Jim Hoft, a.k.a. Gateway Pundit, has a new post up on a big news story from September about trenches being dug around Baghdad. The source for the story? Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, an Iraqi official who just so happens to be on Centcom’s list of unverified and possibly fake government employees. Jim thinks this calls the trench story into question. I don’t. If you follow the link to the Times article he provides, you’ll see that it quotes American military officials as saying they were familiar with the plan. Jim then points to a subsequent article from Reuters in which the military reversed field and denied the plan — but only as to its scope, not its existence. Quote:

Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson said the description sounded like an exaggeration of a plan that mostly would rely on existing terrain features to ensure that traffic moved through the 28 checkpoints.

“No doubt there will be some trenches involved in this, but to say there is going to be a moat around the city is a bit of a stretch,” Johnson said.

“They’ve called it a trench around Baghdad. Really what this is, is there’s a series of obstacles that the Iraqi government are planning, and we’re working with them, to ensure movement through checkpoints, to keep terrorists and extremists and criminals from using those (other) routes,” Johnson said.

That sounds to me less like a guy repudiating what Khalaf had said than rephrasing it to make it more palatable to western ears. So I think the trench story probably was/is true.

But I digress. The stupid question I want to ask here is this:

If Centcom can’t verify the existence of Abdul-Karim Khalaf, then how on earth was he able to give the press conference today on behalf of the Ministry of Interior? He’s the guy who told the press corps this afternoon that Jamil Hussein isn’t an official Iraqi cop. Isn’t he? From the AP’s account of the presser:

Iraq’s Interior Ministry said Thursday it had formed a special unit to monitor news coverage and vowed to take legal action against journalists who failed to correct stories the ministry deemed to be incorrect.

Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, spokesman for the ministry, said the purpose of the special monitoring unit was to find “fabricated and false news that hurts and gives the Iraqis a wrong picture that the security situation is very bad, when the facts are totally different.”

Isn’t it the same guy? Here’s how Centcom identified the mysterious Abdul-Karim Khalaf on its blacklist of unverified sources:

Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, the Interior Ministry spokesman (a.k.a. Police Brigadier Abd al-Karim Khalaf, Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, Brig. Abdel-Karim Khalaf)

“Interior Ministry spokesman.” It’s the same guy! So why was there such confusion here? In all likelihood because of the conventions of Arab names. In his e-mail to Michelle this morning, the Centcom spokesman identified the man who would be giving the press conference as “BG Abdul-Kareem.” The “Khalaf” was missing. And in the transcript of the presser that he provided, he was identified as “Brig. Gen. Abdul Kareem Khalaf Al-Kenani.” They probably weren’t able to verify “Abdul-Karim Khalaf” because that precise name doesn’t appear in their database; the surname they’re probably using is “al-Kenani.”

Which brings us to the obvious question: if they could screw up their own spokesman’s name, is it possible that they’ve screwed up Jamil Hussein’s? Consider this, also from the AP article:

U.S. Navy Lt. Michael B. Dean, a public affairs officer for the multi-national force, later demanded that the story be retracted because he said police Capt. Jamil Hussein “is not a Baghdad police officer or an MOI employee.”

His allegations were checked with the AP reporter, who had been in routine contact for more than two years with Hussein, in some cases sitting in his office in the Yarmouk police station in west Baghdad. Hussein wore a police uniform during the face-to-face meetings.

Exit question: how many more people on Centcom’s source blacklist are simple cases of mistaken identity?

Update: Michelle was on to this earlier and e-mailed Lt. Dean about Khalaf. Here’s what he wrote back:

Ma’am:

We have verified him as legitimate. He is the official Minister of Interior spokesman through the CPATT. The list that includes him was a working list of spokespeople we are in the process of trying to verify that hadn’t been updated.

Vr,
LT Dean

Michael B. Dean
Lieutenant, U.S. Navy
MNC-I Joint Operations Center
Public Affairs Officer

How could the spokesman for the Interior Ministry end up on a working list of unverified sources?

Update: I missed it on the first read-through, but the AP’s article ends with a burst of pure, undistilled douchebaggery. Here’s the final, gratuitous paragraph, a naked attempt to compare Centcom’s questioning of the AP’s sources to the Saddam era:

Under Saddam Hussein’s regime, the government imposed censorship on local media and severely restricted foreign media coverage, monitoring transmissions and sending secret police to follow journalists. Those who violated the rules were expelled and in some cases jailed.