BASRA, Iraq — An American freelance journalist, who accused Basra’s police of being infiltrated by Shiite militiamen in a recent New York Times column and his Internet blog, was found shot to death in the southern city after being abducted by armed men driving a police car.
Steven Vincent, whose work also has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, and his female Iraqi translator were abducted at gunpoint by five men Tuesday evening as they left a currency exchange shop, police Lt. Col. Karim al-Zaidi said Wednesday.
Vincent’s body was discovered Tuesday night on the side of the highway south of Basra. He had been shot in the head and body, al-Zaidi said.
The translator, Nour Weidi, was seriously wounded.
“I can confirm to you that officials in Basra have recovered the body of journalist Steven Vincent,” U.S. Embassy spokesman Pete Mitchell said Wednesday. “The U.S. Embassy is working with British military and local Iraqi officials in Basra to determine who is responsible for the death of this journalist. Our condolences go out to the family.”
Police said Vincent, a writer who had been living in New York, had been staying in Basra for several months working on a book about the history of the city.
Police infiltration reported
In an opinion column published July 31 in the Times, Vincent wrote that Basra’s police force had been heavily infiltrated by members of Shiite political groups, including those loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Vincent quoted an unidentified Iraqi police lieutenant as saying that some police were behind many of the assassinations of former Baath Party members that have taken place in Basra.
“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,” he wrote.
Vincent also was critical of the British military, which is responsible for security in Basra, for turning a blind eye to abuses of power by Shiite extremists in the city.
He was the author of “In the Red Zone: A Journey Into the Soul of Iraq,” a recently published book that was an account of life in a post-Saddam Iraq.
His blog from Iraq — In the Red Zone — chronicled his experiences in Basra from late May to late July. The entries, written as letters to his wife, Lisa, were rich in detail and often humorous.
Need for law and order
In a June 12 entry, Vincent said of Iraqis: “The people here desperately need — and deserve — law and order, a sense that justice can prevail against malevolent powers stalking their nation.”
On July 1, he said those who were attempting to impose their Islamic beliefs on Basra — “often at the barrel of an AK (automatic weapon)” — “are not Basrawi, they are an aberration, a glitch in the city’s history.”
Vincent’s Web site describes him as a freelance investigative journalist and art critic whose work had appeared in major newspapers and magazines, including Harper’s and the Christian Science Monitor.
“This murder once again shows that journalists pay a very high price to report in Iraq,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It is absolutely appalling that insurgents use this kind of barbaric violence against people whose job is just to observe and report, and who just carry a notebook and pen.”
According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 46 journalists and 20 media support workers have been killed while covering the war in Iraq since March 2003. Insurgent actions are responsible for the bulk of the deaths.
The Vienna, Austria-based media watchdog International Press Institute condemned Vincent’s killing and urged Iraqi authorities to conduct a speedy and thorough investigation.
The death underscored how “Iraq continues to be the most dangerous country in the world in which to work as a journalist,” the group said.