More on the Alsammarae saga...(Updated December 18, 2006)
James Glanz profiles Aiham Alsammarae today (New York Times, 'Bitter Detour for Expatriate Back in Iraq,' December 15, 2006), the ex-Iraqi Minister of Electricity who just got acquitted by an Iraqi appeals court on one of the charges he’d been convicted of—for lack of evidence, mind you—but continues to face another 12 other charges brought to bear against him by Iraq’s Public Integrity Commission: the government’s anti-corruption arm.
It is a high-profile case involving an American citizen, Mr. Alsammarae, and there is plenty of spin involved. Some want to use this case to cast doubts on the enthused ‘zealotry’ of the Public Integrity Commission in tracking down and indicting corrupt officials, which in any society should be considered a good thing. I guess most reporters don’t have a problem with the ‘zealotry’ of the Patrick Fitzgeralds of the world, even when such zealots get their facts wrong.
But Glanz fails to mention an important episode when Alsammarae apparently hired western mercenaries to spring him out of jail on October 11, 2006: Armed foreigners entered an Iraqi courtroom, waived their weapons and badges at the Iraqi police and whisked Alsammarae away to a life on the run. He was later handed back to Iraqi authorities by the US Embassy. I would have thought that it is an incident that is very relevant to the story; establishing the lengths to which Alsammarae went to in order to escape the charges; he's a 'flight risk' and thus must remain in custody.
But Glanz does not want to write a story about the Iraqi justice system doing its work, on the contrary, the NYT reporter wants to draw attention to “vagaries of an Iraqi court system that in many ways is still the opaque and frightening apparatus it was before the invasion”—a walloping assertion that is not sourced to anyone or backed-up with facts within the rest of the article, yet it is allowed to stand as is by the paper’s editors. It’s a cheap shot by a biased reporter, that’s all.
Alsammarae, though, is being treated like a Mafiosi don (...he's a Chicago man after all; once Al Capone's territory) while in ‘prison’:
Possibly in deference to his former rank, his “cell” was a converted office with a computer, a refrigerator, a potted plant, a thin mattress and other amenities — far better than what is provided to other prisoners in the jail.
Does he get a regular supply of Doritos, like the ones Saddam enjoys? Clearly prison conditions have improved since “before the invasion,” for disagreeable high-ranking officials at least.
But at least the Public Integrity Commission continues its spectacular work despite all the self-serving acrimony and the cheap shots:
[The full NYT article is posted in the comments section.]
Ali Shbot, a spokesman for the commission, which is run by Rathi al-Rathi, said that those charges were ludicrous and that the commission was investigating politicians of all stripes. He said that of roughly 90 cabinet-level officials in previous Iraqi governments since the invasion, 18 have received either arrest warrants or subpoenas.
All but a few of those officials remain at large, having fled the country or gone into hiding. Mr. Shbot said there were also active corruption cases against about 80 former officials — deputy ministers, directors general or senior ministry advisers — at least some of whom are still in Iraq. In the same jail in Baghdad’s protected Green Zone, a former deputy finance minister, Kareem Hmeed Faraj, is serving a three-year sentence.
UPDATE (December 18, 2006): Alsammarae Escapes, Again
I would peg James Glanz as an unwitting accomplice in this jail break: his story about Alsammarae a couple of days ago failed to mention the convict's propensity for 'lamming it,' which only served to reassure prison authorities (...avid readers of the NYT; isn't everyone?) that Alsammarae was not a 'flight risk.'
Isn't it about time to revoke the operating license of the security company that Alsammarae keeps hiring to spring him out of jail?
Now watch how this story will probably get covered: When Alsammarae was in prison, he was depicted as a Sunni Arab victim of an arbitrary Shi'a kangaroo court; the story was never about how the Iraqi anti-corruption folks are doing their job and doing it well, even when going after daunting and well-connected targets. And now that Alsammarae is back on the run, the knee-jerk storyline will be how much Baghdad has turned into a chaotic and free-for-all version of the Wild West; the story about why foreign security companies (many of them with contracts to guard foreign press bureaus) are still acting above Iraqi law--something that they are doing legally by Bremer's still-standing CPA orders--will not interest the editors back in stateside.
The categories for the biased press are neat and simple: Iraq is a mess, the Sunnis are being victimized, the Shi'a-dominated government is settling scores; impeach Bush.
Here's a question: mercenaries cost a lot of money, and staging jailbreaks will probably set you back several million dollars. How can Alsammarae afford that on his public servant's salary?
Nice touch with the Chinese passport...
Former Electricity Minister Ayham al-Samaraie broke out of a Baghdad detention facility Sunday with the help of a group of private security experts, said Faris Kareem, deputy head of Iraq's Public Integrity Commission, an anti-corruption panel. It was al-Samaraie's second escape since he was convicted in October.
Kareem said the security agents were "foreign," but he had no further details.
Lou Fintor, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, said U.S. officials were aware of reports of al-Samaraie's escape and had been in touch with him in prison to provide basic consular services.
A Sunni Arab political figure, al-Samaraie was a member of the transitional government set up after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.
The former minister, who was convicted of corruption and sentenced to two years in prison, is believed to have had contacts with Sunni Arab insurgents and has tried to persuade them to put down their weapons and join the political process.
After al-Samaraie's first escape, a few days after his conviction, Iraqi officials caught him at the Baghdad airport with a Chinese passport, Kareem said.