On this date in 1992, 42* Baghdad merchants who were among several hundred rounded up over the preceding 48 hours were executed at Saddam Hussein‘s command at Abu Ghraib prison and the Interior Ministry compound.
The merchants were accused of profiteering by manipulating food prices — a chilling threat to businessmen, but one that had little power to arrest the wreck of Iraq’s economy. Prices for food, and everything else, were spiking under the blockade.
“Hardly any Iraqi trader sent anything to his country from our warehouse” after the executions, according to a Jordanian exporter quoted by Reuters.** “They tell us even if the goods are given to them for free, they are not ready to risk their lives.”
These executions have put some former Iraqi officials at risk of their lives in American-occupied Iraq.
The country’s longtime Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, was tried for his life in 2008-2009 for ordering these executions; Aziz received a 15-year sentence.†
Just days ago as of this writing, those two gentlemen were transferred from American to Iraqi custody, where they figure to be put to death very soon — though this is a matter of ongoing political wrangling.
* It’s not completely unambiguous to me that the “42 merchants” at issue in several post-Saddam trials were all executed on July 26 (though Amnesty International seems to think so); the roundup and execution process was less than orderly. But it’s certainly the case that at least many died this date.
Some testimony and trial documents related to the incident are available in pdf form here.
It has the barest trappings of execution, enough to give that name descriptively to the killings — but maybe a little more than that, too, for this is the story of an occupation army whose “bad eggs” are endowed with the power of life and death over their subject population
“We’ve all killed Hadjis, but I’ve been here twice and I still never fucked one of these bitches.”
Barker had already picked the target. There was a house, not far away, where there was only one male and three females during the day – a husband, wife and two daughters. One was young, but the other was pretty hot, at least for a Hadji chick. Witnesses were a problem, though; they knew they couldn’t leave anyone alive. Barker asked Green if he was willing to take care of that, even if women and kids were involved. “Absolutely,” Green said. “It don’t make any difference to me.”
Green — Steven Green — is the troubled private who would do the shooting, and the one over whose life a jury wrangled over for 10 hours before finally sparing him lethal injection.
Sneaking up on the house, the soldiers corralled the whole family into the bedroom. After they had recovered the family’s AK-47 and Green had confirmed it was locked and loaded, Barker and Cortez left, yanking Abeer behind them. Spielman set up guard in the doorway between the foyer and living room, while Cortez shoved Abeer into the living room, pushed her down, and Barker pinned her outstretched arms down with his knees.
As Green was executing the family, Cortez finished raping Abeer and switched positions with Barker. Green came out of the bedroom and announced to Barker and Cortez, “They’re all dead. I killed them all.” Cortez held Abeer down and Green raped her. Then Cortez pushed a pillow over her face, still pinning her arms with his knees. Green grabbed the AK, pointed the gun at the pillow, and fired one shot, killing Abeer.
The men were becoming extremely frenzied and agitated now. Barker brought a kerosene lamp he had found in the kitchen and dumped the contents on Abeer. Spielman handed a lighter to either Barker or Cortez, who lit the flame. Spielman went to the bedroom and found some blankets to throw on the body to stoke the fire.
The four men ran back the way they had come. When they arrived at the TCP, they were out of breath, manic, animated. They began talking rapid-fire about how great that was, how well done. They all agreed that was awesome, that was cool.
Only after Green was discharged did the crime come fully to light.
At Green’s sentencing in the anomalous confines of Kentucky — he was the first former soldier prosecuted in U.S. civilian court for crimes committed overseas under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act — a cousin of Abeer’s murdered parents
spoke last, praising his slain family members and criticising the jury’s reluctance to execute Green. He concluded by turning to Green and saying, “Abeer will follow you and chase you in your nightmares. May God damn you.”
This incident is the subject of the 2007 film Redacted.
On this date in 1952, Iraq hanged Yosef Basri and Shalom Salah for an alleged Zionist bombing campaign in Baghdad.
The most remarkable thing about this campaign is that it was perpetrated against Iraq’s Jews — and if these men’s conviction was rightly secured, it was conducted by other Jews for the purpose of driving those Iraqi Jews to emigrate to the still-tenuous new state of Israel.
