Monday, April 18, 2005
"Kidnapped Shiites" Story Turning Out To Be Bogus
NEAR MADAIN, Iraq (AP) - Iraqi security forces backed by U.S. troops had the town of Madain surrounded Sunday after reports of Sunni militant kidnappings of as many as 100 Shiite residents, but there were growing indications the incident had been grossly exaggerated, perhaps an outgrowth of a tribal dispute or political maneuvering. The town of about 1,000 families, evenly divided between Shiites and Sunnis, sits about 15 miles south of the capital in what the U.S. military has called the ``Triangle of Death'' because it has become a roiling stronghold of the militant insurgency. An AP photographer and television cameraman who were in or near the town Sunday said large numbers of Iraqi forces had sealed it off, supported by U.S. forces farther away outside Madain. The cameraman said he toured the town Sunday morning. People were going about their business normally, shops were open and tea houses were full, he said. Residents contacted by telephone also said everything was normal in Madain. And American military officials said they were unaware of any U.S. role in what had been described as a tense sectarian standoff in which the Sunni militants were threatening to kill their Shiite captives if all other Shiites did not leave the town. [...] The confusion over Madain illustrated how quickly rumors spread in a country of deep ethnic and sectarian divides, where the threat of violence is all too real. Poor telephone communications, and the difficulty of traveling from one town to the next because of daily attacks on the roads make it difficult even for government officials to establish the facts. National Security Minister Qassim Dawoud warned Parliament on Sunday of attempts to draw the country into sectarian war and said three battalions of Iraqi soldiers, police and U.S. forces were sent to Madain. He said the Iraqi military was planning a large-scale assault on the region by week's end. A Defense Ministry official, Haidar Khayon, said early Sunday that Iraqi forces raided the town and freed about 15 Shiite families and captured five hostage takers in a skirmish with light gunfire. He said there were no casualties. Iraq's most influential Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, urged government officials to resolve the crisis peacefully, his office said. By the end of the day, however, Iraqi officials had produced no hostages and Iraqi military officials and police who had given information about the troubles in Madain could not be reached for further details. Also on Sunday, Sheikh Abdul Salam al-Kubaisi, a spokesman for the Association of Muslim Scholars, an organization of Sunni clerics, denied hostages had been taken in Madain. ``This news is completely untrue,'' he told al-Jazeera television. The country's most-feared insurgent group, al-Qaida in Iraq, also denied there had been any hostage-taking in a statement Sunday on an Islamic Web site known for its militant content. The group, headed by the Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, said the incident was a fabrication by the ``enemies of God'' to justify a military attack on Madain aimed at Sunnis.As a TableTalk acquaintance of mine likes to say: Believe nothing. (UPDATE: Several dozen bodies have been found in the Tigris, but as this Guardian story points out, it's not clear when these people were killed, so they may or may not be the fifty-odd hostages that interim Iraqi President Jalal Talabani claims them to be. He wouldn't say when or exactly where the bodies were found. Again, believe nothing.)
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