Dmitry Chebotayev, Russian photographer, killed in Iraq

Dmitry-Chebotayev-AP.jpgIt’s been a fatal weekend for foreign correspondents.
On Sunday, the day the plane carrying Anthony Mitchell of AP was found, Dmitry Chebotayev, a Russian photographer for EPA and Russian Newsweek was killed in Diyala province along with six U.S. soldiers, with whom he was embedded.
As the Committee to Project Journalists said in a statement,

The Committee to Protect Journalists mourns the death on Sunday of Dmitry Chebotayev, the first Russian journalist to be killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. Chebotayev, a freelance photographer embedded with U.S. forces, was killed along with six American soldiers when a roadside bomb struck a U.S. military vehicle in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad.
Chebotayev was on assignment for the Russian edition of Newsweek magazine, reporting on the efforts of U.S. forces to control roads in Diyala province, Leonid Parfyonov, editor of the magazine’s Russian edition, told CPJ. Chebotayev had been in Iraq for more than two months.

Chebotayev, 29, had freelanced for several news agencies, including the German-based European Pressphoto Agency and the independent Moscow daily Kommersant. A sampling of his photos can be viewed on his Lightstalkers profile page. Lightstalkers is an online network of photographers and other visual journalists that serves as a directory, database, and resource center.
At least 101 journalists and 38 media support staffers have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, making Iraq the deadliest conflict for the press in CPJ’s 26-year history. Seven embedded journalists have been killed since the war began.

He last logged into Lightstalkers five days ago. His location is listed as Baqoubah, Iraq, and his travel log shows that he worked in Russia, Ukraine, Lebanon, Syria, Chechnya and Iraq. My friend Bill Putnam, another photographer, offered advice to him regarding embedding in Iraq. It’s another sad day for journalists in the tight-knit world of Middle East coverage, after the loss of Anthony on Saturday.
Six soldiers and a journalist killed in one blast makes me suspect it was an awfully big IED that hit a Bradley fighting vehicle, rather than a humvee, which holds five guys, tops. I’m just speculating, though.
I hope I don’t have to do any more posts like this. Rest in peace, Dmitry and Anthony. You will be missed.

Moral Shame and Humiliation

George Packer has another great and heartbreaking story out in this week’s _New Yorker_. It’s about the Iraqi translators and workers who signed up for the American rebuilding project in Iraq but who are now being thrown to the wolves by the United States. I mentioned this “a couple of posts back”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2007/03/language_in_iraq_on_the_radar.php, but George’s “full story is worth a full and thoughtful read”:http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/03/26/070326fa_fact_packer?printable=true.
As he puts it:

Between October, 2005, and September, 2006, the United States admitted two hundred and two Iraqis as refugees, most of them from the years under Saddam. Last year, the Bush Administration increased the allotment to five hundred. By the end of 2006, there were almost two million Iraqis living as refugees outside their country — most of them in Syria and Jordan. American policy held that these Iraqis were not refugees, that they would go back to their country as soon as it was stabilized. The U.S. Embassies in Damascus and Amman continued to turn down almost all visa applications from Iraqis. So the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world remained hidden, receiving little attention other than in a few reports from organizations like Human Rights Watch and Refugees International.

Of course, the reason the Iraqis are being treated like this is because the Bush administration refuses to admit that Iraq isn’t a abattoir of its making. And there is insult to the injury the Iraqis are facing. At least one Iraqi employee of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad was refused entry to the U.S. because he had paid a ransom to kidnappers, violating the “material support” clause of the Patriot Act.
One of the heroes of the story is a USAID worker named Kirk Johnson, who grew disillusioned with life in the Green Zone and asked to be transferred to Fallujah. I think I met Johnson when “I was in Fallujah in Nov. 2005”:http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,1126748,00.html, but I’m not sure. Regardless, he has been a driving force in getting the U.S. to open its doors more to Iraqi refugees, with the highest priority given to those who worked for the U.S. and are now in the most danger.
“This is the brink right now, where our partners over there are running for their lives,” he said to George. “I defy anyone to give me the counter-argument for why we shouldn’t let these people in.” He then quoted something President Gerald Ford once said regarding his decision to admit a hundred and thirty thousand Vietnamese after the fall of Saigon: “To do less would have added moral shame to humiliation.”

Failure to Communicate

A former translator in Iraq, Dustin Langan, wrote me today to tip me off about an interesting read in Radar, about the lack of good translators in Iraq. He was recruited by MZM Inc., one of the companies connected with the “Duke” Cunningham corruption scandal, to work in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, and he has some good points to make.

