Monday, April 18, 2005

Hostage-Taking in Iraq, or Just Another Hoax?

For my most patient readers, here comes a very confusing story from Iraq, as told in four installments:

Sunday morning: Bid to resolve Iraq hostage drama fails
Peaceful efforts to secure the release of up to 60 Shia Muslim hostages allegedly threatened with death in a town near Baghdad have failed, and Iraqi authorities are considering military action.

"Attempts to win their freedom through negotiations have not led to any results," an official in a leading Shia party told Reuters on Saturday.

"The government is considering military intervention to end the standoff."

However, confusion surrounds the incident in the southern Iraqi town of al-Madain.

A spokesman for Muqtada al-Sadr, Shaikh Abd al-Hadi al-Daraji, denied that the incident had taken place and said no hostages had been taken.
Of course, the "military intervention to end the standoff" happened nonetheless. Note that this report mentions "up to 60" hostages.

Sunday evening: Iraqi troops call halt to al-Madain assault
Iraqi troops battling in a town near Baghdad to rescue Shia hostages held by Sunni fighters, have halted their offensive after meeting fierce resistance, government officials said.

They said the troops had failed to fight their way into the town centre and new efforts to resolve the matter peacefully were underway.

There were conflicting reports on the fate of the hostages, originally said to number about 80.
How many hostages? Now it's "originally said to number about 80".
The crisis began on Friday when armed men allegedly entered the town aboard pick-up trucks, seized a number of Shia and threatened to kill them unless other Shia left the town.

Government forces surrounded the town on Saturday.

On Sunday, government forces recaptured half the town and freed 10 to 15 families held hostage by the armed men, the Defence Ministry official said, adding that the clashes were continuing.

However national security adviser Qasim al-Daud denied later in parliament that any hostages had been found.

"Three posts where hostages were suspected to have been detained have been raided, but unfortunately we have not found any trace of the detainees", he told Iraq's National Assembly.
Who are you going to believe? The "Defence Ministry official" or the "national security adviser"? Or perhaps it would be better to sit back and await further developments?

Monday morning: Iraq hostage-taking claim questioned
Amid increasing indications that the al-Madain hostage-taking incident has been grossly exaggerated, Iraqi security forces and US troops have continued to keep the town surrounded after reports of the kidnapping of up to 100 Shia residents.
Now it's "up to 100" hostages, but there are "increasing indications that the [...] incident has been grossly exaggerated".
An AP photographer and a television cameraman who were in or near al-Madain on Sunday said large numbers of Iraqi troops had sealed off the town, supported by US forces who were keeping a low profile farther from the edge of town.

The cameraman said he toured the town on Sunday morning. People were going about their business normally, shops were open and tea houses were full.

Residents contacted by telephone also said everything was normal in al-Madain.
How surreal! This is a very strange story, is it not?
Even so, National Security Minister Qasim Dawud told parliament on Sunday that three battalions of Iraqi soldiers, police and US forces had been sent to al-Madain.

He said the Iraqi military was planning a large-scale assault.
What's the best thing to do when you get wildly conflicting reports? Plan "a large-scale assault", of course!
Speaking to Aljazeera by phone from Baghdad, general-secretary of the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP), Tariq al-Hashimi, said the situation was dangerous and could spark wider sectarian tensions.

Urging security forces to exercise caution, he said: "Whatever the reasons - so far mostly they seem fabricated and exaggerated - we completely reject the latest escalation in the form of the siege of the town with a view to raiding it."

Al-Hashimi said a "new Falluja" could arise, with the US and Iraqi forces raising the banner of "fighting terrorism".

Nevertheless, he called on both Sunni and Shia residents of al-Madain not to confront the Iraqi police and soldiers, and to let them carry out their mission to search for hostage-takers if there were really any present.
"If there were really any present"! Well, if they're there, and the town is sealed off, then a raid should be able to locate them, wouldn't you think? So let's cut to the final chapter:

Monday evening: Raid finds no hostages in Iraqi town
The Iraqi army has found no hostages in the besieged town of al-Madain, where fighters had reportedly been holding Shia residents hostage.

A 1500-strong Iraqi force has moved into al-Madain - known also as Salman Pak - 30km southeast of Baghdad, according to an AFP correspondent embedded with the US military.

"The whole city is under control. We've secured houses where people said there were hostages. We could not find any. I don't think we'll find any," Iraqi Brigadier-General Muhammad Sabri Latif said on Monday.
Click on the links and read the entire articles, if you wish. You will find even more questions and even fewer answers.

The lowly and nearly frozen Winter Patriot may still be wondering what to make of it all, but the same cannot be said of Shaikh Abd al-Salam al-Kubaisi, of the Association of Muslim Scholars (as quoted here), to whom I will leave this evening's final word:
"This news is completely untrue."