Is the U.S. Planting Iraqi Militants for Capture?

Ever since the U.S. released two dozen Iraqi detainees — many of whom had close ties to Saddam Hussein’s regime — I’ve been keeping an eye out for headlines such as this one, hot off the Reuters wire:

The U.S. military said on Thursday that Iraqi forces had captured a former senior intelligence official under Saddam Hussein who now has close ties to the al-Qaeda leader in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Perhaps its just chance, but perhaps the government was thinking they could quietly release this prisoners at Christmastime, amidst allegations of abuse no less, and then recapture them whenever timely.

John Burns broke the news of these “high value” detainees’ release — many of whom were once showcased on the “deck of cards” of 55 Iraqi most wanted — in the December 20 New York Times:

Iraqi lawyers said Monday that a group of 24 former officials in Saddam Hussein’s government were released from an American military detention center over the weekend and that they included four leading figures in Mr. Hussein’s program to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Among those released last December were four Hussein-cronies suspected of playing leading roles in Iraq’s WMD program, including Dr. Germ and Mrs. Anthrax. If that was negotiating with the ___ (and it was enough to get Hussein to sit still in the courthouse)… should I be placing my orders now for the re-released and updated deck of cards? (Dr. Germ recently chatted up a British MP, documented here in the TimesUK Online)
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UPDATE: Reuters is now reporting that the Iraqi militant is one “Muhammad al-Ubaydi, a former senior intelligence official under Saddam Hussein.” Despite the developing nature of the brief report, the lede now reads: “Iraqi forces have captured the prime suspect in the kidnapping of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, the U.S. military said on Thursday.”Giuliana Sgrena

Giuliana Sgrena, a reporter for Il Manifesto, was en route to Baghdad airport in March 2005 when U.S. troops fired upon her car, killing her escort, in a supposed case of “mistaken identity.”

As illustrated by last week’s reports of Iraqi insurgents and/or innocent civilians killed/captured by U.S. troops, there is a regular pattern in which the Pentagon issues press releases around midday in Baghdad and by the time its midday in the states, the story has changed drastically.

In regards to al-Ubaydi, a Google search reveals little more than one Amir Rashid Muhammad al-Ubaydi, who apparently was Iraqi Minister of Oil under Hussein and is married to the aforementioned “Dr. Germ.”

Is the Media Telling the Real Story in Iraq?

Reuters / Global Voices are hosting a very intriguing forum this evening:

In your country, how does the media’s Iraq coverage rate? […] Have blogs helped clarify things or added to the confusion? We want to bring the opinions of the world’s bloggers on this issue directly into the debate. Please join us for a live discussion on Wednesday at 22:00-24:00 GMT (6-8pm EDT).

Reuters will be hosting a panel discussion which will be videocast and audio cast via this link: http://reuters.com/IraqNewsmakers.

A panel of notable bloggers will join a panel of journalists on the ground (including Roger Cohen of the International Herald Tribune, CBS’ Lara Logan and Reuters’ Alastair MacDonald).

The conversation starts now. More here and here.

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Meanwhile, the Washington Post gets their “real story” straight from the U.S. budget for Iraq. Today’s article alleges that funding cutbacks for building democracy in Iraq:

….Threatens projects that teach Iraqis how to create and sustain political parties, think tanks, human rights groups, independent media outlets, trade unions and other elements of democratic society.

Kevin Drum saw this coming from miles.