Technology with attitude

RIP Steven Vincent

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Killed in Iraq for telling the truth.

He was one of us — a writer. And he was one of us — the people who watched the towers burn on Sept. 11 and decided to change a world where that could happen into a world were it couldn’t.

His Reuters obituary describes him as “an art critic inspired to write about war after watching from the roof of his New York apartment as the World Trade Center towers fell.”

He did it his way. He took his skills to Iraq, and he set up base in Basra. He wrote online, at his excellent blog, In the Red Zone, he wrote a much-praised book by that name, and he freelanced his prose for big media.

It was the latter that got him killed.

His death came four days after publication in the New York Times of an opinion piece he wrote critical of the rise of Shi’ite Islamist fundamentalism in the southern city of Basra, Iraq’s second city and the subject of his next book.

Those closer to the story than Reuters make the connection more explicit. The Times of London tells it like this:

There is speculation that Mr Vincent, who received death threats, was murdered in an attempt to silence him. Four days before his death he had written an opinion piece in The New York Times in which he said that the police force in the British-controlled city had been infiltrated by Shia Muslim extremist militias, who were responsible for carrying out hundreds of murders of prominent Sunni Muslims.

He criticised the British, whose 8,000 troops in the area are responsible for security in Basra, for turning a blind eye to abuses of power by Shia extremists. The whole city was “increasingly coming under the control of Shia religious groups, from the relatively mainstream … to the bellicose followers of the rebel cleric Moqtada al-Sadr”.

In his final blog, he wrote: “The British stand above the growing turmoil, refusing to challenge the Islamists’ claim on the hearts and minds of police officers.”

How cruel, then, that, as the Times reports, Vincent “and his female translator were kidnapped as they left a currency exchange shop, within sight of a British military checkpoint.” The translator, Nouriya Itais, was Vincent’s fiancee. She was shot four times but survived. It also is possible that Vincent’s killing was motivated in part by his romantic involvement with a local woman.

Reuters again:

New York Times reporter Edward Wong, who described Vincent as “a short, wiry man with a penchant for cigars,” said Vincent had told him in mid-June that he was prompted to go to Iraq by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the Iraq war.

“He said he fully supported the Iraq war, believing it was part of a much larger campaign being waged by the United States against ‘Islamo-fascism,’ ” Wong wrote in a Times report about his death.

“But Mr. Vincent said he was also disappointed by the failure of the United States and Great Britain to enforce their visions of democracy here in Iraq, instead allowing religious politicians to seize power across the south,” Wong added.

This is a serious problem, seriously under-reported by our media. Those of us who read Iraqi bloggers got clued into it a while back. But this is the British zone, outside the reach of American policies. And it seems the British have made a potentially disastrous wrong turn in dealing with Basra.

Be sure to read Vincent’s last full post, dated July 26, on his blog. Let his legacy be, in part, your awareness of what’s happening in Basra.

My blog-friend Tigerhawk has a good wrap of links on Vincent’s killing. The National Review has a moving tribute. According to Smash, Vincent’s family would like donations in lieu of flowers to go to Spirit of America, a first-rate organization doing good work in our names in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve been supporting them for years.