The most wicked acts are spoken of openly and without reserve in Iraq. Torture, stabbings and bodies ripped to pieces in bombings are all part of the daily conversation.
Rape is different.
Rape is not mentioned by the victims, and rarely by the authorities. And when it is discussed publicly, as in several high-profile cases involving American soldiers and Iraqi women, it is usually left to the relatives of the victim to give the explicit details.
So when a 20-year-old Sunni woman from Baghdad appeared on the satellite television station Al Jazeera on Monday night with a horrific account of kidnapping and sexual assault at the hands of three officers in the Shiite-dominated Iraqi National Police, people across the country were stunned, some disbelieving, others horrified, but all riveted.
Almost immediately, Shiite leaders lined up to condemn the woman, calling her charges propaganda aimed at undermining the new security campaign. Sunni politicians offered the woman their support. Whatever the truth of the accusation, though, it played to sectarian fears on both sides.
The above is from Marc Santora's "Rape Accusation Reinforces Fears in a Divided Iraq" in this morning's New York Times. There's much to note in the story, much to lead to pats on the back for doing the basic job and there's even some information that the Times may be the first to print. However, Santora's angle is that the fallout has been claims and counter-claims that threaten to inflame the tensions and hositilities even more along sectarian lines. If that's your angle and the puppet, al-Maliki, is at odds with one of Iraq's vice-presidents, and the division falls down the Sunni/Shia split, you need to include that.
From yesterday's snapshot:
The BBC reports: "But an aide of Vice President Tariq Hashimi, a Sunni, said the prime minister's office had acted in haste, and doctors had in fact confirmed rape had taken place." As Al Jazeera notes, the stigma attached to rape in Iraq could allow for the rape victim to be killed ("honor killing") by her own (male) relatives (that's noted for those, like al-Maliki, who immediately want to scream that the charges were made up). Al Jazeera quotes Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, speaker of the Iraqi parliment, stating of the puppet: "By God, if you don't bring justice to this Muslim Iraqi woman, whom you should view as your sister or daughter . . . history will curse us with eternal disgrace." AFP quotes the woman's statements: "One of them hit me. I fell and my head hit the ground. One of them raped me. Then another came and raped, and a third. I was screaming, crying and begging them, but he held my mouth so no-one could hear. Someone came and said to them, 'Are you done? Can we come and take our turn?' But one of them said, 'No, there's an American patrol coming'." AFP also notes that when US troops did discover the woman, they transferred her to a hospital in the Green Zone and quotes Omar Jaburi ("Vice President Tareq al Hashemi's adviser on human rights") stating: "The initial hospital report confirmed what she has said. A panel of medical experts is reviewing the evidence, we expect them to report tonight."
I have no idea why the Sunni vp's spokesperson, Omar Jaburi, contradicts al-Maliki's claims and I have no idea why the European press was willing to cover it while it didn't show up in the AP wire reports yesterday. But if your angle is that tensions are inflamed, I don't think you get better examples than the office of vice president Tareg al Hashemi issuing statements in direct conflict with al-Maliki's or, for that matter, the speaker of the Iraqi parliament calling out al-Maliki out. (Though those with longer memories will remember that the Times spent summer 2006 telling you the speaker was on his way out of parliament and so busy nursing his wounds that he was in hiding with his father fielding all requests for interviews -- the reality was al-Mashhadani was on a previously announced, official trip to Jordan but those myths did allow the paper to utilize their creative energies.)
What I didn't see in any reports yesterday and that the Times may be the first to note is this:
A nurse who said she treated the woman after the attack said that she saw signs of sexual and physical assault. The woman, according to the nurse, could identify one of her attackers because he was not wearing a mask, as were the others, and could identify a second attacker by a mark on his genitals.
Martha notes Ernesto Londono's "A Rape Case Goes Public, Igniting Political Fray: Prime Minister Draws Wrath by Reversing Stance to Praise Policemen Accused by Sunni" (Washington Post) on the same topic:
But Maliki injected himself into the case, issuing a news release announcing that the government had convened a committee to investigate and would hold the perpetrators responsible. The initial news release identified the woman, who has a common Sunni name.
