U.S art critic assassinated by Iraqi police

My sister had a friend named Steven Vincent. I say “had”, because he was assassinated the other day in Iraq by the same Iraqi police deathsquad that he exposed in a piece he wrote for the New York Times that was printed July 31st.


He wasn’t really a real journalist, either. He was an art critic. He wore a cool hat. If you were to see him walking down the street, you would see him with a briefcase and three books, because he always read three books at once. When he sat down at a coffee house, he’d have the books out on the table with their titles visible, because he would want you to ask him about it.

He was a guy from NY who lost a lot of friends in the 9/11 attack, and who wanted to go to Iraq to see for himself what was going on. He snuck into Iraq via bus because he wasn’t a credentialed journalist with a visa. While he was there, he fell in love with the city of Basra and started writing a book about it, interviewing people over what they felt the “soul” of Basra was.

During the course of his interviews, he discovered that many of the police and government officials were in fact working for religious extremists, and that the police even had a death car that carried around off-duty cops to their next Shiite-assignment. All his life, Steven had wanted to get something written up in the New York Times instead of the shitty art magazine that he wrote for, and this was his chance to break a story that he thought was important.

A smart man would have come back to the USA before exposing a Shiite police assassination squad. But Steven had fallen in love with his interpreter, and knew that the police would kill her if he fled to the USA. He felt that if he stayed, he might be able to protect her. So he was in Basra when the NYT published his piece. The next day, he and his interpreter girlfriend were picked up by a police car, riddled with bullets (3 for him, 4 for her), and ditched by the side of the highway.


Oh, and what was the USA and UK official reaction to Steven’s piece? “We have absolute faith in the integrity of the Iraqi police and its government.”

So, his expose had no real effect at all, and he gave up his life for nothing. The end.

I’m sorry, I don’t know what else to say.

i’m sorry.

(edited because i missed the first link)

From the article that got him killed:

In May, the city’s police chief told a British newspaper that half of his 7,000-man force was affiliated with religious parties. This may have been an optimistic estimate: one young Iraqi officer told me that “75 percent of the policemen I know are with Moktada al-Sadr - he is a great man.”

At the moment, these police “death squads” are supposedly killing (mainly? only?) ex-Baath party members.

But I got to wonder, is it possible the US/UK is merely training and equipping the next insurgent army? Or the fascist police force that will maintain control when/if the West leaves and this “democratic” government collapses like a house of cards?

Having “faith in the integrity of the Iraqi police and its government” is only slightly more foolish than having faith in the integrity of the US/UK governments.

Take heart, his article is a matter of historical record, and his death gives it a horrible credibility. His life was not wasted.

I’d been reading about Basra for some time and this, tragically, doesn’t surprise me. Shiia militias and extremist parties, often with very strong ties to Iranian intelligence, are trying to dominate the people there.

I suppose my concern now is for this guy’s girlfriend. She’s alive but in serious condition. Is there any effort underway to get her out of there? I’d give money if someone’s working on this. We can’t save your sister’s friend but maybe someone can do something for the person he died trying to protect?

Wow…thats fucked fucked up.

All you can hope to do is make the world a little better, and then you hear about stuff like this. That sucks.

My condolences. :(

  • Alan

Nice writeup on Vincent by the Washington Post.

I read In The Red Zone last week. The writing was raw and unpolished, but it was refreshing to read about Iraq as if it was a real place and not just a pit of horrors covered by western reporters at greater and greater remove. And it was a personal book; it felt like a blogger’s view of the war, even before I knew that Vincent had a blog.

Then last weekend, I saw Vincent’s column in the New York Times and thought Hey, I know that guy. He’s made it to the big time.

And now he’s dead, and there seems to be no realistic chance that his killers will ever be brought to justice. What a colossal waste.

Such a fucking waste. I’m sorry for all involved.

The first time I read this, it seemed reasonable enough.


Also, I’ve read elsewhere that the guy was married and had been for 13 years.

“He was cheating on his wife and was about to dump her” really isn’t the best way to commemorate a dead man, I think.

It also puts his death in a rather different light than the heroic tragedy the original poster portrayed it as.

Excuse me, but how the hell do you figure that? The fact that, out of respect for his new love’s culture, he had already paid a dowry in anticipation of wedding her somehow diminishes his death?

Or is it the fact that his article may prove embarrassing for our government?

Good Lord, I thought I’d seen insenstive pricks here before when someone posted a picture of a dead cat in a thread about sick pets but you, sir, take the grand prize for asshole of the year.

No, the insensitive thing is for his friends to go around publicizing the fact that he was going to marry the translator. The guy’s wife is still alive; how do you think SHE feels about that?

As for the death -

  1. Married guys should not be cheating on their wives. It doesn’t deserve the punishment of death, but if bad things happen to such guys, they don’t deserve much sympathy either.

  2. He died for adultery, not for heroically exposing corruption. That makes the death a tawdry and common sort of thing, one he could have had while trying to climb out a window in a US suburb.

As a writer he had worthwhile things to say, and that will be missed. But portraying this particular death as a grand tragedy doesn’t fit the facts.

You do realise that the British officials who are blaming it on extremists are the same ones who Vincent criticised for having let militants into the police force in Basra? They have a vested interest in claiming it wasn’t the police that killed him and so are hardly reliable sources. I guess that he was killed three days after criticising the militants and their influence in Basra could have been just pure coincidence, but it hardly seems a likely explanation.

Marrying a non-Muslim is specifically allowed by the Koran for women, and nothing is mentioned about men so it is often allowed. At worst it is discouraged by the family, but I’ve never heard of anyone carrying out a death sentence for it. Maybe if it was an honour killing, but considering the family had already accepted a dowry for her, it doesn’t seem like they considered her marriage dishonourable.

You’d best be sure this guy was trying out bigamy before spreading this stuff. I wouldn’t be believing everything the Rushes and Gannons have to say. So where’s the link to that part of the story?

But, let’s pretend, in this little right-wing fantasy land there’s some glimmer of truth. You’re saying that excused what happened? You’re saying that somehow these Islamic radicals knew he was already married and killed him for that? Or, perchance, is it somewhat more likely he was killed precisely for making them look bad and revealing what they were up to given they’ve got a documented track record of doing precisely that?

“If I’m gonna get my balls blown off for a word, my word is poontang.”

“If I’m gonna get my balls blown off for a word, my word is poontang.”[/quote]

“There’s only three things worth dyin’ for: chicks and cars and the third world war.”

What the fuck is wrong with you?

Heroes are people too, m’kay? They are everyday people who fight the same personal battles the rest of humanity does. Every time I see the media, the goverment, the education system, or my own parents project the bullshit, idealized “hero template” persona on someone, I just roll my eyes. Give me a break.

Whatever his personal shortcomings, Steven did good out there. Yeah, so he could have been a nicer guy. So could I. So could you. It doesn’t take away from the fact that he felt that exposing the Shi’ite infiltration of the police force was more important than his own well-being.

edit: Or, maybe it does? To you? I guess this is a point where I disagree with some. It wouldn’t bug me if GW Bush snorted cocaine when he was younger, if a mayor received sex from a transexual prostitute, or if Abraham Lincoln whacked off to woodcut prints of farm animals. That’s just not the important stuff.

Ok, this is interesting.


Fascinating stuff. I owe the man (or his memory) an apology.

(But hey, it was Juan Cole the great and wise who made the claim in the first place. Juan Cole is always right! … or would that be “wrong”?)