Cruelty, confusion and a harrowing ordeal that bodes ill for the future

Share
Related Topics
Yesterday morning, the kidnappers delivered their ultimatum for Mr Bigley's life, repeating their demands that all female prisoners in Iraq be released

The torment suffered by Kenneth Bigley and his family is past imagining. The initial 48-hour deadline is long gone.The two Americans taken hostage with him, in a suburb of Baghdad regarded as relatively safe, have been executed by their captors in the most barbaric way, 24 hours apart. Yesterday morning, the kidnappers delivered their ultimatum for Mr Bigley's life, repeating their demands that all female prisoners in Iraq be released.

Suddenly a glimmer of hope appeared on the horizon: the Iraqi authorities stated that they would release one of the two scientists said by the US to be the only Iraqi women still in custody. The US embassy in Baghdad denied it. Members of Mr Bigley's family, who had earlier implored Tony Blair to intercede personally, made another videotaped appeal to the kidnappers to be broadcast on the Arab television station al-Jazeera. From one hour to the next, everything seemed to be negotiable - and nothing - in the cruellest possible way.

Over the past six days, Mr Bigley, in his makeshift blindfold, has been the human face that reflects back to us the sharpening battle for Iraq in all its ruthlessness and confusion. At its simplest, his plight is that of all foreign civilians in Iraq, especially those from the countries most closely associated with the occupation. But it also highlights the manifold questions which still have no answers.

First: the competing assertions and denials about prisoner releases yesterday demonstrated that one of the key disputes that was supposed to have been resolved with the handover of sovereignty to the interim Iraqi administration at the end of June has not, in fact, been settled. It is not at all clear who has power or jurisdiction over the prisoners still held in Iraq. If the Iraqis do not have authority to release these prisoners, if - as it appears - there are several classes of prisoners and the Iraqi authorities do not even know precisely who is being held in their jails and who is within their jurisdiction, their sovereignty is even more illusory than we feared.

Second: if there is any release of prisoners in coming days, including so-called "high-value" prisoners, it is just possible that this was already in progress and is unconnected to the demands of the hostage-takers. The impression created, however, will be quite the opposite. It will be that terrorism achieves results that cannot be achieved by more civilised means; that the authorities - US, British or Iraqi - bend before brutality, despite their fine words to the contrary. This would not augur well for any diminution in the present lawlessness in Iraq. Power, Iraqis might well conclude, proceeds if not from the barrel of a gun, then from the blade of a knife.

Third: all the governments concerned, our own included, are right in their public insistence that they will not deal with terrorists. In one way, the failure of the French government to obtain the release of its journalist hostages was helpful to the British in that it demonstrated the futility of even such elaborate diplomatic efforts. This does not mean, however, that the Government should not be extremely sensitive to the agonies of hostages' families.

Perhaps because expectations of a positive outcome were so low, once Zarqawi's group was identified as responsible, officials appear to have acquitted themselves better in Mr Bigley's case than sometimes before. That said, Mr Blair's showbiz style appearance with Richard Branson to launch Virgin's tilting train struck a very wrong note.

The kidnapping of a Briton by Zarqawi's group must have been among the scenarios that the Government had most feared. For in one way, Mr Bigley's family was right when it identified Mr Blair as culpable: the Prime Minister is the one who bears ultimately responsibility for Britain's current involvement in Iraq. That neither he, nor anyone else, can exert the slightest influence on the desperate situation he did much to precipitate is a measure of the impotence of all authority almost anywhere in Iraq.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Developer (TSQL, SSRS, SSAS) Fund Manager - London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer (TSQL, S...

Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, Angular.JS)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, An...

Front-End UI/UX Developer (HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, Ang

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End UI/U...

C#.NET Server Side Developer (C#, XML, WCF, Unit Testing,SQL)

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C#.NET ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: The West flounders in the Middle East morass

Independent Voices
David Tennant as Hamlet  

To vote no or not to vote no, that is the question... Although do celebrities really have the answer?

David Lister
All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition