And so to the story of the once popular Iraqi journalist who in 2015 was found tortured and barely alive in a Baghdad mosque after having been kidnapped and savagely tortured on the orders of the late president Saddam Hussein. In the telling of New York Times staff writer Michael Gordon, Ahmad Mostafa was not just a much-loved television anchor. He was a symbol of Baghdad’s embrace of the democratic values that had shaped the city since Saddam’s fall. “I think I was quite respected by the population here,” he told the BBC after his torture and then death. “They embraced me for not cooperating with the Americans … You know, they felt the freedom that I was living, they were now free. There were two lists, one of my colleagues and the other of me, both had my name on them. So they knew that I had a good relationship with the United States. They also knew that there was a search going on for me.”
Ahmad Mostafa, a popular journalist in Iraq (Photo by and from press archives)
As Gordon’s readable, well-reported account reminds us, these values were perverted by the actions of some. Gordon writes: “Before the 2003 invasion, Mostafa lived modestly in the Ben Abbes building, the ground floor of which is still a bombed out building. He was friendly and generous with foreigners, and he corresponded with many of them, including David Sedaris. He was also a fan of Salman Rushdie.” But two years after Saddam’s toppling, the dictator ordered Mostafa and six other journalists and managers to be interrogated by a well-armed Saddam loyalist. Gordon tells us: “By the time he was kidnapped, most of Mostafa’s neighbours had ignored him. Mostafa blamed Saddam’s henchmen, saying the former ruler was hellbent on harming journalists.” His captors decided to arrest him because they believed he was a reporter for the BBC – not because he was believed to be critical of Saddam. By the time he was murdered, Mostafa’s life had been in turmoil. He was epileptic, anaemic and did not have any teeth.