An Iraqi police lieutenant, who for obvious reasons asked to remain anonymous, confirmed to me the widespread rumors that a few police officers are perpetrating many of the hundreds of assassinations–mostly of former Baath Party members–that take place in Basra each month. He told me that there is even a sort of “death car”: a white Toyota Mark II that glides through the city streets, carrying off-duty police officers in the pay of extremist religious groups to their next assignment.
So wrote American freelance journalist Steven Vincent in a piece that appeared in the New York Times this past weekend.
And then a death car came for him.
According to an e-mail from Vincent’s wife sent on Tuesday night, Vincent and his Iraqi translator, Nour Weidi, were “snatched in front of a bank on Tuesday, August 2nd at 6:30 P.M. local time. Two men drove up, grabbed them, threw them in a car and took off. Nour dropped her ID on the street, which is how the British were able to figure out who it was.” Hours later, the American embassy in Baghdad would confirm Vincent dead, and his translator seriously wounded. Vincent’s body was found on the side of a highway. He had been shot multiple times in the head.
Vincent, a freelance writer from New York, was in Iraq working on a book on life in post-liberation Basra. This was not his first time in Iraq. His previous trip, during which he reported from there for NRO and other publications, ultimately culminated in his book In The Red Zone: A Journey Into The Soul Of Iraq. His publishing company, Spence, set up a blog after the publication of In the Red Zone on which he relayed some of the details of his final journey to Iraq.
“I never met Steven Vincent, but wish I had,” says Michael Rubin, another NRO contributor, currently a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the editor of The Middle East Quarterly, who as a former Pentagon official spent time in outside-the-Green-Zone Iraq. “Hands-down, his book In the Red Zone was the most accurate portrayal of the issues facing ordinary Iraqis. While reporters from major newspapers had fixers do their work and more often than not, just telephoned Iraqi politicians and anonymous American diplomats, Vincent got out and about to holistically explore the entire Iraq endeavor, from the bottom up. His vignettes offer the best English-language understanding of Iraq available. His work was far and away the best out there. And his murder is a reminder of how much is at stake. God bless Steven Vincent.”
Vincent, a professional who was a delight to work with, loved Iraq and its people, calling it “Beautiful Basra” in his last e-mail to me. National Review Online is honored to have published Vincent and we’re all praying for Vincent’s family and his longtime translator.
Vincent was a brave man who wanted to tell the truth, despite the deadly risks. That is noble, important work. We would not know about the good that men and women do–courageous Iraqis, Americans, and other members of the Coalition in this case–without good men like Steven Vincent willing to find out about it in the first place, on frontlines crawling with evildoers. And although evil cannot tolerate being outted, freedom and justice rely on it.
In June on NRO, Vincent wrote:
“You really shouldn’t be here at all,” a British-embassy official warned me.
Obviously he shouldn’t have been. But thank God he was.
Thank you, Steven. Rest in peace.
Some of Steven Vincent’s NRO pieces
August 02, 2005: On Again, Off Again: A power problem in Basra.
June 21, 2005: Baffled in Basra: Self-defeating behavior persists.
June 14, 2005: The Stringer: Hearing Iraqis.
June 09, 2005: Back in Basra: One year later, what Iraqis are saying.
January 24, 2005: The Civil Rights of Iraqis: It’s a struggle we’ve been through.
December 17, 2004: The Wrong Words: Moral and linguistic clarity are crucial in this conflict.
December 16, 2004: Rage Against the Foreigner: Dishonor propelled the Sunni insurgency.
December 15, 2004: The Oppressive Occupier?: This wasn’t how the liberation was supposed to go.
December 14, 2004: America the Omnipotent: Many Iraqis overestimated U.S. capabilities.
December 13, 2004: The Power of Shame: Why so many American’s don’t get the Sunni opposition.
November 16, 2004: Shut Up and Paint: Bush-hatred colors Manhattan’s art scene.
May 25, 2004: Iraq’s “Ignorant Men”: Psychic claustrophobia.
March 26, 2004: Iraq, Integrated: Civil war is not inevitable.
March 16, 2004: What Iraqi “Resistance”? “Occupation? This is a liberation.”
March 05, 2004: Bloody Ashura: An American at a deadly bombing in Iraq.
March 04, 2004: Palpable Pain. Gauging Anti-American sentiment in Iraq.
November 04, 2003: Hacks of Baghdad: The cabbie read of Iraq.
October 28, 2003: Occupational Hazards: Iraqis have their issues with the U.S.
October 16, 2003: The Translator: Iraqis making Coalition work possible.