared at a press conference in Washington and revealed, to general indignation, that Stalin's men had arrested the missing Americans.  Within weeks, Noel Field was released and the floodgates of the Soviet gulag began to raise slowly, disgorging the surviving prisoners, millions of them.  Swiatlo went on to greater glory, working for freedom at Radio Free Europe.

Allen Dulles, Director of Central Intelligence, was a brilliant and decent man, one who dared to protect his men from Joe McCarthy's witch-hunts.  Like any successful intelligence operative, Allen Dulles was able to keep a distance from all the personal tragedies that resulted from his good work.

In the Noel Field case, after all, he had not given the order for anyone to be tortured and killed.  All he did was pull a practical joke, like pinning a paper donkey tail on a kid in school.  Was it his fault that the comrades had pounced upon the kid with the donkey tail?


Intelligence operatives read old stories. The Noel Field donkey tail is a famous caper. Why not repeat it in Iraq?  The idea could have appealed to some of the boys in Baghdad.  Let Asians fight Asians--and Italians.  The process would have been simple.  If you suspect an Iraqi police officer to be working for the insurgents, you just forget to lock a desk, counting that your mark will take a peek and will find the top-secret list of paid agents.

True, Scelli did say it was an American document the insurgents had seen, but it's not in the style of CIA to order an operation that can be easily unmasked.  The CIA had to know that the office of A Bridge to Baghdad was a regular stop for Italian reporters and that the Two Simonas were popular. If it was found that a U.S. document had indicated them as spies, the Italian government and its Iraqi policies could have collapsed.  CIA officers are not stupid.  They are not psychopaths either, although they may be under orders to tolerate psychopaths amongst their allies and collaborators.  If Proconsul Negroponte had seen the work of the Simonas, Baldoni, and Ghareeb as a really serious problem, all he had to do was block the convoys or create an incident and have the whole crew expelled.  Americans could not have ordered this job, because the thought would have never occurred.

The same cannot be said for Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a well-read man, who has worked for both CIA and British intelligence.  Some tyrants would not think of killing dissenters, they just lock up a few.  Some tyrants would not think of killing foreigners from allied countries.  It takes a special mindset to dare to cross certain boundaries.  Prime Minister Allawi may be the man with that special mindset.

 Allawi is a Baathist who broke with the Baath party.  He was involved in enforcement for Saddam Hussein in England.  According to a report in The New York Times of June 8, 2004, he was in charge of a terrorist group that carried out car bombings in the 1990's.  Maybe a school bus bombing.  Maybe a cinema bombing.  Collateral casualties.


In a report published in The Oregonian of August 7, we read that on June 29, 2004, a scout of the Oregon National Guard spotted some torture going on in a courtyard.  The guardsmen entered and found many prisoners who said they had been deprived of food and water for three days. '"Many of these prisoners had bruises and cuts and belt or hose marks all over," [Capt.] Southall said. At least one had a gunshot wound to the knee.'

The soldiers released handcuffs, moved the prisoners into the shade, and gave them water.  These were 150 men who had been rounded up in one neighborhood, in an "anti-crime raid" which netted "a collection of immigrants and poor Iraqis."  The guards said that "these prisoners were all dangerous criminals and most were thieves, users of marijuana and other types of bad people."  Captain Southall said 'one prisoner claimed the Iraqi police arrested him at a market and confiscated his passport even though he had "paid a tremendous bribe" to the arresting officer. Others, many of whom appeared to be non-Arab shopkeepers and workers, said they had been detained for lack of proper identification.'

The battalion commander, Lt.-Col. Daniel Hendrickson called for instructions.  As the soldiers waited, Southall said, the Iraqi policemen began to get "defiant and hostile" toward the Americans.  After a while, headquarters ordered Col. Hendrickson to leave.

 Earlier, Hendrickson had demanded to speak to the man in charge.  A "well-dressed ... man" came forward and said "there was no prisoner abuse and that everything was under control and they were trying to conduct about 150 investigations as soon as possible."

