By Baghdad Burning – 2005-04-24 22:49:45
(April 19, 2005) — I’m sure many people have been following the story of the moment in Iraq: Dozens of Shia hostages taken by Sunni insurgents in a town called Medain?
The first time we heard about it was a couple of days ago. I was watching the news subtitles on Arabiya but the subtitle was vague. It went something like this, “Sunni guerrillas capture 60 hostages in Iraqi town and will kill them if all Shia do not leave the town.” It said nothing about which town it was, who the guerrillas claimed to be representing and just how the whole incident happened.
We kept watching the channels and hoping for more information. I remember reading that subtitle and feeling my heart sink with worry. I kept checking other news channels and then finally decided to check the internet. There was another vague news article on Yahoo. This one had a few more details — the town was Madain, south of Baghdad and the person who had called in the hostage situation was some sort of high-profile Shia politician.
News channels were still being vague about it. The only two channels who were persistently talking about the hostage situation were Arabia and Iraqia — but the numbers had risen. It was now 150 Shia hostages in Medain and the Iraqi National Guard and the American army were taking their positions on the outskirts of the town, preparing for a raid.
Medain is a town of Sunnis and Shia who have lived together peacefully for as long as anyone can remember. The people in the town come from the local “Ashayir” or tribes. It’s one of those places where everyone knows everyone else — even if only by name or family name. The tribes who dominate the town are a combination of Sunni and Shia. Any conflicts between the townspeople are more of the tribal or family type than they are religious.
Bizarre, Frightening, and a Little Suspicious
The whole concept of a large number of Sunni guerrillas raiding the town and taking 60-150 of its members (including women and children) was bizarre, frightening and by the second day of the rumor, a little bit suspicious.
People in Baghdad didn’t believe it. Most of them waved a hand dismissing the report and said, “They just want to raid Medain.” It’s a town that has been giving the Americans quite a bit of trouble this last year — a part of the Sunni Triangle. Many attacks were reported to have come from the area, but at the same time, it’s not like Falloojeh, Samarra, or Mosul — it’s half Shia. It wouldn’t be as easy or politically correct to raid.
Yesterday, there were actually Shia demonstrators from the town claiming that the rumors were false and the town was peaceful and there was no need for a raid or for door-to-door checks.
Officials Declare Nonexistent Crisis Is ‘Under Control’
The last few days, Iraqi officials have been on television claiming that the whole hostage situation was “under control” and things were going to be sorted out, except that apparently, there’s nothing to sort out. There have been no reports of hostages, even from the majority of Shia residents themselves. Someone mentioned that it was possible a couple of people had been abducted, but it had nothing to do with Sunni guerrillas chasing out Shia.
Now, Associated Press is claiming, “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.”
Uhm, no. Not really. See, this whole thing didn’t start out as a rumor. Rumors come to you through actual people — the guy who brings you kerosene spreads rumors; that neighbor next door brings you rumors; the man you get your rations from spreads rumors. This came to us, very decidedly, from a news source. It first made its debut as breaking news and came from an “Iraqi Shia official who wished to remain unnamed.” The official should have to answer to the rumor he handed over to the press.
Shiite leaders and government officials had earlier estimated 35 to 100 people were taken hostage, but residents disputed the claim, with some saying they had seen no evidence any hostages were taken.
We know a lot of our new officials and spokespeople are blatantly lying and it’s fine to lie about security, reconstruction and democracy — we’ve gotten used to it. In fact, we tell jokes about it and laugh about it at family gatherings or over the telephone.
To lie about something as serious as Sunni-Shia hostage taking is another story altogether. It’s unacceptable and while Sunnis and Shia were hardly going to take up arms against each other over this latest debacle, but it was still extremely worrisome and for people who wish to fuel sectarian violence, it was a perfect opportunity.
We have an Iraqi government that bans news channels and newspapers because they insist on reporting about such routine things as civilian casualties and raids, yet the Puppets barely flinch over media sources spreading a rumor as dangerous and provocative as this one.
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