Disputed AP Source in Iraq Now Faces Arrest for Talking to Media

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By: E&P Staff

(Correction at end) The Associated Press has just sent E&P the following dispatch from Baghdad, as it was about to be distributed on its wire. The existence of Jamil Hussein had been hotly disputed by conservative bloggers, some Iraqi officials and the U.S. military in recent weeks.

BAGHDAD (AP) — The Interior Ministry acknowledged Thursday that an Iraqi police officer whose existence had been denied by the Iraqis and the U.S. military is in fact an active member of the force, and said he now faces arrest for speaking to the media.

Ministry spokesman Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, who had previously denied there was any such police employee as Capt. Jamil Hussein, said in an interview that Hussein is an officer assigned to the Khadra police station, as had been reported by The Associated Press.

The captain, whose full name is Jamil Gholaiem Hussein, was one of the sources for an AP story in late November about the burning and shooting of six people during a sectarian attack at a Sunni mosque.

The U.S. military and the Iraqi Interior Ministry raised the doubts about Hussein in questioning the veracity of the AP’s initial reporting on the incident, and the Iraqi ministry suggested that many news organization were giving a distorted, exaggerated picture of the conflict in Iraq. Some Internet bloggers spread and amplified these doubts, accusing the AP of having made up Hussein’s identity in order to disseminate false news about the war.

Khalaf offered no explanation Thursday for why the ministry had initially denied Hussein’s existence, other than to state that its first search of records failed to turn up his full name. He also declined to say how long the ministry had known of its error and why it had made no attempt in the past six weeks to correct the public record.

Hussein was not the original source of the disputed report of the attack; the account was first told on Al-Arabiya satellite television by a Sunni elder, Imad al-Hashimi, who retracted it after members of the Defense Ministry paid him a visit. Several neighborhood residents subsequently gave the AP independent accounts of the Shiite militia attack on a mosque in which six people were set on fire and killed.

Khalaf told the AP that an arrest warrant had been issued for the captain for having contacts with the media in violation of the ministry’s regulations.

Hussein told the AP on Wednesday that he learned the arrest warrant would be issued when he returned to work on Thursday after the Eid al-Adha holiday. His phone was turned off Thursday and he could not be reached for further comment.

Hussein appears to have fallen afoul of a new Iraqi push, encouraged by some U.S. advisers, to more closely monitor the flow of information about the country’s violence, and strictly enforce regulations that bar all but authorized spokesmen from talking to media.

During Saddam Hussein’s rule, information in Iraq had been fiercely controlled by the Information Ministry, but after the arrival of U.S. troops in 2003 and during the transition to an elected government in 2004, many police such as Hussein felt freer to talk to journalists and give information as it occurred.

As a consequence, most news organizations working in Iraq have maintained Iraqi police contacts routinely in recent years. Some officers who speak with reporters withhold their names or attempt to disguise their names using different variants of one or two middle names or last names for reasons of security. Hussein, however, spoke for the record, using his authentic first and last name, on numerous occasions.

His first contacts with the AP were in 2004, when the current Interior Ministry and its press apparatus was still being formed out of the chaotic remains of the Saddam-era ministry.

The information he provided about various police incidents was never called into question until he became embroiled in the attempt to discredit the AP story about the Hurriyah mosque attack.

Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said Thursday that the military had asked the Interior Ministry on Nov. 26 if it had a policeman by the name of Jamil Hussein. Two days later, U.S. Navy Lt. Michael B. Dean, a public affairs officer with the U.S. Navy Multi-National Corps-Iraq Joint Operations Center, sent an e-mail to AP in Baghdad saying that the military had checked with the Iraqi Interior Ministry and was told that no one by the name of Jamil Hussein worked for the ministry or was a Baghdad police officer.

Dean also demanded that the mosque attack story be retracted.

The text of the Dean letter appeared quickly on several Internet blogs, prompting heated debate about the story and criticism of the AP.

At the weekly Interior Ministry briefing on Nov. 30, Khalaf cited the AP story as an example of why the ministry had decided to form a special unit to monitor news coverage and vowed to take legal action against journalists who failed to correct stories the ministry deemed to be incorrect.

At the time Khalaf said the ministry had no one on its staff by the name of Jamil Hussein.

“Maybe he wore an MOI (Ministry of Interior) uniform and gave a different name to the reporter for money,” Khalaf said then. The AP has not paid Jamil Hussein and does not pay any news sources for information for its stories.

On Thursday, Khalaf told AP that the ministry at first had searched its files for Jamil Hussein and found no one. He said a later search turned up Capt. Jamil Gholaiem Hussein, assigned to the Khadra police station.

But the AP had already identified the captain by all three names in a story on Nov. 28– two days before the Interior Ministry publicly denied his existence on the police rolls.

Khalaf did not say whether the U.S. military had ever been told that Hussein in fact exists. Garver, the U.S. military spokesman, said Thursday that he was not aware that the military had ever been told.

Khalaf said Thursday that with the arrest of Hussein for breaking police regulations against talking to reporters, the AP would be called to identify him in a lineup as the source of its story.

