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

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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
Harvey Proctor's home was raided by the Met under a warrant investigating historical child sexual abuse  

Harvey Proctor: A gay sex ring in Westminster? I don't believe it

Harvey Proctor
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk