August 4, 2011
Iraq achieved another milestone this week: the three masterminds of last year’s bloody church siege, involving al Qaeda suicide bombers, were sentenced to death by an Iraqi court.
Sixty-eight people died in one of the worst attacks ever against Iraq’s Christian minority. Al Qaeda suicide bombers on Oct. 31 held worshipers hostage at a Baghdad cathedral – then detonated their explosive vests.
Coincidentally, the death sentences were issued on Tuesday, August 2, exactly six years after freelance journalist Steven Vincent, 49, was kidnapped and murdered in Basra, Iraq.
Vincent was one of the most gifted American journalists in Iraq — and unlike most Western reporters, Vincent, an art critic-turned war reporter, was not a cynic. He believed that remaking Iraq into a decent country was possible.
Now, Tuesday’s death sentences provides more evidence that Iraq has a functioning rule of rule — even when it comes to seeking justice for crimes committed against its Christian minority. The death sentences follow two successful parliamentary elections held after the U.S.-led invasion and liberation of Iraq in 2003.
During the U.S-led occupation of Iraq and the subsequent war, most Western reporters focused endlessly on the issue of Iraq’s supposedly nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. Vincent, on the other hand, dealt with a more interesting aspect of that controversy: It was a non-issue to most Iraqis.
Vincent, to be sure, had in the last months of his life grown increasingly uneasy about how the war was going
“America rid us of one tyrant, only to give us hundreds more in the form of terrorists,” he quoted one man as saying in Umm Qasr, a port city near Kuwait, in an article in National Review.
In his book “In the Red Zone,” he elaborated: “Were we wrong in Iraq? Yes, in one major sense, beyond even the shortage of troops, failure to anticipate the Baathist-led insurrection and Abu Ghraib: we did not, and still don’t understand the regressive, parasitical, unreasonable presence of tribal Islam — the black hole in Iraqi and Arab cultures that consumes their best and most positive energies. Because of our blindness, we find ourselves fighting an enemy we do not see, comprehend, or even accurately identify.”
He nonetheless argued that much still depended on America’s willingness to “stay the course.”
Vincent’s translator, Nour al-Khal, was kidnapped with him — then shot and left for dead. Vincent’s widow, Lisa Ramaci-Vincent, later brought Nour to America, making a home for her in her Manhattan apartment. She thereby honored her husband’s pledge to remove his translator, an aspiring poet, from harm’s way in Iraq.
Interestingly, the story about Iraq’s conviction of three Al Qaeda terrorists was reported only in a article by the Associated Press. This reflects the fact that major news outlets have cut back their staffs in Baghdad. The reason, of course, is that Iraq is no longer considered a major story. Curiously, The New York Times’ online edition ran just a two-sentence version of the AP’s 430-word article; The Times apparently didn’t regard this as a significant story.
Vincent’s murder occurred just three days after he published an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times, “Switched off In Basra,” which criticized the increasing infiltration of the Basran police force by Islamic extremists. Amid Basra’s repressive religious atmosphere, he wrote, most police officers were putting their faith in the mosque, not the state. In his Op-Ed, he blamed British troops who had secured the city.
“Fearing to appear like colonial occupiers, they avoid any hint of ideological indoctrination: in my time with them, not once did I see an instructor explain such basics of democracy as the politically neutral role of the police in a civil society,” wrote Vincent, whose murder remains unsolved.
It was a dreadful example of nation building. Since then, Iraq’s success stories have outweighed such failures — as was underscored by Tuesday’s death sentences which were welcomed by Iraq’s Christian community.
Increasingly, Iraq appears to be the country where an “Arab Spring” is truly occurring. It’s sad that Steven Vincent didn’t live to see it.