The rulers in Baghdad are worried.  The are ex-Baathists.  Their police officers are Saddam Hussein cops, their officers are Saddam Hussein officers, and they all hate their new foreign masters.

The rulers are concerned about being the object of general contempt.  They propose to solve the problem through random terror, random arrests, and wholesale purposeless sadistic violence.


 The Allawi regime has grave misgivings about the presence of foreign observers.  The Telegraph of August 16, reports that 'the police chief delivered a blunt warning: journalists had two hours to leave Najaf or face arrest... official explanation for the decision was that police guarding the hotel had found 550 lb of dynamite in a car nearby. That seems unlikely...'

 'A deputation of journalists was denied an audience with Najaf's governor, Adnan al-Zurufi.  The policeman outside his office was brusque. "If you do not leave by the deadline we will shoot you," he said.  That was enough for all but a handful of British and American journalists who hunkered down in the hotel as the deadline expired.  As night fell, shots were fired at the roof of the hotel, from where reporters file their stories.'

 The British daily The Independent of August 17 2004 reports from Najaf:   'A police lieutenant arrived at the hotel at 6.30pm ...As journalists protested, the lieutenant said above the hubbub: "We are going to open fire on this hotel. We are going to smash it up. I will kill you all. You did this all to yourselves." ...he said four snipers would be positioned on the roof of the police station to fire at any journalists who left the hotel.'

 '...The police then drove off, stopping 300 meters down the road and fired warning shots in the direction of the hotel.  Later, Mr. al-Jazaari sounded a more conciliatory note when he summoned reporters and promised them: "You are not under any kind of threat.  We respect your job." '

 On August 26 we seem to still have the same police problem, and The Guardian reports that 'police moved into the lobby of the Sea of Najaf hotel at 9.15pm last night... they fired shots into the air... Journalists from Arab and other international media, including the entire BBC team, as well as The Guardian, The Independent, Times and Daily Telegraph, were pushed into a truck, which was driven off to Najaf's police station where the local chief of police, Ghalib al-Jazae'ri, said he was incensed by media reports... The police officer who burst into the Guardian's room, wearing a balaclava and pointing a Kalashnikov, said in Arabic: "We're going to fuck the lot of you." '


We are dealing with people for whom it is unthinkable not to use force thoughtlessly. We are dealing with men whose thinking and action wavers between the parameters of Lavrenti Beria, secret police chief of Stalin, and of Inspector Clouseau, as played by Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther series.

The ideology of regime leaders in Baghdad is totalitarian, today just as much as it was when they were with Saddam Hussein.  The idea of allowing some unarmed do-gooders from the West to threaten their total control is intolerable.  If just being observed by open minded foreign reporters was so infuriating, the sight of foreigners bringing tangible aid and good publicity to their enemies must have driven regime personalities to distraction.  Creating a fake spy list would have been seen as the perfect, clean solution: they knew that the Berg murder had been a very positive development towards maintaining support for the war in Western public opinion.

There was one more factor, which could have caused personalities in the Allawi administration to become involved.  Simona Pari's efforts went into the Baghdad school system, repairing forty schools, organizing graduate courses for teachers, summer courses for children, even bringing clowns to entertain the children of Sadr City.  That may have been her worst crime.  Not the clown show, the repair of schools.  Simona Pari was bad for business.

Corriere della Sera, on September 8, quotes Simona Pari:  "The Americans... their contractors are corrupt, their public works badly done. The schools they claim to have fixed remain ruins, with broken windows and terrible plumbing.  Ours are much better, with infinitely smaller expenditures."  Simona Pari was competing with a reconstruction mafia.  She was proposing honesty in public works, she was actually realizing it, and that can be a capital crime where there are billions in American aid loot to be divided amongst politicians.

Indeed, the Allawi regime had ample motives, means, and opportunity for organizing the Italian job.  It could not have been too hard for Allawi's men to create a composite American document.  The meddlesome Italians and their ilk would leave Iraq, feet first if necessary.  The programs would continue to be funded by Italians and other Europeans, to assuage their feelings of guilt for the harm they had done to the Iraqi people.  Foreign aid would continue under new Iraqi management, which could then be counted to be loyal, obedient, and corrupt.

