A Witness to Horror in Basra

An Iraqi stringer for NPR describes an assassination he witnessed in Basra recently.

There is a car in Basra feared by all the people in the city. We call the car "Bata" — in English it is "Swan." The story of Bata is a horrible one. We all know to avoid the car with black-tinted windows and four armed people inside. Another car always follows, with more invisible ghosts sitting inside.

The governor of Basra has awarded 20 million Iraqi dinars to anyone with information about Bata. Local songs and jokes tell a warning tale of Bata and when you hear news of another assassination, you ask, "Is Bata behind this?" Ninety percent of the time, the answer is yes.

From Mar. 29 until April 8, 2006, 50 people were killed in Basra — doctors, teachers, officials and students. Three days later, on April 11, 30 more people were murdered. Most people think that Bata was behind at least 61 of the killings.

I never believed the story of Bata — until yesterday. As I was driving to work, I passed the front of the General Basra Hospital. Two cars with dark tinted windows closed in on me. There were four men in each car. At first, I wasn't suspicious, but after a few seconds, I realized that I was between two Batas. The story became true.

Men in the first car made signals to the armed people in the second car. Here, I thought, was my end. I was breathing deeply like there was thunder in my chest — there was no doubt that I was their goal. I saw my whole life, from my childhood until this moment. I felt my blood pump through my body and my heartbeats grew louder and louder. There were no more than seven cars in the street. Suddenly, the two Batas stopped and closed off the road. Four people came out of the first car and began coming toward me. Their faces were ugly.

Suddenly, I realized that I wasn't their target; it was the car next to mine.

"Come down... hurry up! Yes, son of a dog!" they ordered the victim. It was horrible to see. The person begged them for his life, but it was useless. They shot him, returned to their car and then both cars drove away.

Thousands of people in Iraq are like me. Our hearts made of wood, our eyes filled with sand. We are like sheep under the shepherd waiting for the knife of the butcher.

— An Iraqi stringer for NPR

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