Shouldn’t the murder of Atwar Bahjat, one of Iraq’s top television journalists, also be a huge story? Nobody but her killers knew just how much she had suffered until a film showing her death on February 22 at the hands of two musclebound men in military uniforms emerged last week. Her family’s worst fears of what might have happened have been far exceeded by the reality.
Bahjat was abducted after making three live broadcasts from the edge of her native city of Samarra on the day its golden-domed Shi’ite mosque was blown up …First she was stripped to the waist, a humiliation for any woman but particularly so for a pious Muslim who concealed her hair, arms and legs from men other than her father and brother.
Then her arms were bound behind her back. A golden locket in the shape of Iraq that became her glittering trademark in front of the television cameras must have been removed at some point — it is nowhere to be seen in the grainy film, which was made by someone who pointed a mobile phone at her as she lay on a patch of earth in mortal terror.
By the time filming begins, the condemned woman has been blindfolded with a white bandage. It is stained with blood that trickles from a wound on the left side of her head. She is moaning, although whether from the pain of what has already been done to her or from the fear of what is about to be inflicted is unclear.
A large man dressed in military fatigues, boots and cap approaches from behind and covers her mouth with his left hand. In his right hand, he clutches a large knife with a black handle and an 8in blade. He proceeds to cut her throat from the middle, slicing from side to side.
Her cries — “Ah, ah, ah” — can be heard above the “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) intoned by the holder of the mobile phone. Even then, there is no quick release for Bahjat. Her executioner suddenly stands up, his job only half done. A second man in a dark T-shirt and camouflage trousers places his right khaki boot on her abdomen and pushes down hard eight times, forcing a rush of blood from her wounds as she moves her head from right to left.
Only now does the executioner return to finish the task. He hacks off her head and drops it to the ground, then picks it up again and perches it on her bare chest so that it faces the film-maker in a grotesque parody of one of her pieces to camera.
The voice of one of the Arab world’s most highly regarded and outspoken journalists has been silenced. She was 30.