In Iraq, All Foreigners are Targets


All foreigners are targets in Iraq, Americans especially. Even those who come to the country to do good share the fate of those who come to kill.

Moments after Andrea Parhamovich, a 28-year-old from Ohio, left the offices of a Sunni Arab political party in Baghdad this week, her car was caught in withering crossfire and burst into flames, killing her and her two bodyguards. Unlike the 20,000 troops who have started arriving in the country as part of President George Bush’s “surge”, she was not a soldier who had come to Iraq to fight: her mission was to teach the people how to vote.

The ambush was a deadly reminder of the danger all foreigners face. It should, but probably will not, give pause to the plan to embed more US soldiers with Iraqi military units in Baghdad. Polls show about four out of five Iraqis in the capital approve of armed attacks on US-led forces.

It may have been an attempted kidnapping. Some of the attackers first attempted to break into her car. It was only when they failed to break the locks that they used grenades and machine guns. Another guard was killed and two more wounded in a second car. The first vehicle of the little convoy escaped and then returned to help the two survivors who had been wounded. Ms Parhamovich appears to have died in the first assault.

Ms Parhamovich was working for the National Democratic Institute giving lessons to Iraqi political parties. She had gone to meet Sunni politicians of the Iraqi Islamic Party at its headquarters in the Yarmouk district. The insurgents were probably tipped off by a guard at the headquarters.

Ms Parhamovich had followed her boyfriend, Michael Hastings, a Newsweek journalist, to Baghdad 15 months ago. In Baghdad, she first worked for the International Republican Institute before joining the National Democratic Institute at the end of 2006.

The ambushers were probably unaware who she was. Jill Carroll, the Christian Science Monitor correspondent, was kidnapped in similar circumstances last January after leaving the office of a political party.

Mr Hastings said they were planning to get married _ she had e-mailed him last week with specifications for the ring. “We were going to formalise everything,” he said, recalling that Parhamovich’s ring finger was a size 6. They had been dating for about two years and were planning to travel to Paris in March so he could propose.

In a statement, her family said: “Andi’s desire to help strangers in such a dangerous environment thousands of miles away might be difficult for others to understand, but to us, it epitomised Andi’s natural curiosity and unwavering commitment.”

Mr Hastings told the Associated Press: “She didn’t agree with the war, but she felt that now that we’re here, she wanted to do what she could to help the Iraqis. She wasn’t afraid.” She was especially frustrated by the extreme security measures and limited movements employed by foreigners to avoid Baghdad’s dangers, he said, and she was very excited about participating in a democracy programme outside the Green Zone.

“It was one of her first trips out,” Mr Hastings said. “She was really excited.”

Much of west Baghdad is under the control of insurgent fighters. One group wrote on a Sunni insurgent website: “With God’s assistance, we have succeeded in the destruction of two SUV vehicles belonging to the Zionist Mossad, attacking them by light and medium weapons.” The insurgents sometimes have armed units waiting for opportunities to attack when they are tipped off.

The extent of insurgent dominance in Baghdad is such that it will be extremely difficult for Mr Bush’s “surge” in troops to work. It is easy enough for guerrillas to pull back, stockpile weapons, or even leave Baghdad for a period. Mr Bush’s answer is that US troops will stay in place instead of withdrawing as they did in the past. But saturation of whole districts with troops over an extended period would require a far bigger army than the US is ever likely to field in Iraq.

The Mehdi Army, the largest Shia militia, has been adopting a low profile in order to avoid a confrontation with US troops. The Iraqi government has even arrested some of its militants and is holding them in what appears to be a carefully calculated ploy to make it difficult for the US to assault Shia neighbourhoods.

The Mehdi leaders may also calculate the natural friction between US troops and local people will ultimately work in their favour. In one Sunni area of west Baghdad, US troops have distributed leaflets telling people to ring a hotline telephone number if they come under attack from sectarian militias. ” But we don’t know how long the Americans are going to be around,” one resident said.

Kidnappings of foreigners have tailed off in recent months because there are few foreigners outside heavily defended areas or the Green Zone.

The US has hinted that if the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, does not move against Shia militias, he might lose US support.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of ‘The Occupation: War, resistance and daily life in Iraq‘, a finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award for best non-fiction book of 2006.


Patrick Cockburn’s past columns can now be found at The I. Patrick Cockburn is the author of War in the Age of Trump (Verso).