Friday, March 30, 2007

Quote of the day: At times, if you keep your eyes above the fold, Iraq can look sort of how Holy Joe, Straight Talkin' John and Chimpy the Prez see it

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“If anything happens to us, they’re the ones responsible.”
--Suaada Saadoun, a 49-year-old Sunni widow with seven children, to Kurdish and American soldiers who had stopped two Shiite men and forced them out of their car after they tried to "ethnically cleanse" Ms. Saadoun and her family out of their home in a Shiite area of western Baghdad

This would be the good news. If you don't want to hear the bad news, at least not yet, skip the next paragraph.

"The next day," Edward Wong reports in today's NYT, "Ms. Saadoun was shot dead while walking by a bakery in the local market."

What's fascinating is the way the story is presented. I don't recall seeing a newspaper layout quite like it. It's so careful that it's impossible to believe it wasn't planned to "read" this way.

If you begin by looking, as I assume most everyone does, just at the above-the-fold portion of the front page, you don't even see a headline on this story. All you see is a pair of big (three-column) photos stacked on top of each other, to the left of the one-column "lead" story (about Kyle Sampson's Senate Judiciary Committee testimony yesterday [see Howie's coverage yesterday]).

On top is the photo reproduced above, with the caption--

THE WIDOW Suaada Saadoun told Kurdish and American soldiers on Tuesday that two Shiite men had tried to evict her on false premises. Ms. Saadoun was head of one of four Sunni Arab homes in her neighborhood.


Below it is a wide-cropped version (with some onlookers off to the left) of the photo at right, with the caption:

THE ARREST The two Shiite men were stopped at a checkpoint. One of them, Abbas Radhi, right, said he and his companion had done nothing wrong, but the eviction papers they held were for another neighborhood.


And you think, my goodness, maybe there is some good news coming out of Baghdad.

Then you flip below the fold and find a third photo in the series:

THE DAY AFTER Ms. Saadoun's phone call to a nearby military base kept her family from being falsely evicted, but she was killed the next day at a market. Her granddaughters were among those in mourning.

Finally comes the head:

Iraqi Widow Saves Her Home, but Victory Is Brief

And the start of the story proper:
BAGHDAD, March 29--The two men showed up on Tuesday afternoon to evict Suaada Saadoun's family. One was carrying a shiny black pistol.

Ms. Saadoun was a Sunni Arab living in a Shiite enclave of western Baghdad. A widowed mother of seven, she and her family had been chased out once before. This time, she called American and Kurdish soldiers at a base less than a mile to the east.

The men tried to drive away, but the soldiers had blocked the street. They pulled the men out of the car.

"If anything happens to us, they're the ones responsible," said Ms. Saadoun, 49, a burly, boisterous woman in a black robe and lavender-blue head scarf.

The Americans shoved the men into a Humvee. Neighbors clapped and cheered as if their soccer team had just won a title.

The next morning, Ms. Saadoun was shot dead while walking by a bakery in the local market.

Wong explains that he met Ms. Saadoun while accompanying the Kurdish soldiers who participated in the arrest of the two Shiite men Tuesday. He seems to have taken the story personally (to his credit).

Later he reports:
After the new security plan began on Feb. 14, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a conservative Shiite, said the government would crack down on sectarian evictions and help families return to their homes, but the displacement is continuing all the same.

"The forced evictions started up again this month," said Capt. Benjamin Morales, 28, a Bronx native who commands a company of the 82nd Airborne Division that oversees a swath of western Baghdad taken over by Shiite militias last year. "In my area, that's the biggest thing that's going on."

Wong details the history of the attempted forced expulsion of Ms. Saadoun and her family, in which she had enlisted the aid of the nearby American-Iraqi military base. Captain Morales had been involved all through it.
Captain Morales heard the news about Ms. Saadoun the next day around noon. She had been shot in the market earlier that morning, just northeast of the base and within spitting distance of the same checkpoint where the two Shiite men had been stopped. The captain paced around the hallway inside his command center. His face was ashen.

"What can you do?" his first sergeant said to him. "It's their problem. This is their country, and they need to work it out among themselves. There's nothing we can do about it."

An American patrol rolled out to Ms. Saadoun's home at 2 p.m. More than a dozen women dressed in black sat wailing in the backyard, awaiting the arrival of Ms. Saadoun's body from the hospital.

"I told you, ‘Don't go out, they'll kill you,'" one daughter cried out. "I told you, my lovely mother, ‘Don't go out, they'll kill you.'"

By the next morning, everyone living in the house had fled.

I suppose Senators Lieberman and McCain will tell us that this is exactly why we have to stay in Iraq. They insist that now for the first time we are seeing grounds for hope. (Of course, as Keith Olbermann pointed out the other night, if this is the first time there are grounds for hope, what about all those other times they told us about?) In reality, aren't we really providing cover for factions in the Iraqi civil war to carry out atrocities?