J.G. Ballard in Iraq


La Repubblica says it has photos of the car that was carrying Giuliana Sgrena when she encountered those American bullets in Baghdad. If the pictures are legit, Sgrena's account of the shooting simply can't be accurate.

Jim Henley notes that the photos undercut the official U.S. story as well. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reviews the larger topic of checkpoint shootings in Iraq.

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  1. “not nearly as discrepant with the American version of events as the Italian.”

    Which Italian version – the obviously bullshit story from Sgrena, or the dramatically different version coming from the Italian government and the surviving intelligence agent?

  2. As an old IHS scholar can I just say that among all the hits that I’m getting today, I’m most honored by the folks at Reason.

  3. Thanks, Rusty.

    Joe: Good point. I presume Jim is referring to Sgrena’s version, but I might strike the quote from the post to make it clearer.

  4. My ears are burning! Jesse, thanks for the link. The closest the Italian foreign ministry comes to endorsing Sgrena’s “300-400 bullets” claim is a statement that the US fired for “10-15 seconds,” at least that I can find.

    Now here’s the funny thing about the incident. Sgrena has been widely hooted for suggesting she MAY have been targetted. But every time there’s been a controversy involving some reporter in Iraq, the hawkish blogs – and particularly their comment sections – have been full of suggestions that troops SHOULD shoot them.

    Also, just mentioning: Like the Washington Post I too have been “reviewing the larger topic of checkpoint shootings in Iraq.”

  5. Statistically speaking the odds are that the US isn’t lying every single time there is a controversy involving troops in Iraq.

  6. “Statistically speaking the odds are that the US isn’t lying every single time there is a controversy involving troops in Iraq.”

    One of the marines that captured Saddam says the spider hole story was fiction.


  7. Who gives a shit! Shoot em all and let gawd sort em out. Being god’s chosen and the grestest hath its previllages.

  8. ps.. make sure the oil’s safe… Mie humveee needs a lotta gas. Gotta save wuts impotent.

  9. As an attorney, I’m shocked, shocked, to learn that an eyewitness might be wildly wrong about how many gunshots were fired in a particular situation.

  10. Statistically speaking the odds are that the US isn’t lying every single time there is a controversy involving troops in Iraq.

    Since when is lying a random event? Statistics have nothing to do with it.

  11. Photos of the car don’t really prove or disprove anything about how many bullet were fired, because the troops involved might just have been lousy shots.

    However, it’s pretty obvious that Sgrena is full of it when she claims that the Feds were deliberately trying to kill her. If, for some bizarre reason, they wanted to kill her in a way that drew attention to their “shoot first, shoot more, give the survivors first aid” approach to vehicle checkpoints, they would have simply shot up the car with a Bradley’s 25mm chaingun or a Mk19 grenade launcher instead of small arms.

  12. She claims to have picked up fistfuls of spent bullets off the set next to her, as well. That alone tells you she is, to be charitable, an unreliable witness.

    Watch and learn, Reasonoids. The investigation is ongoing.

  13. If – IF – that is the car, the soldiers are bad shots, someone is full of shit, or the car had a force-field around it (the fact that a couple of bullet marks can be seen doesn’t prove that the force-field doesn’t work. It couldn’t possibly be expected to stop 300-400 bullets!)

    How would she pick up spent shell casings (are these the spent bullets she refers to?) unless they were firing from the car?!! Beam me up, Scotty.

  14. If you compare and contrast the two versions of the story, though, you see that the US soldiers version seems more plausible. They claim to have fired warning shots before firing at the vehicle. This meshes perfectly with the Italian claim that “300-400 shots” or “10-15 seconds” of shots were fired yet only a few rounds hit the car.

  15. [digression]
    One of the marines that captured Saddam says the spider hole story was fiction.

    Yeah, the guy says the footage of Saddam coming out of the undergound hiding place was staged later, and that it was actually a well.

    That news story has a bizarre ethnic angle to it:

    Ex-Sgt. Nadim Abou Rabeh, of Lebanese descent, was quoted in the Saudi daily al-Medina Wednesday as saying Saddam was actually captured Friday, Dec. 12, 2003, and not the day after, as announced by the U.S. Army.

