Fake in the sense that he’s not an official Iraqi police officer, not fake in the sense that he doesn’t exist.

The cast of characters here is getting unwieldy. There’s Centcom’s long list of questionable AP sources from Monday plus the three unknown eyewitnesses whom the AP interviewed for its new story about the Sunnis being burned alive plus the two unnamed AP reporters who interviewed them plus the five unnamed burned-alive Sunnis themselves (and one who was identified) plus Jamil Hussein a.k.a. the fake police captain plus Qais al-Bashir a.k.a. the only AP reporter who ever gets to talk to Jamil Hussein plus one of the original witnesses named Imad al-Hashimi who’s since recanted plus the media liaisons at Centcom and the AP who have been sniping back and forth about this.

And now a new character: the imam at the mosque that was attacked, who’s been accused of being a member of Saddam’s secret police. What relevance that has for this story I’m not sure, but people seem excited about it.

Here’s where we are now, according to the boss:

Two unnamed Associated Press reporters get new acounts from three unnamed witnesses (who, of course, refuse to be identified by name–although the AP has no problem describing some weirdly specific details about their ages, occupations, ethnicity, and religions) about six burned-alive Sunnis, five of whom no one can name and whose bodies can’t be disinterred in an investigation because it would violate Islamic law. And of the two original sources who claim the incident happened, one has recanted and the other is someone whom the military and Iraqi officials maintain is not who he says he is.

It’s true that the five other victims weren’t named, but the witness did say they all belonged to the al-Mashadani tribe. It’s also true that one of the original witnesses recanted, but only after someone from the Iraqi defense ministry paid him a little visit. And then there’s this, from the new AP story:

On Tuesday, two AP reporters also went back to the Hurriyah neighborhood around the Mustafa mosque and found three witnesses who independently gave accounts of the attack. Others in the neighborhood said they were afraid to talk about what happened…

Two of the witnesses — a 45-year-old bookshop owner and a 48-year-old neighborhood grocery owner — gave nearly identical accounts of what happened. A third, a physician, said he saw the attack on the mosque from his home, saw it burning and heard people in the streets screaming that people had been set on fire. All three men are Sunni Muslims.

The phony police captain is important but the veracity of the story is more important, and it doesn’t turn on him. Unless I’m missing something there are only three ways the witnesses could have independently corroborated each other: (1) it happened the way they said it happened, (2) they got together beforehand, made up a story about six Sunnis being burned alive, and made extra sure to get their details straight in case some reporter came calling, or (3) the AP deliberately put them up to it or invented the story whole cloth, witnesses included. Occam’s Razor says it’s number one; to believe it’s number three, you have to believe the AP is capable of journalistic fraud on a scale that’s an order of magnitude beyond what we’ve seen from the media, as bad as they’ve been.

As for Jamil Hussein, we’ll see tomorrow. Curt has a map of Baghdad up at the bottom of his latest post showing where the burning incident took place and where Hussein is supposedly stationed. It’s a long ways off of what should be his beat.

Tags: Islam