As the 1940’s closed, well over 100,000 Jews lived in Iraq, a populace legendarily* dating to the Biblical Babylonian exile.
While this community had at certain moments in centuries past been the very flower of the diaspora, it was justifiably nervous here in the perilous 20th century.
In 1950-51, the Iraqi government offered its Jewish citizens an emigration window from a homeland tense with anti-Jewish hostility — at the same time the Israeli government was practically begging them to come. (The cost: give up Iraqi citizenship permanently. Iraq seems to have expected only a few thousand to depart.)
Against the grain of this “monstrous” mutuality of interest stood the natural obstacles for any emigre: affection for the familiarity of one’s native lands, the trauma and uncertainty of uprooting … plus the specific problem that most stood to lose their illiquid wealth either by hasty firesale disposal or (as eventually happened) outright confiscation. Particularly pending clarity in property remuneration, many Iraqi Jews were initially wary about departing.
Iraqi Jews also dismayed Zionist recruiters with their “lack [of] a Zionist outlook and even a Zionist instinct.”**
But these stick-in-the-Mesopotamians would soon receive some explosive encouragement: a headline-grabbing series of attacks on Jews and Jewish establishments during the emigration window encouraged thousands to seize the moment.
“The pace of registration for the citizenship waiver was slow in the beginning, but it increased as tensions rose between Jews and their neighbors and after acts of terror were perpetrated against Jewish businesses and institutions – especially the Mas’uda Shem-Tov Synagogue [bombed January 14, 1951]”
Morris’s conclusion that Israeli intelligence did not engineer the bombing campaign that so spectacularly served its statecraft is the subject of vociferous dispute. It’s also, perhaps, a bit finely cut: a handful of zealots in the local Zionist underground, sensitive to the local sentiment and keen on the urgency of the brief denaturalization opportunity, might have undertaken the project freelance without actual straight-from-Jerusalem coordination.
Amazingly, this notion that some species of Zionist agents bombed Iraqi synagogues (pdf) in the interests of the Levant’s demographic future was commonly believed not only by Iraqi Arabs but by emigre Iraqi Jews themselves. Their suspicions can hardly have been allayed when a similar misadventure went down in Egypt a couple years later.
The inevitable dispute over the factual question can’t help but roll over into everything else that’s disputatious about the Zionist Entity.
An account already exists between us and the Arab world: the account of the compensation that accrues to the Arabs who left the territory of Israel and abandoned their property … The act that has now been perpetrated by the Kingdom of Iraq … forces us to link the two accounts . . . We will take into account the value of the Jewish property that has been frozen in Iraq when calculating the compensation that we have undertaken to pay the Arabs who abandoned property in Israel.
This sort of opportunistic ethnic arithmetic obviously loses its limited suasion to the extent that Jews can be held to have driven Jews out of Iraq — which is not to say that goring this or that ox is necessarily the reason for any one scholar’s taking this or that position.
One might, however, be less inclined to extend that benefit of the doubt to the Kingdom of Iraq itself. That realm was very pleased to point the finger at its absconding Jewry.
Our Zionist cadres, Yosef Basri and Shalom Salah, were hanged by that Iraqi Entity for three grenade attacks in the bombing series. Basri repudiated his confession in court, plausibly claiming it had been tortured out of him. (A third Jew was also convicted but not executed: Yehuda Tajar is the man Morris refers to, who returned to Israel after spending the Fifties imprisoned in Iraq.)
“Long live the state of Israel,” were their last words.
But not all “beneficiaries” of their alleged efforts shared the sentiment.
“That is God’s revenge on the movement that brought us to such depths,” one Iraqi Jewish refugee in the Holy Land reportedly exclaimed.**
Just where guilt really lies in all of this has been contested (pdf) ever since, a matter that mere hooded functionaries such as your author can hardly address with authority.
Jews Done It …
… They Never Did
* Not necessarily literally; the Mongol invasions are supposed to have broken the cultural chain of Jewish habitation of Babylon, with the city re-populated later by other Jewish migrants not of a lineal connection back to Nebuchadnezzar‘s conquests.
