Monday, September 20, 2004
Australian kidnapping update III: The body in the Tigris
Before proceeding, I'd like to remind my American readers why the issue of the two alleged Australian kidnap victims is important, other than general humanitarian concern, from an American perspective: Australia is in the midst of a campaign for an election to be held October 9. Their prime minister, John Howard, deliberately scheduled the election to precede the American election. Howard was afraid of the fallout if things went badly for Bush.
Conversely, if things go badly for the conservative Howard on Oct. 9, the fallout may very well affect Bush—and that is my ultimate interest.
I also would like to quote from the end of a previous post:
... I will tell you what I believe is the sad but likely outcome of all this. The Australian government will state that it is unable to "confirm" that any of its nationals are missing in Iraq. And in a week or two some bodies of "Westerners" will be discovered in the Sunni area. I doubt they will ever be identified.
As it happened, a body turned up much sooner than I expected.
As I noted in my last post on this topic, the Australian government has been successful in convincing the media to drop the subject. The latest and only coverage I can find today is a report from Radio Australia:
Australian Prime Minister John Howard says claims that two Australians have been taken hostage in Iraq appear likely to have been a hoax.
... But Mr Howard says no one can say for sure the claims are untrue.
He said: "Each day that goes by it looks more and more like it.
"But it's one of those things where you can never be absolutely certain.
"But one would assume applying the ordinary principles of common sense that if no word of a missing Australian has yet emerged then we have every reason to hope that it was a hoax. I certainly hope that is the case."
Notice that Howard is hedging his bets here. Also, if you have been following these posts, you may notice a very big omission—
The body in the Tigris
Three days after the Horror Brigade of the Islamic Secret Army handed out leaflets announcing the capture of two Australians and two "east Asians," the body turned up. The most complete description of the victim in any one article was given by the Associated Press on 9/16 [Emphasis was added to all quotes below]:
Police found the corpse of a man they believe to be a foreigner north of Baghdad on Friday, authorities said.
The body, which had blonde hair and Western features, was pulled from the Tigris River near the central Iraqi village of Yethrib, said Capt. Hakim al-Azawi, the head of security at Tikrit's Teaching Hospital.
The man, who was described as tall, was shot in the back of the head.
"We believe he is a foreigner because he is blonde and well built," al-Azawi said.
There were no documents found on the body, which was described as wearing blue trousers and a plaid shirt. The man's hands were cuffed in the back.
Other reports give a few other details:
Australia's The Age said the "body was found floating."
As for the timing, MediaCorp News' Channel NewsAsia reported,
A doctor at Samarra's general hospital told AFP the man whose body was found in the river appeared to have been dead for three days, placing his killing at the time the kidnappers' deadline would have expired.
And for place, the Sydney Morning Herald said,
Colonel Nabil Kamal said the bloated body was discovered at 6pm near Samarra - where militants who claimed to have kidnapped two Australians gave out leaflets - at a road junction leading to the rebel bastion of Fallujah.
He said the dead man could be a Western national or a Turk.
"The person was killed three days before and it was hard to distinguish his features," said Doctor Hussein Alaa al-Din at Samarra's general hospital.
If anyone were looking for a body to fit the description of one of the alleged victims, I don't know how you could get much closer.
The government investigation
So when the Australian government received these reports, what did it do?
Here is a typical news item from the Australian Broadcasting Corp on 9/17:
Embassy seeks to identify Iraq body
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) has confirmed it is investigating whether a foreigner found dead in central Iraq could be one of two Australians allegedly kidnapped in the country.
DFAT says it has requested the Australian embassy in Baghdad to investigate the reports.
Did that put your mind at ease? It was certainly intended to.
But there was one news article--only one--that said something a bit more detailed.
The Sydney Morning Herald's Tom Allard had this to say on 9/18—
The Australian Government is investigating reports that the body of a Westerner - "a blond, well-built man" - has been hauled from the River Tigris in Samarra, where claims that two Australians had been kidnapped by terrorists first emerged.
Diplomats at Canberra's mission in Baghdad are liaising with United States and Iraqi authorities and are still deciding whether to head to Samarra, deep in the hostile "Sunni Triangle."
It would appear that what the Australian embassy was "investigating" was whether it could get to Samarra at all.
And here's a headline that John Howard hopes never to see spread on the front pages. "Security situation in Iraq too grim to allow embassy investigation into kidnap claim." But is that what happened?
Well, let's check out the situation in Samarra. Here's the American military, quoted on 9/3 by the AP:
"It's true that we can't go into Samarra very often," said U.S. Army Capt. Scott Synowiez, an intelligence officer at a 1st Infantry Division base on the outskirts of the city. "Whenever we go into Samarra we do get attacked, without a doubt."
Samarra, an ancient city of 250,000 known for its 9th century spiral minaret, is controlled by about 500 fighters from three well-known Sunni Muslim rebel groups, according to city residents and the U.S. military.
But you may have read that Allawi convinced the tribal chieftains to enter into a peace deal that let the U.S. back in. Well, here's how that's going as of yesterday—
Samarra, Sep 19.(AP): A suicide attacker detonated a car bomb today near a joint US-Iraqi checkpoint in this northern city, killing three people and wounding seven, including four US soldiers, the military said.
One Iraqi soldier, a civilian and the suicide bomber died in the blast, said Maj Neal O'Brien of the Army's 1st Infantry Division.
Four American and three Iraqi soldiers were also wounded in the explosion and evacuated to a nearby military hospital for treatment, O'Brien said.
The attack came less than a week after American forces re-entered the city, 100 kilometers (63 miles) north of Baghdad, for the first time since May 30 as part of a peace deal brokered by tribal leaders.
Under the pact, U.S. forces agreed to provide millions of dollars in reconstruction funds in exchange for an end to attacks on American and Iraqi troops.
On Thursday, insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades at U.S. and Iraqi forces guarding a city council building. There were no casualties.
So now let's return to the hoax story I began with today. What is
- any mention of the body
- any mention of the Baghdad embassy's "investigation."
Not a peep. No result of the investigation, no denial that the body was that of an Australian—just silence.
Would it be asking too much of the Australian media to make some inquiries of their government?
- Did anyone from the Baghdad embassy ever make it to Samarra?
- If so, what sort of tests did they conduct to determine the identity of the body?
You would think they would want to know.
Two hostages and an election
Deadline has passed for Australian hostages
Howard blames the Filipinos and Spanish for Australian hostage crisis
Australian kidnapping update
Australian kidnapping update II