One that is personally dear to me is the treatment of the Iraqi translators. As he says:

[Iraqi translators] have been treated terribly. They’ve been killed. They have not been protected. They have not received visas or anything. They’re being killed at very high rates. The result is many people now in Iraq think if you work with the coalition you’re an idiot, because you’re working with someone who doesn’t care about you, and then you’re killed.

I’ve known a few ‘terps, as they’re called, and my friend George Packer has made this one of his major concerns. It should be one that makes every feeling American — whether you supported the war or not — ashamed at how we’re treating these people.

Anyway, it’s a good interview. Thanks for the tip, Dustin!

Guilty, guilty, guilty

Just before 11 p.m. Beirut time (GMT +0200), Saddam Hussein was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.

“Long live the people, down with the traitors, down with the conquerers!” shouted Saddam Hussein after the verdict was read. “Damn you and your court.”

Right this moment, Baghdad is under an uneasy and indefinite curfew. I just spoke with my old TIME colleagues who are there, and they reported a lot of violence around them. However, CNN is reporting only sporadic, celebratory gunfire. The two bureaus are in different parts of Baghdad, however, so they may both be right.

Anyway, yippee. I guess we can all agree the invasion, the destruction, the looting, the thousands of Americans slain, the tens of thousands wounded, and the possibly hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, the destruction of the Iraqi state, the collapse of Iraqi society were all worth it.

Well, if the GOP maintains its edge in Congress, I’m sure someone in Washington will think it was worth it. (I’m looking at you, Karl Rove.) But they may be the only ones on the planet.

Did anyone really think this would come out any other way? I covered this trial for a bit before I quit the Mesopotamian charnel house, neé Iraq, in March and the Americans have stage-managed this trial from the get-go. The trial is considered a joke in Iraq and around the region. No one took it seriously. And now, Saddam Hussein, a man who no doubt deserves harsh punishment for his crimes, will be brought to American-brokered justice. I can not emphasize enough how many Iraqis will see this as either revenge by Saddam’s enemies and an unjust, preordained outcome (most Sunnis), or a process that took too long and could have been avoided if the bastard had just been strung up when the Americans caught him in December 2003 (pretty much everyone else in Iraq.)

Not much room in there for a celebration of the Iraq’s shiny new rule of law.

And now, two days before the American midterm elections, Saddam gets the death sentence. Already celebratory gunfire is echoing across Baghdad, but soon after, Iraq will likely be an orgy of violence and blood as insurgents and supporters of Saddam respond. Will the verdict be worth the deaths from that violence, too?

So, to review: Americans invade Iraq, destroy the government, catch a butcher and put him in a show trial that was already marked by interference and showboating by all sides, and then watch gleefully as he’s sentenced to death two days before the political party that started this fiasco face almost certain defeat.

Several questions: For Iraqis, the question now is what happens in the appeal process. An automatic appeal starts 10 days from today, and will likely take a couple of months. Then, 30 days after the end of the appeal process, Saddam will die by hanging. (I don’t expect his appeal to be successful.)

For Americans, there needs to be some soul-searching, starting with the question I asked above: Was this verdict, as satisfying as it may be to some, worth the disaster that is Iraq? Are Americans still willing to send their sons and daughters there to keep Iraqis from each others’ throats for a few months more?

For the White House, they’re now anxiously watching the voters, asking the question, Do Americans still feel Saddam was a enough of a threat to reward the GOP now for getting this verdict? Will it rally the GOP faithful? Possibly. The whole GOTV thing, for me, is the big variable in this election. I just don’t know what will or won’t motivate GOP and Democratic voters to get out there.

That said, I think I know what they’re telling themselves in the West Wing, but I suspect (naïvely hope?) that most voters kind of figured what the verdict would be and have already factored that into their political choices. This electorally-timed verdict will do little to change their minds. Nor will it do anything to change the dynamic on the ground in Iraq. In fact, look for the violence to get worse in the next few day as Sunni insurgents weigh in with their opinion on the verdict and Shi’ite death squads respond.

Death of a Scientist

A scientist friend of my former fixer in Iraq was shot and killed in traffic yesterday.

Some bad news of a personal nature out of Iraq today. A scientist friend of my former fixer in Iraq was shot and killed in traffic Monday:

BAGHDAD — A leading Iraqi academic and prominent hardline Sunni political activist was fatally shot by three gunmen Monday as he was leaving his Baghdad home, police said.
The killers escaped in a car after gunning down Essam al-Rawi, head of the University Professor’s Union and a senior member of the influential Association of Muslim Scholars, according to police Lt. Maitham Abdul-Razaq.
The association is a Sunni organization believed to have links to the insurgency raging against U.S. forces and their Iraqi allies. The group has boycotted elections and stood aside from the political process.
An association official confirmed the killing of al-Rawi, a geologist, saying he was behind the wheel of his car and had just left his home for the drive to work at Baghdad University accompanied by two bodyguards.
The gunmen drove in front of al-Rawi’s car, forced it to stop, then sprayed it with automatic weapons fire, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared reprisal. One of al-Rawi’s bodyguards was killed and the other was wounded, the official said.