** Quoted by Yehouda Shenhav in “The Jews of Iraq, Zionist Ideology, and the Property of the Palestinian Refugees of 1948: An Anomaly of National Accounting,” International Journal of Middle East Studies (Nov., 1999)
On this date in 1990, Iranian-born British journalist Farzad Bazoft was hanged at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison as an Israeli spy.
The 31-year-old Observer freelancer was in Iraq to cover post-war reconstruction when he caught wind of an explosion at a military factory and set off to investigate.
This sniffing about Iraq’s weapons programs was not the sort of journalism Iraqi dictator (and future fellow gallows-bird) Saddam Hussein had in mind when his government invited Bazoft.
Bazoft was nabbed (along with the British nurse who had accompanied him, Daphne Parish) with photographs and soil samples from the sensitive compound.
Held incommunicado for six weeks, Bazoft was trundled onto state TV on November 1, 1989 to confess to spying for Israel (video of that confession is available from this BBC story).
Bazoft’s companion, Daphne Parish, was released after a few months in prison. She wrote this out-of-print book about her experiences. (Review)
He was convicted of espionage in a one-day, in camera trial on March 10 and hanged five days later.
Many years and wars later, Bazoft’s Iraqi interrogator would tell Bazoft’s former Observer colleagues that the man “was obviously innocent,” but that his fate had been decided at the highest levels.*
A few months after Bazoft’s hanging, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and thereby transmogrified from a source of moderation in the region into the new Hitler, Bazoft’s execution naturally went onto the bill of attainder against Baghdad.
Like other Iraqi human rights abuses that became much bigger news only after Saddam became an official enemy, however, Bazoft’s fate exercised some of his defenders more in retrospect than it did in the moment.
Indeed, some British MPs openly endorsed the execution and some Fleet Street contrarians bucked the worldwide humanitarian appeal by publishing embarrassing information about Bazoft (he’d been to jail in Britain) leaked by British intelligence.
(Margaret Thatcher made the seemly applications for clemency, and the incident certainly strained the countries’ relationship. But the Tory government would later be embarrassed by revelations that, before and even after Bazoft’s hanging, it was pushing for closer trade relations and helping British firms skirt the law to ship Baghdad the weapons it would use against British troops in the coming Gulf War.)
* Bazoft is still honored by his former employer and his former colleagues, as well he might be. But the Observer‘s claim that it “proved” Bazoft’s innocence has to be taken with a grain of salt: apart from the de rigueur smoke-and-mirrors, plausible-deniability skein of the espionage game, the interrogator’s exculpatory statement was made by an obviously self-interested party to representatives of a power then occupying Iraq.
In the first (known) mass execution since the reign of Saddam Hussein — whose own turn at the gallows was just a few months away — 26 men and one woman were hanged on a variety of terrorism, murder and kidnapping charges.
“This is the message I have for the terrorists,” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said in announcing the executions. “We will see that you get great punishment wherever you are. There is nothing for you but prison and punishment.”
For centuries after the prophet Muhammad trod the earth, the caliph had stood as a unifying principle in the Islamic world, conferring moral authority on the sultans and amirs who in turn gave the caliph temporal security. Despite political conflicts, rival claimants, and contested successions, the office, like the papacy, had weight for all Muslims, even the usurpers who conquered to the very gates of Baghdad only to “kiss the ground … and walk astride the caliph’s stirrup.”*
Seven hundred fifty-one years ago today, that last redoubt of that single Muslim community was extinguished when the last Abbasid caliph was put to death by the Mongols.
a weak and miserly creature, in whose improvident hands the Caliphate, even in quieter times, would have fared ill … we need not to travel beyond the imbecility of the Caliph and the demoralisation of his now shrunken kingdom, for the causes of impending ruin. … As characteristic of his meanness, we are told that he appropriated the state jewels of the Chief of Kerak, who with difficulty obtained their partial restitution by proclaiming the Caliph’s dishonesty before the assembled pilgrims at Mecca. (Sir William Muir)
Retrospection, of course, aids us in appreciating the “sunset” — certainly it did not occur to Musta’sim that the ascension in Egypt of Shajar al-Durr in 1250 that marks the dawn of Mamluk rule was the seed of a successor order. On the contrary, he sent this Islamic queen a contemptuous offer to provide a man for Egypt, since it could find none to seat on its throne.