Hours later, Maliki reversed course, issuing another statement calling the woman an impostor and a criminal with three outstanding warrants.
"After confirming the falsehood of these claims," it said, Maliki "has ordered that these distinguished officers be honored." It did not identify the officers or explain why the accolades were justified.
Saleh Muhamed al-Mutlaq, a Sunni member of parliament, decried the way Maliki handled the case and accused him of covering up the acts of what he said must have been a rogue group of officers at the Shiite-led Interior Ministry.
"They gave them a compliment," he said about the officers. "That's an insult to the family and the tribe. To do that in such a fast way is not fair. The investigation should have been done in a quiet, steady way, taking time to get the reality."
And, from near the end of Londono's article, we'll note this:
Meanwhile, the president of the Iraqi Journalists Union said U.S. troops raided the group's office Monday and detained 10 of its guards. Shihab al-Timimi called the raid "a strange and irresponsible act" and said he has called the U.S. ambassador in Iraq and the U.S. military.
Back to al-Maliki to publicly proclaim a full investigation and then, hours later, to issue a blanket denial of any incident doesn't convince Iraqis that you're representing all Iraqis. That's the same image problem the puppet's had as Sunnis have been purged from Baghdad while the impression has been that Shi'ites, particularly in the Sadr City section of Baghdad, operate under your protection/immunity. The rape charges and the way the puppet has handled them are the sort of things that linger and undermine.
On the way the puppet's seen, we'll note this from Borzou Daragahi's "Joint force weighs move on Sadr City: The vast Baghdad slum harbors a key militia but a sweep could backfire" (Los Angeles Times):
But Sunnis insist on action. After years of watching their communities be targeted aggressively by local security forces and U.S. troops, Sunni leaders and officials insist that the success or failure of the security plan and possible reconciliation between sects hinges on whether Sadr City is treated like the hive of militants they consider it to be.
"This plan needs to arrest the leaders of both sides who are planning and performing operations and violence against both sides," Wajuih, the Sunni politician, said.
Wajuih's party boss, Vice President Tariq Hashemi, recently raised the stakes by calling on authorities to classify the Al Mahdi militia as a terrorist organization and treat it as harshly as they do Sunni insurgent groups.U.S. military officials acknowledge that Sadr City's political clout has heightened sensitivities about moving in forcefully. In the past, Iraqi politicians have pulled Iraqi security forces off joint operations.
Meanwhile, Reuters is reporting that a Black Hawk Down had a "hard landing" according to the US military which is providing no details other than "north of Baghdad." We'll pair that with Lloyd's highlight, Ann Scott Tyson's "Copter Attacks In Iraq May Indicate New Battle Strategy" (Washington Post):
The Army's senior aviation officer in Iraq said yesterday that Sunni fighters probably used a sophisticated SA-14 or SA-16 shoulder-fired missile to shoot down a Marine helicopter on Feb. 7, killing all seven people on board.
If confirmed by an ongoing Marine Corps investigation, it would mark the first time since last summer that insurgents in Iraq struck U.S. aircraft with such an anti-aircraft missile, and it would provide fresh evidence of a new strategy of targeting helicopters, according to Maj. Gen. James E. Simmons, deputy U.S. commander in Iraq.
[. . .]
The attack in Anbar province was the latest in a string of seven U.S. military and civilian helicopter downings in Iraq since last month. U.S. commanders say that Sunni and Shiite extremist groups have begun to use deadly strikes in a new and carefully planned effort to rally support for their causes.
"The extremists on both ends of the spectrum, Sunni and Shia, recognized that whenever you have an aircraft shot down that belongs to the U.S. government, that is a spectacular international press event" and sends the message that "they are a capable adversary," Simmons said.
An ongoing war, about to hit its four year mark, might also demonstrate "they are a capable adversary".
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the new york times
ann scott tyson