I wrote about Dr. Al-Rawi in June 2004 for Seed Magazine, shortly after I got back to Iraq. I don’t remember if the story ever ran or not as there was a payment dispute, but here’s the story I wrote:

The scientists among the shell casings
BAGHDAD — Dr. Isam al-Rawi, a geologist at Baghdad University, sweeps his hand over a set of dog-eared journals. The arc of his gesture continues on to include a bare laboratory with a few slices of rock samples, a sagging chair and a dripping sink. The room is mean, long and narrow, with barely enough room for a colleague to squeeze past al-Rawi carrying a tray of glasses filled to their chipped rims with Sprite. Finally his hand returns to the journals and books, and he points an accusing finger at them.
“I am a university professor,” he says. “I need books!”
Indeed, he needs a lot more than that, but few things sum up the current state of Iraq’s scientific crisis more than its lack of books and journals. Al-Rawi’s most recent acquisition is a photocopied version of the 1998 edition of the Atlas of Rock Forming Minerals, which he bought in Libya on his last trip outside Iraq. His most recent journal, a copy of the Geological Society of America Bulletin, dates to August 1985. To a one, his books and journals are old, out of date and falling apart, much like the country’s scientific community itself.
Before the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq’s scientists were some of the most respected in the region and they made a good living. The country’s universities churned out engineers, technicians and Ph.D.s. They often did post-graduate work in the West and had access to the world’s scientific literature. They traveled to scientific conferences all over the world.
But things started to get bad in the mid-1980s when the Iran-Iraq war was raging; Saddam Hussein began restricting access to scientific journals. After the disastrous 1991 war and the impositions of sanctions, things took an even graver turn. Salaries plummeted. Al-Rawi’s monthly income went from about $2,000 a month before the 1991 war to about $400 a month. New scientists and professors earned about $100 a month. They could not travel; they could not subscribe to periodicals, as they were forbidden by the sanctions regime. New books were too expensive. Much needed equipment, which was often marked as “dual use,” was prevented from entering the country. The Middle East’s most advanced scientific community was effectively sealed up in a time capsule.
But now, even with most of the restrictions gone, things are still hard 15 months after Saddam Hussein was removed from power. While scientists are no longer prevented from ordering new books and journals and are allowed to leave the country, they often can’t for the simple reason that they have no money to do so. And a sinister series of killings has terrified and decimated the scientific community. In mid-June, Sabri Al-Bayati, professor of telecommunications at the college of Science and Education at Baghdad University was shot dead near his home in the Bab Al-Athamiya area in central Baghdad.‏ A few days previously, a physician, Dr. Mohammed Abdullah Faleh al-Rawi (no relation), was killed while sitting in traffic. Their deaths are just two of about 250 university professors, medical doctors and engineers who have been killed since May 1, 2003.
“No one knows why, no one knows who,” al-Rawi says, and flicked his prayer beads back and forth.
In such an environment, there is no work on new research, says Dr. Nuhad Ali, a mechanical engineer at the university. The only money being spent is to keep up the salaries of the professors, and the only new equipment are some computers paid for with the now-defunct oil-for-food program. The universities aren’t even accepting new graduate students, Ali says. All current graduate students, who used to receive a monthly stipend, were enrolled before the war.
But not all is hopeless, two solid state physicists, Dr. Izzat al-Essa and Dr. Raed al-Haddend, says they had been able to attend the Saudi Solid State Physics conference in Riyadh in March. The praised the lifting of travel restrictions, but says it was still very expensive.
Baghdad University was also lucky. Almost every other university in the country was looted in the civil unrest following the fall of Baghdad. But American troops decided to bivouac on the campuses of Baghdad University and the nearby Al-Nahrain University neé Saddam Hussein University. Their presence prevented the wholesale looting of everything down to electrical fixtures that was going on just across town at al-Mustansiriya University.
So now the scientific community must rebuild with limited financial resources in a security vacuum. It’s no wonder there’s an abiding sense of hopelessness among the professors. Al-Essa and al-Haddend dream of X-ray machines, electron microscopes and FT-IR spectrometers. Al-Rawi wants to replace his 1974 X-ray fluorescence machine so he can analyze some rock sections he recently took near Perispike in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq. Dr. Emad T. Bakir, an industrial chemist with a specialty in polymers, hopes for research assistants, catalysts and solvents.
But the money is simply not there. The former administrator for the now-dissolved Coalition Provisional Authority L. Paul Bremer III was found of saying, “Iraq is a rich country that is temporarily poor.” The new government is inheriting many of Iraq’s old debts, including $29.8 billion for war reparations to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, but the Transitional Administrative Law, which is the working constitution for the interim government, forbids deficit spending. All ministries, including the Ministry of Higher Education, headed by Dr. Taher Khalaf Jabur al-Bakaa, are feeling the vice grip of national poverty. The minister doesn’t even have a bullet-proof vest; he can’t afford one.
But if Iraqis are good at anything, it’s hoping. The scientific community is no exception. Fueling this hope is a promise promise from Bremer. Before he left June 28, he said he would attempt to increase communications between American scientists at universities and their Iraqi counterparts. An Iraqi delegation recently returned from the University of Oklahoma whose president Bremer went to school with.
“We hope our friends in America and England will come to see what has happened to us,” says al-Rawi.