He would have done better to man up against the Mongols, who had not failed to notice that Baghdad lacked the muscle to protect its accumulated wealth.
A gold dinar from the Al-Musta’sim period. Interestingly, albeit tangentially, Sir Thomas Arnold recorded that for decades after this date, some Islamic rulers “went on putting the name of the dead Musta’sim on [their] coins, because [they] could find no other [caliph], and the Muslim theory of the state had not succeeded in adjusting itself to the fact that there was no Khalifah or Imam in existence.”
Genghis Khan’s grandson Hulagu Khan (or Hulegu, or Hülegü) reduced Baghdad in a matter of days and plundered the city.** Al-Musta’sim having combined an impolitic bluster towards the advancing horde with an utter failure to ready the city’s defenses, Hulagu Khan was most unimpressed with his prisoner.
On February 20th, in a village near to Baghdad, Al-Musta’sim was executed. Contemporary chroniclers are silent as to the method; Marco Polo reported that he had been immured with his treasures in an opulent tower to starve to death.
[Hulagu Khan] set a golden tray before the Caliph and said: ‘Eat!’ ‘It is not edible,’ said the Caliph. ‘Then why didst thou keep it,’ asked the King, ‘and not give it to thy soldiers? And why didst thou not make these iron doors into arrow-heads and come to the bank of the river so that I might not have been able to cross it?’ ‘Such,’ replied the Caliph, ‘was God’s will.’ ‘What will befall thee,’ said the King, ‘is also God’s will.'”
It is more generally supposed that Al-Musta’sim was rolled in a carpet and trampled to death — the Mongols’ own method for putting princes to death without shedding royal blood.
However effected, the caliph’s demise ended the classical period of Islam. And yet, as Gustave Edmund von Grunebaum observes in his book on the period, that ending was itself a beginning for the flowering of high Islamic civilization that the days of the caliphate had prepared.
What terminates in 1258 is the major chain of political legitimacy to which reality had failed to conform for rather more than four centuries when the extent of the Muslim empire had ceased to be coterminous with the rule of Islam and the unity of tradition had become no more than a postulate.
None the less, the fall of Baghdad did more than bring home the precariousness of all human structures, even those erected on the true faith and devised to safeguard it. It demonstrated that the ‘Abode of Islam’ had become saturated with Islam, that the community no longer required a caliphate to give it a political and religious centre of gravity, that the vitality of Islam as an interpretation of man and the world, a way of life, and a style of thinking and feeling was now independent of any institutional support.
… the very irreparability of the calamity made the faithful realize that the abiding of their world, its beliefs and manifestations, had outgrown any particular political form and had indeed become too wide to be contained in history. In this realization the epigones undoubtedly rejoined the innermost intent of ancestors and founder.
On this date three years ago — or at least, so says the date in the camera’s viewfinder — a female spy was “tried” and “executed” in Iraq by al Qaeda affiliated terrorists for spying.
Warning: This is (by design) a graphic and chilling video. I have little information beyond the assertion of the video posters as to its veracity. Whether or not it may be relied upon factually or dated reliably, it’s a gut-twisting video of a woman being shot in the head.
On this date in 1980, a professor, a soldier, a bureaucrat and a businessman were hanged by Saddam Hussein in his campaign to cow Iraq’s Turkic ethnic minority.
The ethnic and religious quiltwork of Iraq is much more nuanced than Sunni vs. Shia — and this blog has noticed its deadly potential before.
This day’s hangings belong to an earlier era, of the Ba’athist secular pan-Arab aspiration that had Hussein quashing minority national aspirations. (Though the anti-minority stance was hardly unique to him.)
Nejdet Kochak, Abdullah Abdurrahman, Riza Demirji and Adil Sherif were ethnic Turkmen (or Turkomen), ethnically and linguistically distinct Moslem descendants of those far-flung peoples of the Eurasian steppes.
More to the point, they were relatively prominent voices for Turkoman civil rights in the face of harsh state suppression.
This being Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the problem had an easy solution. The four were made examples of, convicted of spying for their brother Turks in Turkey, and hanged — but not forgotten.