Should the AP decline to assist in the identification, Khalaf said, the case against Hussein would be dropped. He also said there were no plans to pursue action against the AP should it decline.

He said police officers sign a pledge not to talk to reporters when they join the force. He did not explain why Jamil Hussein had become an issue now, given that he had been named by AP in dozens of news reports dating back to early 2006. Before that, he had been a reliable source of police information since 2004 but had not been quoted by name.

E&P note:

As recently as yesterday, Michelle Malkin, the best-known blog critic of Hussein’s existence, stated flatly “the fact that there is no police captain named ‘Jamil Hussein’ working now or ever in either Yarmouk or al Khadra, according to on-the-ground sources in Baghdad. Late this afternoon, she posted part of the AP dispatch above with the comment, “Checking it out. Moving forward….”

She later sent a note to the blog of another Hussein doubter, Allahpundit, stating, “Just to clarify, I?m not apologizing for anything.”

Allahpundit, blogging at Hot Air, admitted, She and we were wrong about Jamil Hussein. Whether we?re wrong about the rest of it, too, we?ll see. Apologies, though, to the HA readers for having led you on a bit of a wild goose chase, however well founded and well intended our suspicions were.”

But Patterico at Patterico’s Pontifications replied, “I see Allah is apologizing tonight for taking his readers on a wild goose chase. But I don?t think he?s done anything to apologize for.”

Curt at Flopping Aces, credited by Malkin with being first to break the story of the AP’s source likely non-existence, asked, referring to Hussein: “His phone was turned off? Interesting…..why would his phone be turned off all of a sudden? Would this mean he will once again NOT be produced for questioning?”

Dan Riehl, another blogging Hussein doubter, responded today, “Fascinating. But let me be the first to say to the Left, before they lose themselves in glee, I don’t see that bloggers have anything to apologize for, nor do I see this story being at an end.”

Over at The Jawa Report: “Of course, the alternative to believing he might not exist is to be thoroughly convinced that he does exist despite the conflicting evidence. Anyone who thoroughly convinced themselves of Jamil Hussein’s existence despite the controversy is a credulous fool.”

Also on the right, Ed Morrissey of Captain’s Quarters admitted, “This certainly tends to discredit the blogospheric attacks on AP if true, as well as the U.S. and Iraqi protestations.” But he raised “the question about the Iraqi intent to arrest Hussein. Why would they want to arrest him if he told the truth to the AP?”

Confederate Yankee allowed, “As far as the AP’s story goes, it does raise some very interesting questions, and I think I’ll have a very entertaining weekend trying to make sense of it all.”

Eason Jordan, at his new IraqSlogger site, just two days ago had declared that AP was now in a major “scandal.” Paul McCleary on the same day at CJR Daily had called it a “mess,” accusing AP of “stonewalling and hubris.” Jordan had earlier offered to fly Malkin and another blogger to Baghdad, on his own dime, to search for Hussein.

Now at his site he says that all parties made mistakes in the matter, including AP for not resolving the issue sooner, and even points a finger at the imperiled police captain himself: “Since Jamil Hussein was willing to be quoted by the AP dozens of times, he should have come forward sooner to end the dispute about his existence.”

A prime Jamil Hussein doubter, Jules Crittenden of the Boston Herald, wrote on his blog on Tuesday, “If Jamil Hussein’s apparent failure to exist is ever acknowledged, it will be buried. The AP’s clients, by and large, don’t care. Nor do the ‘ethics’ gatekeepers in the business.”

Tonight he writes, “The existence of cops with several variations of the name Jamil Hussein of varying ranks in several police stations around Baghdad was reported by bloggers several weeks ago. None quite matched. I’d suggest the jury is still out on this guy.”

Meanwhile, Brian Whitaker, Middle East editor at The Guardian of London since 2000, concludes his summary of the latest twist today this way: “Because of the number of reporters quoting Jamil Hussein, the bloggers were in effect alleging a generalised conspiracy by AP’s Baghdad staff to deceive the news-reading public – an idea so unlikely as to be almost incredible.

“Interestingly, something similar happened with the hoax allegations relating to the Lebanese ambulances. As the bloggers pursued their claims, the only way they could support their claims was by implicating more and more Red Cross workers in a conspiracy to deceive – a conspiracy that, in the end, existed only in their imaginations.

“Back in Iraq, the good news today is that Capt Jamil Hussein really does exist, and the interior ministry’s spokesman has finally and officially confirmed it. The bad news is that they have issued a warrant for his arrest for ‘having contacts with the media.’

“Congratulations, bloggers. He won’t be talking to AP again now.”

Correction, Jan. 10: In the original version of this story, after accurately quoting Jules Crittenden for two paragraphs, we then quoted him saying something that actually came from a visitor to his blog, he informs us. We regret the error. That quote (deleted above) follows.

“Where the proof? All I’ve seen is just another round of assertions. How about a page out of an AP reporter’s notebook with a Jamil Hussein contact and info for a particular story on a particular day? Reporters are meticulous about their notebooks and retain them for years.”

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