BAGHDAD — An American freelance journalist who has written for the New York Times and Christian Science Monitor was found shot to death in the southern city of Basra, U.S. officials said today.
Other American journalists have been killed while embedded with troops, but Steven Vincent was believed to be the first non-embedded U.S. journalist intentionally slain in Iraq.
Vincent had recently spent 10 days traveling with British troops in Basra, and was working on a book about the city, according to an opinion piece published with his byline Sunday in the New York Times.
An inquiry involving local Iraqi police officials and the British military was underway to "investigate this heinous crime," said Peter Mitchell, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy. Vincent's next of kin had been notified.
Western officials said his body was found Tuesday with gunshot wounds, lying on a road in Basra.
Police Lt. Col. Karim Zaidi said Vincent and his female interpreter were kidnapped Tuesday from central Basra. "Both were later shot, but Vincent was killed; the girl is alive," Zaidi told wire services.
In Vincent's opinion article and in postings on his Web log, "In the Red Zone," he raised questions about corruption and the growing influence of religious conservatives linked to prominent Iraqi Shiite political parties.
His New York Times article was especially critical of Britain's failure to confront the growing influence of religious parties in the city.
He said the hands-off approach of the British was "in effect strengthening the hand of Shiite organizations," including supporters of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, believed to be linked to Iran, and anti-American cleric Muqtada Sadr.
His most recent blog posting, July 26, explicitly criticized Basra's political and business leaders, alleging corruption and naming specific tribes and projects. He also described the naivete of an American contracting officer who seemed unaware of Basra's byzantine politics and payment schemes.
"Contracting is big business. Not only for the city's numerous contractors, but also for the crooked politicians, parasitical religious parties and criminal gangs who take their cut from every construction job," he wrote. "I have fielded ceaseless complaints of extortion, protection rackets, employment featherbedding, nepotism, bid rigging, influence-peddling. It's impossible to talk to Basra businesspeople and not hear such woes."
Vincent wrote a book on Iraq, also titled "In the Red Zone." His publishing house, Spence Publishing, called it an "account of his daring solo expeditions through post-Saddam Iraq."
"Steven Vincent journeyed twice to Iraq, paying his own way, traveling without security or official connections, living by his wits," said a Spence promotional description.
"His four months in the war zone included a foray into the infamous Mosque of Ali in Najaf, a confrontation with [Grand] Ayatollah [Ali] Sistani's bodyguards, a brush with death in a Karbala bombing, meetings with assorted Western 'peace activists,' and run-ins with Iraqi 'authorities' who alternately suspected him of being a CIA agent and a terrorist."