One way or another, all four major movers behind the Italian relief columns to cities under siege were removed, over the course of a few weeks.  Two were killed by the primitives of the Saudi-financed Islamic Army.  Two had better luck; they fell into the hands of more thoughtful Salafists, who allowed some doubt to grow in their minds, and concluded that the spy-advisory on the Two Simonas might not be genuine.


 It was determined that the final act of the comedy of the Two Simonas should consist of their visit to the Pope, preceded by a dispensation in The Sunday Times of October 3.

The Sunday Times is a fine paper, and the writer of the article is a fine reporter, so we will not diminish his superior record by naming him.  He was probably minding his own business, sitting in a coffee house in Rome, working on a good story, when along came the boys of the Italian secret services and they slipped him a mickey; they saw him and his very authoritative paper as a convenient channel through which to communicate a bogus story to the Italian public.

Almost every Italian paper or magazine publishes "horoscope intelligence" stories, in which reporters quote sources in the services.  The sources are anonymous, and reporters feel free to embroider.  They often do not bother to make sure they do not contradict published witness statements or even other reports in the same paper.  Such stories are created just like horoscopes are, by gazing at the stars, and they get as much credence.

Secret service publicists could have spoken to fifty reporters.  The result would have been fifty different bits of horoscope intelligence.  Al-Zarqawi, who has been said to have left some of his extremities in Afghanistan, would have appeared on different papers in his different incarnations:  al-Zarqawi with one leg, two legs, or none at all, if not three.  Solution:  pass the story to one well-known foreign reporter from a great paper of record, knowing that he will write it just as he heard it.

And so it was. The Sunday Times published the fable.  The next day it appeared, faithfully translated back into Italian, on every newspaper in Italy.

 Most horoscope intelligence on Iraq relies on al-Zarqawi.  Yes, al-Zarqawi may be dead, but he must live on for the Free World.  We need a personified enemy as the evil central figure in dark, mysterious Iraq.  Al-Zarkawi has now the role Emmanuel Goldstein had in Nineteen Eighty-Four. 


Al-Zarqawi is the key figure in the Sunday Times fable, which appears to be a parody of Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri, The Italian Girl in Algiers.  Al-Zarkawi appears in the character of the Lecherous Turk.  He makes a multi-million dollar bid for the Italian ladies but suffers an embarrassing rejection.  Probably he will end back with his old wife, just like Rossini's Mustafa, the Bey of Algiers.

 In the first act of the October 3 Sunday Times opera, trumpets announce the arrival of a messenger, an "Italian official" with a plumed hat.  He declares his intent to reveal how much Italy is paying for the Two Simonas.  The Kuwaiti fantasists had declared a puny, contemptible sum, one million dollars. "Two?" "Please!" "Three?" "You offend me, effendi!"  The "Italian official" proclaims the more suitable figure of four million dollars as the rightful price for the charming young ladies.  The humming chorus of 100 usually vocal Italian politicians neither confirms nor denies.

 The inflational price increase is proposed without any offer of details. Not even a human-interest story about the size of the suitcase full of cash, or the number of sheep eaten at the celebratory banquet.

The "Italian official," waving his plumed hat, declaims how good this ransom deal is.  Why?  Because it is "far less" than what the evil al-Z is offering for our two heroines.  Indeed, kindness must prevail, in this, the  best of all possible worlds; the kidnappers have a soft spot in their heart for their nubile prisoners and reject the proposals of the Lecherous Turk.  They are sensitive and sensible fellows.  The Italian government, as a return customer, deserves fist buy back option, and a good discount. Yes, Rome will get the wholesale price. Violins.

