Two British soldiers working under cover were arrested Monday in the southern city of Basra and then freed as a British armored vehicle blasted through the wall of their jail after an angry crowd began rioting outside, an Interior Ministry official said.
The official said that the soldiers were undercover officers dressed as Iraqis and that Iraqi police officers had arrested them after the men fired at a traffic police officer.
A British military spokesman in Basra confirmed that "two U.K. military personnel" had been detained early on Monday "in a shooting incident" and that troops had used an armored fighting vehicle "to gain entry" to the police station to release them. He said that more than one vehicle had been in the area and that the police inside the station had refused to obey orders from the Interior Ministry to release the men.
The incident came a day after British forces in Basra arrested three members of the Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to the rebellious Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, on suspicion of terrorism.
Sabrina Tavernise's "British Army Storms Basra Jail to Free 2 Soldiers From Arrest" from this morning's New York Times.
Some questions. Why aren't the rescued "military personnel" identified by the British government? They're rescued, surely their families would want to know. Why are British "military personnel" undercover to begin with?
Why are they identified, by their government, as "military personnel." What was their mission and should we be worried about that?
Anyone else wondering any of that? Why is the military undercover? Usually when it's "undercover," there's a 'reason' for that. As Central America in the eighties could attest.
What's not being told here?
From Terri Judd and Colin Brown's "Under fire: British soldiers attacked in Basra:
Army used tanks and helicopters to storm jail and free captured troops, say Iraqis" (from The Independent, and we noted it here last night if it looks familiar):
British troops were struggling to maintain control in Basra last night after the city exploded into bloody violence following the alleged killing of an Iraqi policeman by a British soldier.
Two British servicemen, dressed in civilian clothes, were held at Basra's main police station after the incident. Outside, rioting began as the city threatened to descend into anarchy.
The events themselves are big news in England. They're one story in the Times.
Gareth, who's read the Times article and calls it "laughable," e-mails to note Helen McCormack's "The day that Iraqi anger exploded in the face of the British occupiers" (The Independent):
The dramatic events began to unfold just before dawn yesterday, when two British nationals were detained by Iraqi authorities. It emerged later that they were British soldiers. Dressed in plain clothes - according to some they were wearing traditional Arab dress - the two men had been driving in an unmarked car when they arrived at a checkpoint in the city.
In the confrontation that followed, shots were fired, and two Iraqi policemen were shot, one of whom later died. The Iraqi authorities blamed the men, reported to be undercover commandos, and arrested them.
The British government issues "official statements" -- from "official sources," and naturally an anonymice at that -- and the Times can't tell you what happened. But some "official sources" carry greater weight than other "official sources" apparently. Which is why you have to read McCormack's article to come across this sort of statement:
The British military action was condemned as "barbaric, savage and irresponsible" by Mohammed al-Waili, the governor of the province. "A British force of more than 10 tanks backed by helicopters attacked the central jail and destroyed it. This is an irresponsible act," the governor said.
The governor of the province? Surely he mentions merit in the Times "official sources" loving paper of record, no? No. No, he's not fitting the narrative of this story. And while it's true that any story will have a narrative, the one imposed on this article isn't interested in reality.
A skeptic might respond, "Oh, that's The Independent. The Times doesn't care what they say."
The BBC then? Polly e-mails to note "UK soldiers 'freed from militia:'"
Basra governor Mohammed al-Waili said more than 10 vehicles and helicopters had been used in an operation that was a "barbaric act of aggression".
Yeah, the BBC could note al-Waili's remarks. And they did. It's just in this country that we need to coat half-realities in sugar for them to go down easy.
That's why you get one "fact" after another that's contradicted in reporting elsewhere. That's why you get anonymous claims and on apparent concern as to why the British officers were undercover to begin with. Why we're told, anonymously, that the tank (one) apparently rolls in due to "100 to 200 people" of "rioters." When eye witness reports (naturally not in the Times) report quite differently. A dozen or so is key to the other reporting on this incident. Then the tanks come. And it is tanks from eye witness reports, plural. And helicopters. The Times misses that.
"More than one" had been in the area, the Times tells us. They don't even use the term "tanks."
"Armored vehicle" and "armored fighting vehicle" are popular with the Times today.
To read the Times narrative, two British troops were taken to a jail after being stopped at a check point and reportedly fighting, once in the jail, "100 to 200" people gathered, an "armored vehicle" shot through a wall, and they were released. A soldier lept from an "armored vehicle" that had flames arising from it.
The soldier, as reported elsewhere, jumped with his own uniform on fire. (BBC reports soldiers, one is visible in their photo.) (The same BBC report also reports two tanks "set alight in clashes.") Reports outside the Times have the number of people estimated as a dozen more or less until the tanks and helicopters rolled in.
Basra has not been "subdued." (See earlier entry this morning.)
The incident, though you wouldn't know it from the Times, is a big topic in England. And, again, though you wouldn't know it from the Times happy talk version of the incident, it's leading to public comments from "official sources." From the BBC:
But Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell said: "It is hard to see how relations between the British military and the civilian Iraqi authorities in Basra will ever be the same again.
"This is bound to be seen as a humiliation by many Iraqis - something the insurgents will use to their advantage."
From The Independent:
Calling for Mr Blair to set an exit date, Labour MPs said the scenes from Basra had echoes of the killing of two British soldiers who were murdered by a mob in Northern Ireland during the Troubles after driving into a republican funeral cortège in March 1988.
Clare Short, the former international development secretary, who resigned over the war, said: "We should negotiate an end to the occupation. They are all saying 'no' because it's such a mess we cannot leave now. But the occupation is the major problem now.
