Friday, February 23, 2007

More On Raid Of Iraqi Journalist's Union

Yesterday, I posted about a raid on the new headquarters office of the Iraqi Journalist's Union. The International Federation of Journalists, to which the Iraqi syndicate is affiliated, condemned the raid, saying that US troops had been involved. The most worrisome aspect of the raid, perhaps, was the seizure of computers, documents and membership lists.

Michael Roston from Raw Story, in following up the story, was told by Centcom that "the ISJ operation did not involve US forces" - contrary to the IFJ's statement.

That looks like it may have been technically true, as more details on the raid emerge from Reporters Without Borders:
Reporters Without Borders today condemned a raid by US and Iraqi military units on the offices of the Union of Iraqi Journalists in the Baghdad neighbourhood of al-Waziriyah on the night of 19 February, in which shots were fired and the union’s 10 security guards were arrested.

“We strongly condemn this unjustified attack,” the press freedom organisation said. “The building’s guards were authorised to carry firearms and did not behave in an aggressive or threatening manner towards the soldiers patrolling the neighbourhood. We call for their immediate release.”

Reporters Without Borders has learned that a US army mobile unit fired on the union’s headquarters after seeing armed guards. Members of the Iraqi army then stormed into the premises, disarmed and detained the guards and seized the union’s computer equipment. It is not known where the guards are being held.

Neither the US army nor the Iraqi authorities have said anything about this attack. Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the spokesman of the coalition forces in Iraq, was unable to confirm during a news conference on 21 February whether there had been a raid by coalition troops on the union’s headquarters.
If this account is correct - and there has been no confirmation as yet from Centcom - then it is the Iraqi Army who took the computers, lists and documents. US troops seem to have played a part, but didn't actually participate in the raid. In such a case, I would call the denial of involvement to Raw Story yesterday "being economical with the truth". Even so, it now looks like I may have been wrong to suggest that this might be an attempt by the US military to control the flow of information in Baghdad during the "syrge", in which case I can only apologise for an unfair imputation.

Still, the fact that only a few days before the Iraqi government had finally recognized the Iraqi syndicate and released its bank accounts after a long battle suggests very strongly that one governmental hand doesn't know what the other is doing. Recent events, such as the hasty government exoneration of those accused of a Baghdad rape, suggest that a portion of the Iraqi government would be more than happy to be in control of what the Iraqi media tells its populace. However, it doesn't bode well for prospects of an end to intercine in-fighting and sectarian civil war.

Update AP finally gets to the story and has a bit more:
The chairman of the union, Shihab al-Timimi, said he had written to U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Iraqi leaders to demand an apology and compensation because the unit broke furniture and other equipment when it stormed into the building.

"Had they asked us to open the door for them, of course we would have done so, instead of breaking the gates and the doors of the union building," he said, adding that seven of the building guards had been released Thursday.

Khalilzad's spokesman Lou Fintor said the allegations were being taken "very seriously" but that preliminary information indicated "there were no Multinational Forces — Iraq related operations in the vicinity of the Iraqi Journalists' Union during the timeframe described."

U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver also said the raid was not conducted by American forces.

Al-Timimi insisted U.S. troops were involved, saying "they were accompanied by a translator as well."

The discrepancy could not immediately be explained, but the reported raid occurred during a major security operation in which U.S and Iraqi forces are sweeping through neighborhoods in a bid to stop the sectarian violence in the capital.
Curiouser and curiouser. If both parties are right, then someone was masquerading in US uniforms. Kerbala anyone? However, it seems more likely one is wrong. Which one? The folks on the spot - journalists all but seemingly without the ability to surreptitiously take pictures or get unit designations - or the ones relying on what "preliminary information" indicates who have been known to backtrack on "preliminary information" (when forced to) before?

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