[Update: Malkin is retracting her post..murkier and murkier]
OK, folks, this is what open source is about - you put things out there and the rest of the world improves on them - so here it goes. I think we discovered something, but it turns out probably not to have been useful. Sorry about that, but as they say, there are no failed experiments.
After talking about this on Friday, I used some old contacts to call friends in Baghdad on Saturday. We (friends and I) have contacts there through major local Iraqi news orgs there - specifically Al Sabah. They have the ability/credentials to move around, ask questions where others don't.
So, after some calls, IMs, and e-mail we get a call back by Sat night (California time)/Sunday morning (Baghdad time); there is no Capt. Jamil Hussein at Yarmouk, but there is a Sergeant by that name, with a somewhat dubious reputation (worked directly under Uday, Baathist remnant, etc.). So, we checked further, because, after all, I want to be certain before I start throwing too many things around, and it takes a different type and level of checking to have anything like confidence there than it does here to have something close to certainty - and be sure that we'll be talking about that a bit later.
Reporters from Al Sabah agreed to go interview the superior officer at the police station. They were on the phone at 4:30 am PST today, and they had gone to Karrada and established there is no Jamail Hussein there (would have been unlikely since Karrada is mostly Shiite, and in fact is mostly the power zone of SCIRI, Hakeem has his HQ there - and the Sgt at Yarmouk was obviously Sunni). Information then came in that there is a Colonel Jamail Hussein working at Abu Gharib. (Via sources at the Interior Ministry.)
Now, what we know is that there is no Captain by this name, so we presumed that it is likely that it was an alias. The question was whether it someone who'd dissembled about his name or about his rank? And why didn't anyone else turn up these guys?
Then, today, Michelle Malkin ran a post - prompted by her pushing on CENTCOM - that the real source for the stories is a guy named CPT Jamil Ghdaab, who is being spoken with by CENTCOM and has acknowledged being the source for the stories.
We'll know more about what he said and why, I'll guess - but "looking for Captain Hussein" appears to have been the wrong branch to have been barking up - so we'll stop barking for a bit.
Further investigation is ongoing by grownups, and I'm sure I'll hear more (and will pass it on) although it'll be widely available elsewhere, I'd guess. In the meantime two different sources in Hurriyah confirm that at least two of the mosques in question are just fine, are standing strong, a couple of bullet marks on them, but thatâ€™s nothing out of the ordinary. We also hear that they are closed for worship from fear of retaliatory attacks. There are two other mosques there that were claimed to have been attacked (the claim was later reduced to one) and we'll see if we can get some pictures of them all, at which point we'll have some facts to report. I'm also hoping to get more of a local response to the core story - about the six who were allegedly burned to death.
Yesterday, Baghdad was on high alert after the Red Crescent kidnapping, and thus movement got restricted. People - both at Al Sabah and other media now that this things is opening up - are working on interviewing the commanding officers and also to find out more about exactly what happened in the alleged incident. (There is by law a report filed with the police there anytime there is such an incident, so that will be part of the questioning that is ongoing there when the interview at the police station happens.) That is currently scheduled for tomorrow, however, know that in Baghdad, things are unstable enough for security to shut or slow down things dramatically at any time.
We'll see what develops by tonight (tomorrow am Baghdad time), and keep you posted, but I think it's probably time to move back more toward doing commentary about this and let the reporters and others - who should have been poked in the butt by a person in California with some friends being able to find Jamail Hussein - and Jamil Hussein - with five phone calls and some instant messages. The fact that he wasn't the source is obviously material to the overall story - as is the fact that all of a sudden the real source is found.
Both the press and CENTCOM didn't cover themselves in glory with this one. CENTCOM should have been all over this story - certainly once it became a cause celebre - and done a week or more ago what they appear to be doing now. Why they didn't until now is one other question I'd love to get answered.
And the press - both the AP and the competition to the AP - also failed to do some relatively simple homework that would have put the story in a clearer light.
I'd say that what I did - with a lot of help from a number of folks - probably muddied the waters more than cleared them. But I hope it cast a little light into how weak the data we have coming from Iraq via both our government and our media really are. And on one hand, as noted one guy in California with some friends can generate data out of Iraq - but I've seen firsthand that it's still damn hard to take that data and make even journalistic truth out of it.