Mary Katharine Ham

Update 1/5/06: The Iraqi government has now identified Jamil Hussein as an employee of the Iraqi Police, and he is facing arrest for speaking to media for the Hurriyah story. Questions remain about AP's reporting on the incident, and many others attributed to Jamil Hussein. Forty of the 61 stories attributed to him have no corroboration in other major media.

Who is Capt. Jamil Hussein?

Should you bother taking the time to try to figure it out? You’ll be glad you did. Stick with me.

Last Friday, the AP broke a story about six Sunnis being doused with kerosene and burned alive by Shiites as they were leaving a mosque in the Baghdad neighborhood of Hurriyah. It was a brutal, horrific act, symbolic of the serious sectarian violence wracking Iraq and the U.S. forces charged with securing the country. As such, the story of the six burned Sunnis flew around the globe, splashed on front pages and pasted into Iraq analyses. Right now, it’s clocking almost 700 hits on Google News. Everyone who reads or watches news has heard about it.

Sadly, many fewer people have heard about the questions surrounding it. The man to whom the AP originally attributed the story—one Capt. Jamil Hussein, allegedly of the Iraqi Police—is neither an Iraqi policeman nor an authorized spokesperson for the force.

This, from a CENTCOM press conference Thursday:

For example, we have some of the respected news outlets that deal with news fast and have a relation with many TV channels and the media in general, who distributed a story quoting a person called Jamil Hussein. Afterward, we searched our sources in our staff for anyone by this name-- maybe he wore an MOI [Ministry of Information] uniform and gave a different name to the reporter for money. And the second name used is Lt. Maythem.

Oops.

Jamil Hussein was the sole source for this story for most of the day on Friday. AP writer Qais Al-Bashir found him 30 minutes after he filed his original story, in which “police officials in the region told Associated Press reporters that nothing had happened in the Hurriyah district.” As soon as Hussein entered the picture, so did six burned Sunnis and several burned mosques. (Read through a timeline of the story’s construction, here.)


Mary Katharine Ham

Mary Katharine Ham is editor-at-large of HotAir.com, a contributor to Townhall Magazine.

Be the first to read Mary Katharine Ham's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.