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April 18, 2005
Hostage Drama, Without The Hostages

Yesterda afternoon, the news services began reporting on a huge story coming out of the Sunni Triangle -- that as many as 200 hostages had been taken at once in a major offensive by an insurgency that had appeared to lose momentum. American and Iraqi security forces descended in force on Madain to rescue the farmers and their families while the terrorists demanded that all Shi'ites leave the area. It appeared perfectly suited for the American evening news.

Of course, it would have been perfect, had it been true:

Iraqi security forces searched this small farming town on Monday after reports that Sunni militants had kidnapped as many as 100 Shiite residents and were threatening to kill them unless the entire Shiite population left town a display of sectarian violence brazen even by Iraqi standards.

But by late in the day, officials had produced no hostages and there were growing indications the incident had been grossly exaggerated and was perhaps an outgrowth of a tribal dispute or political maneuvering. ...

But inside the cordon, the town was calm. The cameraman, who toured the town Sunday morning, said people were going about their business normally, shops were open and tea houses were full. Residents contacted by telephone also said everything was normal in Madain.

American military officials said they were unaware of any U.S. role in what had been described as a tense sectarian standoff.

Can you imagine the consternation and the amusement of the people of Madain as all of these people suddenly appeared in the middle of a normal business day, looking for non-existent hostages? In fact, the reporters and the soldiers must have been equally flabbergasted to find these supposedly terrorized people doing their marketing and sipping tea in cafes.

The AP notes dryly in its report that the military sources that produced the initial story "could not be reached for further details" now. However, I think we can all assume that PFC Emily Litella now says, "Never mind."

UPDATE: The New York Times has more here, including some of the origins of the story and the breathlessness of the coverage.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 18, 2005 7:31 AM

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Irish longtime America-hater Patrick Cockburn used reports of the Madaena "hostage crisis" for one of his tedious rants... [Read More]

Tracked on April 18, 2005 10:01 AM

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