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Attack on Baghdad's Central Bank

Missed this one from June 13:

Baghdad's Central Bank came under attack today, turning the capital's historic and once-lovely Rasheed Street into a cordoned-off battleground where a gunfight raged for hours between security forces and the assailants. Plumes of thick black smoke rose from the scene of the standoff. ...

And here's at least one reason the story didn't get a lot of play:

For starters, Iraqi government "spokesmen" from any ministry rarely answer their phones; the security-related spokesmen are the worst offenders. They might go on TV and read a prepared statement, but the only times I've found them to be accessible for real journalism is when an American adviser is leaning on them to answer reporters' phone calls.

Like most other news organizations, we have to pay a "stringer" inside the Iraqi interior ministry to do the job of a spokesman. We call him every day, he gives us very basic information on bombings, investigations and other security-related happenings, and we meet him on a street corner every month to pay him. Today, the poor stringer was inundated with calls from all his media "clients," so even he was hard to reach. Besides, his numbers were at odds with those of other security sources. ..

Among the various accounts we heard today: Five people were killed, 12 people were killed, 15 people were killed. Either 14 or 25 or 41 people were wounded. The gunmen took hostages! No, they took no hostages. It was a robbery attempt on the bank. It was just a garden-variety bombing campaign. The gunmen were masked, the gunmen wore army uniforms, or nobody knows for sure. The bombs were planted on the roadside, timed to go off as bank workers ended their workday. No, the bombs were the result of suicide attackers who detonated their explosives vests as the bank workers exited. There were both planted bombs and suicide-vest bombers.

How do you write that story? I chose not to. Getting to the scene was out of the question: the bridges were blocked and the whole area was cordoned off. Local TV news showed an ambulance driving fast down a deserted street, toward the black smoke clouds. We managed to reach a bank worker by phone, but she was so shaken and scared of making unauthorized statements that we couldn't even quote her. Anyway, all she said was that she stepped out of the bank at the end of the day and heard a huge boom.

That much, we already knew. ...

Large news wire services such as the AP have full staffs to cover such events, but not even the intrepid AP reporters could pin down an exact casualty figures in this case. The last line of the wire story sums up the trials of trying to get to the bottom of a mass-casualty attack in Iraq: "Conflicting casualty tolls are common in the chaotic aftermath of bombings."

Ho hum, just another bombing story in Baghdad....

I guess the real story in Baghdad is that the surge was a famous victory, and that Iraq remains a gigantic social engineering experiment, run on libertarian principles.

NOTE Note the source, McClatchy, and the location. The writer sounds like a real reporter, and not a Versailles stenographer.

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