Note to UK members, I've read all the articles you sent. I'm going with the BBC and The Independent for this entry because they were the articles sent in repeatedly. But the overall view all of the articles painted were and are helpful. From Anthony Loyd's "Army storms jail to free seized soldiers" (Times of London), we'll note the following:
The British military sent a small force to rescue the soldiers, but it was beaten off by an angry mob which set fire to two Warrior armoured fighting vehicles. One soldier was seen tumbling from the vehicle in flames, another being pelted with rocks.
The second attempt last night was more organised. Before the prison was attacked nearby roads were sealed and reinforcements surrounded the police station. “We are not leaving without our men," said a British commander. The former Iraq commander, Tim Collins, said it was “not a good turn of events”, but added that he believed the events did not represent a breakdown of law and order in Basra.
British diplomats had demanded the release of the men, reminding the Iraqi authorities that British troops in Iraq were answerable only to British military justice. But the Government in Baghdad had appeared unable to impose its will on the authorities in Basra.
The incident presents an acute problem for Tony Blair. More than 8,000 British troops are deployed to maintain order and to train the very police that were holding the two soldiers prisoner. The coalition’s entire exit strategy depends on Iraqi security forces being able to take over.
There is a wider fear that yesterday’s developments could herald an unravelling of the fragile peace that has prevailed to date in southern Iraq. In the past two months six British soldiers and two British security guards have been killed as Islamic fundamentalists, backed by Iran, have tightened their grip on the region. There was a strong suspicion that the police in Basra were acting in collusion with followers of the populist Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who wants British and American troops out of Iraq and has been increasingly fomenting unrest in the south.
Paints a different story than does the Times of New York. It's some sort of incident that doesn't really matter all that much in the Times of New York. If it did, they'd tell us what the reaction in England was, but they don't . . .
We'll also note Abbas Fayadh, Lucy Bannerman, and Ian Bruce's "British soldiers freed after tanks 'smashed jail wall'" (Scotland's The Herald):
TWO undercover soldiers seized by Iraqi forces were freed last night when British tanks breached their prison walls, according to reports.
About 10 Warrior armoured vehicles were said to have been involved in the operation, before troops stormed in to release the special forces servicemen.
[. . .]
Dramatic images showed one soldier scrambling out of a burning vehicle, engulfed by flames. Gun battles broke out between the two sides, leaving two civilians dead and 15 injured.
Mohammed al Waili, the governor of the province, said the British jail raid was "barbaric, savage and irresponsible". He said: "A British force of more than 10 tanks backed by helicopters attacked the central jail and destroyed it. This is an irresponsible act."
[. . .]
Sir Menzies Campbell, LibDem deputy leader, condemned the force shown by the army, warning the decision to break into the prison would fuel the insurgency. He said: "It is hard to see how relations between the British military and the civilian Iraqi authorities in Basra will ever be the same again. This is bound to be seen as a humiliation by many Iraqis, something the insurgents will use to their advantage.
"An operation of this kind must have gone to the highest level. I would be surprised if the prime minister had not been consulted."
[. . .]
Sources say the British soldiers, possibly members of the new Special Reconnaissance Regiment formed earlier this month to provide intelligence for SAS operations, were looking at infiltration of the city's police by the followers of the outspoken Shi'ite cleric, Moqtada al Sadr.
In all, I'm reading through over sixty different articles sent in by UK members (I'd guess it's sixty-three but don't make me swear to it, that's sixty-three different articles -- as often happens, members sometimes note an article that others have noted as well -- The Independent and the BBC were noted repeatedly, I've credited the first person who sent them in according to the time on the e-mails). And when you read the coverage from outside the New York Timid, you get a different view.
Which is why Gareth asks if this is how they honour the journalist who died? On the same day as they note his death, they're also printing a narrow, limited scope of the events that relies on select "official sources" and seems unable to find any eye witnesses at all.
That's the New York Timid. And that's the problem with the Iraq coverage. This isn't an isolated incident that just flared up (Basra) and if the Times wants to report reality, they're going to have to work a great deal harder. I'm saying the Times because we don't know what was in the original draft of this article and what was removed from it. (Note to ____, I did read your e-mail. We've noted that before but thanks for the reminder.)
Does the paper of record set out to censor the news for fear of offending Americans? Or is this part of the problem it has with covering Iraq (which combines their love of "official sources" -- even when not named -- with 'reported live from the Green Zone')?
Whatever the problem is, Basra reported in the Times today is reported differently outside the Times. In England, this is a huge issue. In the Times, it's one article, one very weak article that leaves out key points and only finds "happy talkers" to quote. Even the anonymous ones are part of Operation Happy Talk.
Is the Times? If so, the article on Fakher Haider was a waste of time this morning. Don't tell us of the realities in Basra in one story and, in another, deny basic reality reported elsewhere (all over the place -- "reported all over the place" might be the better way to put that).
There are quotes in the Times article that aren't presented as having been told to the Times one on one. Which is probably good because those quotes pop up in most of the other reporting. What doesn't pop up in the Times is the non-Happy Talkers. Other news sources report "Happy Talker said this and ___ said this." The Times gives you one view of the events and one view of the impact. Both are limited and both fail to allow readers to grasp what actually happened and what it's impact has been.
Rod e-mails to note today's scheduled topics for Democracy Now!:
Hugo Chavez: We broadcast the rest of our exclusive interview with the Venezuelan president. An in-studio on the state of African with 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winning Wangari Maathai, of Kenya; and human rights activist and journalist KenWiwa, of Nigeria.
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