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Fact-checking the AP and Jamil Hussein

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By Michelle Malkin  •  January 21, 2007 09:26 AM

My report on our investigation of the Associated Press’s four destroyed mosques/six immolated Sunnis story is up at the New York Post. We’ll have video and audio, including comments from Dagger Brigade members about the AP’s faulty coverage and rumor-based war reporting, at Hot Air tomorrow morning.

Excerpt:

WELL, the Iraqi Ministry of Interior says disputed Associated Press source Jamil Hussein does exist. But at least one story he told the AP just doesn’t check out: The Sunni mosques that as Hussein claimed and AP reported as “destroyed,” “torched” and “burned and [blown] up” are all still standing. So the credibility of every AP story relying on Jamil Hussein remains dubious.

Let’s take it from the beginning.

When the AP ran its head- line-grabbing and horrifying account of alleged atrocities in Baghdad last Thanksgiving, its main source was an Iraqi police captain, one Jamil Hussein.

Bloggers led by Curt of Flopping Aces (floppingaces.net) raised questions about the veracity and existence of Hussein and the information he supplied to the AP. U.S. military officials and the Iraqi government initially disputed that Hussein was employed as a legitimate police officer.

After several weeks of stonewalling by its news executives, the AP published a report quoting an Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman who reversed course and verified Hussein’s existence and employment. Left-wing blogs and mainstream-media outlets crowed – eagerly proclaiming the death of the conservative blogosphere’s credibility and declaring the matter settled.

AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll indignantly attacked those who had questioned the global news organization’s reporting: “I never quite understood why people chose to disbelieve us about this particular man on this particular story,” she told Editor and Publisher. “AP runs hundreds of stories a day, and has run thousands of stories about things that have happened in Iraq.”

Well, Bryan Preston and I visited the area during our Iraq trip last week. Several mosques did, in fact, come under attack by Mahdi Army forces. But the “destroyed” mosques all still stand. [Mary Katharine Ham traced the evolution of the "destroyed-to-burned-to-torched" mosques/six burning Sunnis story here.] Iraqi and U.S. Army officials say that two of them received no fire damage whatsoever. Another, which we filmed, was abandoned and empty when it was attacked.

WE obtained summary reports and photos (see below) filed at the time by Iraqi and U.S. Army troops on the scene. They contain no corroborating evidence of Hussein’s claim that “Shiite militiamen grabbed six Sunnis as they left Friday worship services, doused them with kerosene and burned them alive near Iraqi soldiers who did not intervene.”

One of the mosques identified by the AP, the Nidaa Alah mosque, had been abandoned and vacant at the time it was hit with small-arms fire, say Iraqi and U.S. Army officials. Two of its inside rooms were burned out by a lobbed firebomb, according to an Army report.

Three other mosques in the area – the al Muhaymin, al Mushahiba and Ahbab Mustafa mosques – sustained small-arms fire damage to their exteriors; the Mustafa mosque also had two rooms burned out by a firebomb. [The Mustafa mosque is the location where the alleged kerosene immolation incident occurred.]

Contrary to Hussein and the AP’s account, military reports note that Iraqi Army battalion members were on the scene – pursuing attackers, securing the area, calling the fire department, providing support and an outer cordon.

Neither The New York Times nor The Washington Post was able to confirm AP’s story.

The AP quoted one corroborating witness, Imad al-Hasimi, a Sunni elder in Hurriya, who “confirmed Hussein’s account” of the immolated Sunnis on Al-Arabiya television. When Al-Hasimi later recanted, AP implied that it was due to pressure from Iraqi government officials. The other possibility: He recanted because it wasn’t true.

Make no mistake. Hurriya is a Shiite militia-infested neighborhood where Sunnis have suffered horrible treatment. We accompanied a civil affairs patrol to a neighborhood meeting where US Mahdi Army apologists falsely accused Army Rangers of damaging their mosque and refused to provide any information on a kidnapping incident involving two Sunnis rescued by the Iraqi Army. But as the troops who work closely with that Iraqi Army battalion told us, the incident that made front page covers and worldwide headlines last Thanksgiving didn’t happen the way the AP and Jamil Hussein said it did:

Capt. Aaron Kaufman of Task Force Justice, which works closely with the Iraqi Army battalion that was on the scene and monitored events as they happened, told us: “It was blown way out of proportion, there was nobody lit on fire.”

Capt. Stacy Bare, the civil-affairs officer who took us on patrol in Hurriya, concurred: “There were no six Sunnis burned.”

Murders do happen regularly in their area, the soldiers emphasized. And no one sugarcoated the brutality of the Shiite militia. But the soldiers say this particular story doesn’t stand up…

It’s worth noting that several of the leaders of the Dagger Brigade we talked to are quite familiar with mosque violence. They were serving in Samarra during the Golden Dome attack.

While Bryan and I were in Iraq, Curt of Flopping Aces and Bob Owens pressed forward on the Jamil Hussein angle. Whether the AP used a pseudonym for Hussein or not, and whatever the fickle Interior Ministry is now saying, Hussein’s information clearly cannot be trusted. As bloggers have emphasized, Hussein was a single source for dozens of other AP stories about atrocities across a wide swath of Baghdad. And as AP executive Kathleen Carroll herself underscores:

“AP runs hundreds of stories a day, and has run thousands of stories about things that have happened in Iraq.”

Or rather, things that their questionable sources and local stringers have told them have happened in Iraq.

***

Photos from the U.S. Army Dagger Brigade/Iraqi Army unit that responded to Hurriya attacks:

mosquepray.jpg
Worshipers pray a day after the attack that supposedly “destroyed” the Muhaymin mosque.

mosqueia.jpg
Members of the 1/1/6 unit of the Iraqi Army at the Muhaymin mosque.

mosquemuy.jpg
Another room of the “destroyed” Muhaymin mosque.

mosquedmg.jpg
RPG damage to the exterior of the Muhaymin mosque. People were wounded at the Muhaymin mosque, according to an Army report. The 1/1/6 Iraqi Army battalion brought medical assets to treat them.

mosquenidaa.jpg
Small arms fire damage at the Nidaa Alah mosque, which had been abandoned at the time of attack, according to U.S. Army and Iraqi Army officials. The other side of the dome was partially blown out.

mosquedmg003.jpg
Small arms fire damage to the Mustafa mosque.

mosquefiredmg.jpg
Serious fire damage to the Imam room and library at the Mustafa mosque.

mosquemustafa.jpg
Anti-Sunni graffiti on the Mustafa mosque.

mosquesign.jpg
Minor damage to a Mustafa mosque sign.

***

Update: Some AP apologists are denying that the news organization ever reported that the mosques were destroyed. As I noted above, Mary Katharine Ham saved the timestamped and dated wire copy and tracked the evolution of the story:

11/24/06 10:10:28

Sunnis claim mosques and houses burned by Shiite militia, police watch
By QAIS AL-BASHIR
Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – Sunni residents in a volatile northwest Baghdad neighborhood claimed Friday that revenge-seeking Shiite militiamen had destroyed four Sunni mosques, burned homes and killed many people, while the Shiite-dominated police force stood by and did nothing.

The reports were the most serious allegations of retribution in Baghdad the day after Sunni insurgents killed 215 people and wounded 257 with five car bombs and mortar fire in the capital’s Sadr City Shiite slum.

Patterico has screenshots of the same wire story archived on Lexis/Nexis via its a la carte service. Follow-up stories referred to four mosques as “torched” and “burned” and blown up.

***
MNC-I reports that a Shia mosque was leveled in an explosion northwest of the Iraqi capital two days ago.

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