It should be noted that almost all of the murders of university professors have gone unsolved. Al-Rawi was working to change that when he became a victim himself.

Haggling over Amnesty

Muhammad over at Iraq the Model blogs on the seven (or six) insurgent groups coming in from the desert and proposing a truce.
He doesn’t really add much to my previous post, but he does have an interesting comment:

So far, everybody in Iraq feels good about Maliki’s plan and expressed their hopes for it to meet success and ease the suffering of the Iraqi people; everybody except for the Sadrists and the association of Muslim scholars who both criticized the plan and said it wasn’t acceptable and expected it to fail.

I’m not in Baghdad anymore so I have no idea if “everybody feels good” about the plan. I doubt that’s true, but I’m sure most people _want_ to feel good about it. That’s not my point. What’s interesting is the point he makes about the Association of Muslim Scholars, which is also the Muslim Clerics Association “I mentioned previously”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2006/06/coming_in_from_the_desert.php. The MCA, headed by Harith al-Dhari has alleged connections to the 1920 Revolution Brigades through al-Dhari’s son, Muthanna, and which is allegedly one of the groups seeking a truce. What gives?
I’m not sure at this point, but I suspect al-Dhari’s playing both sides of the field at this point, withholding his group’s support for more concessions from the government, while dangling the 1920 Revolution Brigades as a tease. Politics in Iraq are like haggling in a bazaar: outrageous demands, emotional appeals, walking away… all just before agreeing on a final deal. Middle Easterners _love_ this stuff.
Moqtada al-Sadr, who commands the loyalty the Mahdi Army, is certainly doing the same thing. If anyone wants to be declared a legitimate, national resistance who should get amnesty for killing U.S. troops, it’s those guys. Not only are they guilty of “killing American Marines in Najaf”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2004/08/inside_the_imam_ali_shrine.php, they’re also heavily enmeshed in the Shi’a-on-Shi’a violence in Basra as they “jockey for position against their rivals”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2005/08/clashes_between_badr_and_sadr.php, the Badr Organization and the Fadullah Party. Have they killed Iraqis? Yes. Will they get their amnesty? Answer hazy; ask again later.

Coming in from the Desert?

Interesting. The day after PM Nouri al-Maliki introduced his “plan for national reconciliation”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2006/06/english_version_of_reconciliat.php, seven insurgent groups from the Ba’athist/Nationalist side of the insurgency have reportedly contacted the Iraqi government in order to offer a truce.
The groups include the 1920 Revolution Brigades, the Muhammad Army (jaysh al-Muhammad), Abtal al-Iraq (Heroes of Iraq), the 9th of April Group, al-Fatah Brigades, and the Brigades of the General Command of the Armed Forces. The seventh group was not named by the Shi’ite legislator who says these groups are seeking the cease-fire.
The 1920 Revolution Brigades is allegedly led by Muthanna al-Dhari, son of Sheikh Harith al-Dhari, who is head of the Muslim Clerics Association, a hard-line Sunni group. Harith al-Dhari’s grandfather was a leading figure in the 1920 revolution and allegedly shot the English Col. Gerard Leachman, sparking the uprising against the British in the west. “I’ve written about _jaysh al-Muhammad_ before”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2005/10/a_note_on_jaysh_almuhammad.php, and you can read about its place in the greater insurgency.
And here’s a chart from IntelCenter “showing the linkages between the various groups”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/Files/Iraqi-InsurgentsLinks13Feb2006.jpg (283KB .jpg).
As for the four other groups, I confess I don’t have a lot of data on them.