 Drum roll.  George, Tony, Silvio, and Iyad, in full armor, appear in the moonlight, "edging towards the house" where the Two Simonas are held.  They are walking on tiptoes, whispering the  aria "Zitti, zitti, piano, piano" ("be silent,  be quiet") from Rossini's The Barber of Seville.  They are being led to the rebels' secret hideout by the "Kuwaiti Secret Agent", dressed as Bedouin camel herder, with camels in tow.

A whispered war council.  The secret service boys, all dressed in burqas, go check out the neighborhood.  Situation report: "80-100 armed the area."  No problem, we got night vision, we can handle one hundred towelheads and free the girls.  The crusaders are waiting for the bugle to sound the charge.  Swords drawn, they are ready to deliver the maidens from bondage, when  a messenger appears with shocking news:  the evil al-Z is holding Ken, the British hostage, in the area.  Worse, al-Z's jail is close to the sensitive terrorists' jail. Actually, it's "nearby."

 In the real world, that would call for two contemporaneous raids.  In our opera buffa situation, that means calling the whole show off.  The war council decides to "reject...the idea after MI6 warned that such an operation could jeopardize the British hostage."

Yes, every life is priceless to the Leaders of the Free World.  Tony is so worried about Ken, that he tells Silvio to go ahead and buy the girls.  No problem.  George and Iyad concur, let Silvio do his thing, just this time, mind you, as long as giving millions to sensitive terrorists doesn't become a habit.  So, will they tiptoe back to the Green Zone in Baghdad, sleep over it, and come back tomorrow or next week to check on Ken?  Is this Rossini's opera buffa or is it closer to Monty Python and the Holy Grail ?,,2089-1291538,00.html


 The Sunday Times article--the original, not the caricature, not the above operatic rendition--has all the markings of an April Fool's Day piece, except for the date.  And the horror of the true background: real beheadings, real torture chambers, and leaders who reject prisoner exchanges.

A prisoners exchange would seem a sensible, rational solution to a prisoner problem.  Even the Germans, in World War Two, exchanged healthy Yugoslav partisans for wounded German soldiers.  Israeli leaders truly care for their soldiers and negotiate their release. The leaders of the West reject the exchange of prisoners.  They may see beheadings as morale-boosting events back at home.  Martyrs are excellent motivation for steadfastness in wartime. "If we abandon the battlefield now, they would all have died in vain"

 As far as I know, not one Italian paper called the story ridiculous, out of respect for The Sunday Times.  As far as I know, not one British paper mentioned the story, out of politeness.

This English April Fool's piece does have very serious objectives.  Now that Maurizio Scelli has chosen to abandon any allegiance he may have had to the Dark Side, he has become a problem.  Refuting Scelli's statements would only attract attention to them.  Scelli revealed much, and denied that ransom was paid for the Simonas.  Here is the opportunity to challenge Scelli's credibility without naming him. Let's slip to the Sunday Times man in Rome, a National Enquirer type of story, one so absurd that readers cannot question it.  It's the good old big lie technique:  the more incredible the tale, the more likely it is that people will shrug, saying, "I don't understand this... but The Times would not dare to make it up, it's got to be true."

The idea is to create a confused, end-of-all-discussion official history, a "basic irreference work."  It must be presented by well-spoken responsible men, calmly and thoughtfully, so that the reader will frown but refrain from asking questions.  The story follows a ludicrous plot, in the pattern of television espionage dramas, and that gives it credibility:  it is vague, absurd, anonymous, and yet familiar.

That's the only way the rulers can distract the public from noticing the precise, factual, terrifying revelations of Maurizio Scelli.  His words are just beginning to emerge, on the public opinion serving tray, like the rigid paws of a dead rat; they are just beginning to stick out of the spaghetti.  Removing the rat could not be done without the diners noticing.  Better to dump a load of English meatballs and hooey on top, and trust that the diners appetite will be assuaged before they get too close to the bottom of the tray.

Even Premier Silvio Berlusconi "did not deny reports in Italy that... ransom had been paid."  With those words The Sunday Times offers us a presidential  pseudo-confession.  It closes the case and brilliantly shifts the spotlight from Scelli's revelations to Berlusconi's silence.