    “I was among the 20-man unit, including eight of Arab descent…”

    “We captured him after fierce resistance during which a Marine of Sudanese origin was killed,” he said…

    Why the hell is the ethnic background of the Marine, his unit-mates, and the man killed relevant? The article doesn’t say. What unspoken assumption is being made here? Is something being played up to here?

    Sorry I have to excerpt some material, otherwise I’d be quoting the entire damn article, which is very short — probably would be a violation of fair use. Whole thing, showing the context (or lack of it) is at joe’s link:


    I also note that the Marine spoke up only after he become a former Marine. Presumably he can now say what he wants, truth or not, without worrying about reprisal. I’d put more weight to this if he were a whistleblower and currently a Marine. But that’s not a reason to reject the story out of hand; it could just be prudence on his part.

    Highlighting ethnic background for no discernible reason, however, is just weird. What am I missing here?


  16. Rusty’s interpretation makes me wonder about the efficacy of warning shots. Not having ever had been the recipient of such communication, I wonder how universally effective it is? That said, I should make clear I’m not trying to say the soldiers necessarily did anything wrong by firing them. Just wondering if we should automatically assume that if warning shots are fired then the driver should necessarily be considered at fault if he doesn’t react by stopping.

  17. fyodor,

    I’d want to know how dark the road was. If they were “warning shots” on a pitch black night, they might be totally ineffective.

    Oh, here it is again, the “Roshomon syndrome.”

  18. Not the hole too! And to what purpose? How would that matter in the propaganda wars?

    I’m not a conspiracy buff and therefore (again) it is difficult for me to believe that every single thing that ever happens that is remotely connected with the US is fabricated.

    For example, I don’t believe the moon landing was faked even though it’s hard for me to believe that I could get actual TV footage from the moon in 1969 when at the time I couldn’t even get TV from San Diego. I mean it was before cable, man. Hell, that was even before ON-TV.

  19. Ahh, if only the stun-phasers were ready for deployment. Oh well, they’ll just have to wait to field-trail them in Syria and Iran on their way to the trans-shipment ports in Med and Indian Ocean while the air-cover migrates to the Qatari and Khandahar airbases.

  20. I’m going to copy and paste something that I posted in another thread about Sgrena:

    I am going to go out on a limb and predict that, when the dust settles and the information is all in, we’ll learn the following:

    1) Sgrena is probably not the most reliable source of information in the world. And to some people, that will be all we need to know.

    2) The surviving intelligence agent who was with her is probably considerably more reliable, and probably thought he was doing everything right when he approached that checkpoint, but….

    3) When stressed out 19 year-olds are manning checkpoints and have seen their buddies killed by suicide bombers, they don’t always run their checkpoints in a transparent manner that will make them accessible to people who are experienced at working in high security environments. Frequently they’re more interested in just keeping people away than checking them out. And no matter how minor the miscommunication or error may have seemed to the intelligence agent, from the perspective of the soldiers it was justification to open fire.

    Now, some on this forum (OK, one or two people) will say “Oh my God! That’s horrible! Rumsfeld should resign if that’s the way checkpoints are being run!” And others (OK, quite a few) will say “Hell, it’s a war zone, and anybody who can’t read the minds of our soldiers deserves to be shot.”

    And the rest of us will simply say “Man, that’s messed up, and they should probably change a few things ideally, but none of this is a surprise, since, you know, it’s a freakin’ war zone.”

    4) Finally, the point that will be completely neglected, is that stuff like this probably happens every day to Iraqi civilians, and the only reason we’re learning about it now is that a Western journalist learned about it the hard way.

    Of course, I could be wrong. There could always turn out to be a smoking gun that completely vindicates one side or the other. But the most likely outcome, when the dust settles, is that we’ll find out it was simply the sort of thing that happens all the time in war zones.

    Now, please resume your usual bickering, so we can get it out of the way before acknowledging that it was probably a simple miscommunication for which neither side can be completely blamed.

  21. Honestly, people, watch the Frontline episode where there are reporters embedded with a cavalry platoon (it was on PBS a few weeks ago, maybe it can be found on-line). You’ll get to see exactly how the soldiers act, wrt warning shots and things of that nature…

  22. My car looks worse than that. I’m not joking.

  23. I h’aint no military strategerist or nothin, but, it seems that a whole lot of bad shit revolves around these checkpoints.