On this date in 1976, three Abu Nidal terrorists were hanged before the Hotel Semiramis in Damascus, barely 24 hours after they had entered it and taken 90 hostages in a bid to win release of Palestinian prisoners.
Palestinians Muhammad al-Barqawi and Mouatassem Jayyoushi and Iraqi Jabbar Darwish suffered Syria’s first public execution since an accused Israeli spy more than a decade before — and as the late Syrian strongman Hafez al-Assad had pledged, justice was swift and ruthless.
The security of the citizen is sacred. We shall not be soft in this matter. We shall hit back very hard and we denounce this criminal action committed by the gang, which acted as if it was in Israel.
They were the surviving 75% of a quartet of gunmen who early the previous morning had seized the hotel, barricaded themselves on the fifth floor, and attempted to make their trade. Plainly, it didn’t quite work out; the attempt precipitated a battle with Syrian troops which saw the fourth terrorist killed, along with four of the hostages. The Supreme State Security Court condemned the captured men to death overnight; the sentence was carried out between 6:00 and 6:30 the next morning.
New York Times coverage of the raid and the execution is unfortunately behind the paper’s paid-login firewall, but a photo of the execution shows onlookers ringing a single wooden frame for what must have been a short-drop hanging. An unused fourth noose, possibly symbolically present for the killed fourth terrorist (or possibly not; there’s no explicit comment on it), hangs beside the dead men.
So why the grievance? That June — “Black June,” to the Palestinians — Syria had bailed on hard-line Palestinians and entered the Lebanese Civil War on the side of Phalangist Christians,* just as they were on the verge of being overrun. It was the second time in six years that a neighboring Arab power had turned its guns on Palestinians. (In 1970, Jordan had expelled the Palestine Liberation Organization in “Black September.” Lots of black in the Palestinian annals.)
And why the Iraqi, among the hanged?
Palestinian terrormeister Abu Nidal had hung out his shingle in Iraq, then under the control of a rising young dictator destined for the gallows himself, but who grasped the opportunist potential of backing the Palestinian cause while states like Jordan and Syria visibly sold it out. Television crews had a few words in edgewise with the doomed men the evening before their hanging, and they claimed to have trained for their abortive mission in Iraq.
Some people think I am some sort of a Rambo who loves strong emotions and seeing people die. I am miles away from that mentality. I am a convinced pacifist and for that reason I am curious to understand what make normal people brandish a gun.
Baldoni reported from Iraq for the Italian weekly Diario and kept a blog from the ground as well. On August 21, he was kidnapped after being caught in a firefight between Baghdad and Najaf.** Three days later, Al Jazeera aired his captors’ demand for Italian withdrawal within 48 hours; Baldoni was killed when that demand was ignored.
The day after Baldoni’s death, the black armband-clad Azzurri defeated the upstart Iraqi soccer team for the Olympic bronze medal.
The final legacies of Baldoni’s work well reflected his generous principles. The last entry on his blog Bloghdad (now defunct; here’s how it looked four years ago) was this picture:
And his (translated, obviously) “last testament” as released by a fellow journalist described a man who would not want this blog post to linger on mawkishly.
[At my funeral] I want people to smile — did you notice? Funerals always end up with someone smiling: it’s natural, it’s Life taking over Death. And let people smoke freely anything they like; I’d also be pleased if new love stories would come out, and I’d even consider some casual sex an offer to Life rather than an offense to Death.
At about eight or nine o’clock, with little or no ceremony, bring my coffin quietly to the crematorium, while the party and the music should last until late night.
About my ashes … throw them into the sea. Or do as you want, who fucking cares? Just nothing phony like in The Big Lebowski.
* Obviously, this is a case of a borderline execution, owing to the Islamic Army in Iraq’s non-state credentials — in a legal sense, Enzo Baldoni was murdered. But it was precisely the point of his killing to contest legitimate state authority, and according to a later interview with an alleged spokesman of the faction, there was even a juridical proceeding “convicting” Baldoni of espionage.
** According to Reporters Without Borders, a stupefying 142 journalists — Baldoni among them — were killed in Iraq from 2004 through 2007, nearly half the worldwide total of 299 reporters who died in their line of work during that span.