Monday, April 18, 2005

A few days ago, a headline about 150 hostages being held in Iraq made me gasp. Now, it turns out those were just the rumors.

That's good news, I guess...

More on what happened from the New York Times - Iraqi Kidnapping Tale Combines a Perilous Mix of Fact and Rumor:

BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 17 - Anyone in Baghdad on Sunday morning could have been forgiven for thinking the country was on the verge of civil war.

Three Iraqi Army battalions had surrounded the town of Madaen, just south of Baghdad, where Sunni kidnappers were said to be threatening to kill hundreds of Shiite hostages unless all Shiites left the town. As the National Assembly met, Iraq's top political figures warned of a sectarian crisis between the majority Shiites and minority Sunnis.

Even Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric and its most notorious terrorist fugitive weighed in on the matter with statements of their own. And the departing prime minister released a statement denouncing the "savage, filthy and dirty atrocities" in Madaen.

But as the army battalions arrived in Madaen, they saw streets full of people calmly going about their business. There were no armed Sunni mobs, no cowering Shiite victims.

After hours of careful searches, the soldiers - assisted by air surveillance - arrested some people suspected of being insurgents, but found no evidence of any kidnappings.

On Sunday evening, a few political leaders were still insisting that some hostages might yet be found. But Iraqi Army officials were reporting that the crisis in Madaen - which had been narrated in a stream of breathless television reports and news bulletins - appeared to be nothing but a tissue of rumors and politically motivated accusations.

The seeming hysteria over Madaen was one vivid illustration of the way Iraq's daily violence and sectarian tensions - which are real enough - can be easily twisted into fantasy here. In a country where telephones are unreliable and roads are often blocked, it can be hard to tell the difference between fact and rumor. And most people have good reason to believe the worst.


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