Iraqi journalist recants claim that 11 family members were killed

BAGHDAD — An Iraqi journalist who'd claimed Monday that gunmen had killed 11 family members in Baghdad recanted Friday, saying there'd been no massacre and that the only person who'd been killed was a brother-in-law who died between Kut in the south and Baghdad.

Dhia al Kawazz, who publishes a Web site from Amman, Jordan, said his initial claim — which was widely reported, including by McClatchy — was based on false information. Family members said he'd lied to get his family refugee status in Jordan.

Kawazz's story has been challenged all week, first by the police, then the government and then by his own mother. The Iraqi police issued a warrant for Kawazz's arrest through Interpol for claiming that police had threatened his family's lives, according to Abdel Karim Khalaf, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior.

Haider Sadiq, another brother-in-law of Kawazz's, said family members had learned of their apparent deaths through the news ticker on an Iraqi television station.

"We were astonished by this, and neighbors started coming to ask us about what they saw on television," he said. "At that moment I decide to prove the truth, that we are alive."

Kawazz charged Friday that he'd been misled by Sadiq — who first debunked his story — in order to discredit him as a journalist. Kawazz, who's lived outside Iraq for 20 years, runs a Web site that's critical of what he calls the Iranian and American "occupations," the Mahdi Army — the militia of radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al Sadr — and the Badr Organization.

Kawazz claims that Sadiq is a member of the Badr Organization — the armed wing of the powerful Shiite Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council — and was involved in the killing of his other brother-in-law, who'd fed information to his news site.

"I am sorry if this information was not true from the beginning, but I was misled by trustworthy sources from my family," Kawazz said in a phone interview. He published a new account of the story on his Web site that blames Sadiq for misleading him and alleges that Sadiq had a hand in his other brother-in-law's death. "I accuse the Maliki government of conspiracy for misleading me through members of my family," he said.

Kawazz's initial accusation brought an outcry from international journalism advocacy groups. On Wednesday, two of his six sisters, Sadiq and another brother-in-law, and three children appeared on television to prove that they were alive.

Sadiq denied misleading Kawazz and said the journalist had called one of his sisters Wednesday asking why she'd come forward and saying that he'd made up the story to get the rest of his family out of Iraq. Sadiq said that he and Kawazz haven't spoken in two years.

Kawazz's mother, who was attending her son-in-law's funeral in Kut, returned to Baghdad when she heard the fictional story. In Kawazz's version of the supposed massacre, his mother had lived because she was on the roof of the home.

"I can't tell you how it feels to sit at home and realize somebody claims your death and makes your funeral," said Kawazz's mother, Subhiya Alwan al Saudi. "I don't want him anymore even if he comes and apologizes. I will never forgive him."

Ibrahim Saraj, the head of the Association to Defend Iraqi Journalist's rights, said he wasn't yet willing to reverse his protests about the case. He went door to door Friday looking for the house in which the family supposedly was killed in north Baghdad.

"Relatives confirmed the incident to me; Dhia confirmed it to me," he said. "We are not going to send another statement, at least for the meantime."

Kawazz said he'd send e-mails to journalism organizations that denounced the incident to clarify his story.

(Dulaimy and Hussein are McClatchy special correspondents.)

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