The Sunday Times article also reveals to the world that there is a "French government envoy" now wandering about Baghdad's hostage bazaar. Yes, he is carrying a couple of million dollars in his briefcase.  Did someone in Baghdad hope that criminal gangs would concentrate their efforts on Frenchmen with briefcases?


 Within a day of the Two Simonas arrival in Rome, the loving, breathless reports on the two young women's festive return, had turned sour.  The Two Simonas had not fulfilled their patriotic duty of dying for us, like poor Enzo Baldoni.  They are alive, awfully alive, they walk, they even talk.  They tell of how they miss the Iraqi children for whom they have worked for years.  They dare to say they miss Iraq.  They dare to thank not only the Italian government, and the opposition, the Red Cross, the Vatican, and the Christian and Muslim communities that helped their release.  No, they thank the groups that helped mediate their release, the unarmed Iraqi opposition. They even thank the armed opposition.  At the moment of their release, after they had raised from their faces the black veils that kept them from seeing anything, they turned to the kidnappers, and thanked them.

Quoting the BBC of October 2, Italians "were expecting tearful accounts of abuse, loneliness and anguish."  Shocked by the lack of hatred towards their captors, many called this a case of Stockholm syndrome, in which hostages irrationally begin to sympathize with their captors.

In reality, the two young women had excellent reasons to be thankful.  After all, they had been arrested as spies.  In civil war situations, both government and insurgents, in all countries, do seek spies.  Usually, intelligence people are not very sophisticated.  They want confessions.  Interrogators who do not solve cases do not get promotions. Mistakes are easily made, by all sides, and the wrong people are killed.

In this case, the rebels' intelligence officers were smart enough to behave correctly towards their four prisoners.  Their interrogation techniques relied on blindfolding and threat of death, once going as far as brushing the throat of Simona Torretta with a knife. 

On the whole, they were quite civil: they refrained from using traditional Western techniques of sleep, food, water, and medicine denial.  It seems that our Salafist opponents, who want to bring their country back to the Seventh Century, have rejected all modern Western innovations, like constant deafening noise, heavy metal music, bright lights 24/7, heat/cold alternating extremes, drugging, dogs. 

The barbaric brutes don't understand modern Western policing techniques, such as sexual humiliation, excrement and head in the toilet work, broom handle work, rape.  Primitive as they are, they don't comprehend the effectiveness of making a father listen or watch his child being abused, brutalized, raped.  Medievalists as they are, they don't realize the investigative and entertainment value of painful positioning or harmless water and electric work.

Free World interrogation specialists like Colonel Jozef Swiatlo built their careers with false confessions, they climbed to the top stepping over tortured bodies.  The Iraqi interrogators of the Two Simonas examined the evidence and found it lacking.  The Two Simonas were aware of how lucky they had been with the interrogators they got, and thanked them.

 At once, malevolence began to ooze from almost the entire spectrum of the Italian press, from the post-neo-fascists of Alleanza Nazionale, the party of Vice-Premier Fini, as far as the moderate left.

Il Giornale had a first page title: "They are free. Now let us be free of the pacifists."  A feminist deputy in parliament saw the Two Simonas in league with those who want to impose the burqa on Italian women.  An October 4 editorial of Il Tempo proposed to solve the problem of the troublesome young women by confiscating their passports.  Others proposed sending them back to Iraq, or making them pay the ransom price they claimed was paid.  "Exalters of fanatic Islam." "Infinite ingratitude." "The macabre dance of the Simonas."  They were attacked for not tearing off their veils at the very moment of release. They were chastised for daring to come home still wearing the embroidered Iraqi tunics that the kidnappers had given them to wear in prison.

Il Diario, the weekly that sent Baldoni to Iraq, headlined the October 1 issue with the faces of the Two Simonas and the good-humored warning, "Tremate, tremate, le streghe son tornate!"  That means, "Tremble, tremble, the witches have returned!"

Also by Matt Bojanovic

"An Italian October Surprise"


published October 22, 2004