Matteo Pasquinelli on Tue, 21 Sep 2004 03:02:56 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Who seized Simona Torretta?

italian movement and political situation are frozen by this kidnapping.

counter-detections are reaching the mainstream surface, not of the italian 
media of course. we hope in liberation: conspiracy (?) theories mean 
always the worst scenario. /m

follow related fallout on:
_ _ _,2763,1305624,00.html

Who seized Simona Torretta?

This Iraqi kidnapping has the mark of an undercover police operation

Naomi Klein and Jeremy Scahill
Thursday September 16, 2004
The Guardian

When Simona Torretta returned to Baghdad in March 2003, in the midst of 
the "shock and awe" aerial bombardment, her Iraqi friends greeted her by 
telling her she was nuts. "They were just so surprised to see me
They said, 'Why are you coming here? Go back to Italy. Are you crazy?'"

But Torretta didn't go back. She stayed throughout the invasion, 
continuing the humanitarian work she began in 1996, when she first visited 
Iraq with her anti-sanctions NGO, A Bridge to Baghdad. When Baghdad fell, 
Torretta again opted to stay, this time to bring medicine and water to 
Iraqis suffering under occupation. Even after resistance fighters began 
targeting foreigners, and most foreign journalists and aid workers fled, 
Torretta again returned. "I cannot stay in Italy," the 29-year-old told a 
documentary film-maker.

Today, Torretta's life is in danger, along with the lives of her fellow 
Italian aid worker Simona Pari, and their Iraqi colleagues Raad Ali Abdul 
Azziz and Mahnouz Bassam. Eight days ago, the four were snatched at 
gunpoint from their home/office in Baghdad and have not been heard from 
since. In the absence of direct communication from their abductors, 
political controversy swirls round the incident. Proponents of the war are 
using it to paint peaceniks as naive, blithely supporting a resistance 
that answers international solidarity with kidnappings and beheadings. 
Meanwhile, a growing number of Islamic leaders are hinting that the raid 
on A Bridge to Baghdad was not the work of mujahideen, but of foreign 
intelligence agencies out to discredit the resistance.

Nothing about this kidnapping fits the pattern of other abductions. Most 
are opportunistic attacks on treacherous stretches of road. Torretta and 
her colleagues were coldly hunted down in their home. And while mujahideen 
in Iraq scrupulously hide their identities, making sure to wrap their 
faces in scarves, these kidnappers were bare-faced and clean-shaven, some 
in business suits. One assailant was addressed by the others as "sir".

Kidnap victims have overwhelmingly been men, yet three of these four are 
women. Witnesses say the gunmen questioned staff in the building until the 
Simonas were identified by name, and that Mahnouz Bassam, an Iraqi woman, 
was dragged screaming by her headscarf, a shocking= religious 
transgression for an attack supposedly carried out in the name of Islam.

Most extraordinary was the size of the operation: rather than the usual 
three or four fighters, 20 armed men pulled up to the house in broad 
daylight, seemingly unconcerned about being caught. Only blocks from the 
heavily patrolled Green Zone, the whole operation went off with no 
interference from Iraqi police or US military - although Newsweek reported 
that "about 15 minutes afterwards, an American Humvee convoy passed hardly 
a block away".

And then there were the weapons. The attackers were armed with AK-47s, 
shotguns, pistols with silencers and stun guns - hardly the mujahideen's 
standard-issue rusty Kalashnikovs. Strangest of all is this detail: 
witnesses said that several attackers wore Iraqi National Guard uniforms 
and identified themselves as working for Ayad Allawi, the interim prime 

An Iraqi government spokesperson denied that Allawi's office was involved. 
But Sabah Kadhim, a spokesperson for the interior ministry, conceded that 
the kidnappers "were wearing military uniforms and flak jackets". So was 
this a kidnapping by the resistance or a covert police operation? Or was 
it something worse: a revival of Saddam's mukhabarat disappearances, when 
agents would arrest enemies of the regime, never to be heard from again? 
Who could have pulled off such a coordinated operation - and who stands to 
benefit from an attack on this anti-war NGO?

On Monday, the Italian press began reporting on one possible answer. 
Sheikh Abdul Salam al-Kubaisi, from Iraq's leading Sunni cleric 
organisation, told reporters in Baghdad that he received a visit from 
Torretta and Pari the day before the kidnap. "They were scared," the 
cleric said. "They told me that someone threatened them." Asked who was 
behind the threats, al-Kubaisi replied: "We suspect some foreign 

Blaming unpopular resistance attacks on CIA or Mossad conspiracies is idle 
chatter in Baghdad, but coming from Kubaisi, the claim carries unusual 
weight; he has ties with a range of resistance groups and has brokered the 
release of several hostages. Kubaisi's allegations have been widely 
reported in Arab media, as well as in Italy, but have been absent from the 
English-language press.

Western journalists are loath to talk about spies for fear of being= 
labelled conspiracy theorists. But spies and covert operations are not a 
conspiracy in Iraq; they are a daily reality. According to CIA deputy 
director James L Pavitt, "Baghdad is home to the largest CIA station since 
the Vietnam war", with 500 to 600 agents on the ground. Allawi himself is 
a lifelong spook who has worked with MI6, the CIA and the mukhabarat, 
specialising in removing enemies of the regime.

A Bridge to Baghdad has been unapologetic in its opposition to the 
occupation regime. During the siege of Falluja in April, it coordinated 
risky humanitarian missions. US forces had sealed the road to Falluja and 
banished the press as they prepared to punish the entire city for the 
gruesome killings of four Blackwater mercenaries. In August, when US 
marines laid siege to Najaf, A Bridge to Baghdad again went where the 
occupation forces wanted no witnesses. And the day before their 
kidnapping, Torretta and Pari told Kubaisi that they were planning yet 
another high-risk mission to Falluja.

In the eight days since their abduction, pleas for their release have= 
crossed all geographical, religious and cultural lines. The Palestinian 
group Islamic Jihad, Hizbullah, the International Association of Islamic 
Scholars and several Iraqi resistance groups have all voiced outrage. A 
resistance group in Falluja said the kidnap suggests collaboration with 
foreign forces. Yet some voices are conspicuous by their absence: the 
White House and the office of Allawi. Neither has said a word.

What we do know is this: if this hostage-taking ends in bloodshed, 
Washington, Rome and their Iraqi surrogates will be quick to use the 
tragedy to justify the brutal occupation - an occupation that Simona 
Torretta, Simona Pari, Raad Ali Abdul Azziz and Mahnouz Bassam risked 
their lives to oppose. And we will be left wondering whether that was the 
plan all along.

Jeremy Scahill is a reporter for the independent US radio/TV show 
Democracy Now; Naomi Klein is the author of No Logo and Fences and Windows

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