Death of a Hawk: Steven Vincent, RIP.

Juan Cole mentions the killing of Steven Vincent, an American journalist who had been blogging and reporting from Basra. Basra. Cole remarks, “I would not have expected him to be killed in Basra, which is generally safer than Baghdad.”

I would have expected the professor to have been more knowlegeable about Vincent, since he wrote about Cole’s specialty, Shiite Iraq. I began reading Vincent after following links from libertarian blogger Jim Henley, so naturally the first stop after hearing of Vincent’s death for me was Jim’s blog:

Vincent was the author of In the Red Zone and proprietor of its associated blog. He was another of the mad dreamers of the last few years who confused hopes with plans, but he stood head and shoulders above his fellows, first for his courage, secondly for his absolute refusal to start moving goalposts. He saw the liberation of Iraq as the great cause of his day. So rather than sit home and talk to anonymous bureaucrats or retype governent press releases, he went to Iraq, twice. His great passion was women’s rights, in the Arab world generally and Iraq in particular. He is dead because he refused to trim his sense of justice to fit the latest fashions in colonial PR – on the ground in Basra, he reported the facts as he found them, blowing the whistle on Allied accomodation to theocracy and the increasing oppression of Iraq’s women.

There are lessons one could draw from Vincent’s death, many of them rueful. The overused word “tragedy” applies. One must contemplate them soon. I am too sad for that right now.

An excerpt from Vincent’s July 31, 2005 NY Times piece, read in light of his murder, reveals clues as to the likely motivation of his killers:

From another view, however, security sector reform is failing the very people it is intended to serve: average Iraqis who simply want to go about their lives. As has been widely reported of late, Basran politics (and everyday life) is increasingly coming under the control of Shiite religious groups, from the relatively mainstream Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq to the bellicose followers of the rebel cleric Moktada al-Sadr. Recruited from the same population of undereducated, underemployed men who swell these organizations’ ranks, many of Basra’s rank-and-file police officers maintain dual loyalties to mosque and state.

In May, the city’s police chief told a British newspaper that half of his 7,000-man force was affiliated with religious parties. This may have been an optimistic estimate: one young Iraqi officer told me that “75 percent of the policemen I know are with Moktada al-Sadr – he is a great man.” And unfortunately, the British seem unable or unwilling to do anything about it.
An Iraqi police lieutenant, who for obvious reasons asked to remain anonymous, confirmed to me the widespread rumors that a few police officers are perpetrating many of the hundreds of assassinations – mostly of former Baath Party members – that take place in Basra each month. He told me that there is even a sort of “death car”: a white Toyota Mark II that glides through the city streets, carrying off-duty police officers in the pay of extremist religious groups to their next assignment.

One wonders if Steven Vincent’s last ride was in a white Toyota Mark II.

In other Colonial Iraq news, 14 Marines along with their translator have been killed in one roadside bomb explosion. Steve Vincent’s translator was a bit more fortunate – while they were both shot, she still lives. Edward Wong of the NY Times reports:

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 3 – An American journalist writing about the rise of fundamentalist Islam was shot dead overnight after being abducted in the southern port city of Basra, American embassy and Iraqi officials said today. The journalist’s translator was also shot and is in serious condition at a Basra hospital.

The body of the reporter, Steven Vincent, from New York, was found this morning. He had been dumped outdoors after being shot several times, and his hands were tied with a plastic wire, and a red piece of cloth was wrapped around his neck. He and his translator, Ward al-Khal, were kidnapped on Tuesday evening in downtown Basra by masked gunman in a pick-up truck as they left a moneychanger’s shop near Mr. Vincent’s hotel, police officials said.

The gunmen may have been in a police vehicle, The Associated Press reported, citing a police official in Basra.