    Of course, I’ll probably get 50+ irate posts from armchair military strategists proclaiming my insipid ignorance, but, is it really worth it to have all these checkpoints all over the place?

    What exactly do they “check”? Are there any statistics indicating how many actual insurgents they have caught with these checkpoints? Or is it simply a way to control civilian movement? We’ve heard of horrible accidents arising from the checkpoints, not to mention them being perfect targets for suicide bombers…so, I’m just curious, is it truly worth it? It’s obvious that the CP operators are scared so shitless that SOP is “shoot first and cover your ass later”…and unless the insurgents decide to suddenly stop targeting them, it will only get worse. So, are they worth it?

  24. I don’t know, Evan. In that Frontline episode, when soldiers fired upon an approaching car, I had no idea what their little checkpoint was setup for. Now, when the soldiers were firing warning shots at cars that got to close to their armoured vehicle, I don’t think they had a choice. They were on patrol and worried about car bombings. Their commander even told them, “If you see a weapon, don’t even fire a warning shot, just kill them”.

  25. Find a picture of the car Bonny and Clyde were killed in, then you will see what several hundred shots at close range will do to a car (and its occupants)

  26. If you target someone, you send in folks whoi are good shots. The fact she is alive mostly disproves the targetting claim.

  27. What exactly do they “check”?

    In a country where people are roaming around, in vehicles loaded with explosives, about the only way to keep them from blowing up anything they want is checkpoints, where you stop and search vehicles to see if they are loaded with explosives.

    If you have a better way to prevent or contain car bombings and IEDs, do share.

  28. To get fistfuls of bullets, there should be fistfuls of holes in the car. I haven’t seen that in the photos yet.

  29. If you compare and contrast the two versions of the story, though, you see that the US soldiers version seems more plausible.”

    There are not “two versions” of the story. There are three versions of the story – that of Sgrena, that of the Italian government and ther surviving intelligence officer, and that of the US military.

    The rather transparent fabrications or exaggerations of Sgrena do not undercut the Italian government’s claims at all – as much as the apoligists might wish they did.

  30. Now, now, joe, everyone knows Silvio Berlusconi hates America:


    “Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi also told lawmakers that the car carrying agent Nicola Calipari and a just-liberated hostage was traveling slowly and stopped immediately when a light was flashed at a checkpoint, before U.S. troops fired on the car.”

  31. SR,

    By implying that the word of a European politician should be taken seriously when it contradicts that of an American soldier, you have written yourself out of rational debate. 🙂

  32. To get fistfuls of bullets, there should be fistfuls of holes in the car. I haven’t seen that in the photos yet.

    Not to mention the fact that bullets (I’m assuming 5.56×45 mm fired from M16s and M249s, with perhaps a .308 thrown in here and there) don’t just stop when they hit glass and drop into the car. Nor to mention what a .50 BMG would do.

  33. In a country where people are roaming around, in vehicles loaded with explosives, about the only way to keep them from blowing up anything they want is checkpoints, where you stop and search vehicles to see if they are loaded with explosives.

    Except that the soldiers who stop the car to search it are in danger of getting blown up, so from what I understand a lot of these “check points” are more like “turn around and stay away points”. Hence soldiers will frequently fire warning shots at any car getting close until it turns around.

    Which is totally understandable given the situation. But I think we need to distinguish between check points that are there to filter out good Iraqis from bad Iraqis (i.e. do a search), and check points that are there to turn around any vehicle that the soldiers aren’t expecting.

    Presumably the soldiers were operating the later type of check point (and weren’t expecting Sgrena’s car), but Sgrena’s guards thought it was the former type of check point. If so, then Sgrena’s guards probably thought it was OK to slow down a little bit but not stop until they were right by the soldiers. (And an Italian driver’s idea of “slow down a little bit” is not the same as an American’s.) But the soldiers just wanted the car to turn around and leave. Hence the tragic incident.

    Maybe my hunch is wrong. Maybe there’s evidence that validates some other explanation. But I’m sticking with my prediction for now.

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