When Fuad Haidar took hostages inside a United Nations compound in Baghdad last month, he soon fell into a gun battle with Iraqi police. To casual observers, it looked at first like Haidar, a 38-year-old car mechanic, had signed his own death warrant. Iraq's security services, after all, have been known to torture or kill people who simply criticize the regime. But Haidar enjoyed a different fate. He was given star billing at a press conference and allowed to air his grievances on national TV--despite the facts that two officials of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) were killed in the incident and seven other people were wounded.
Many diplomats and aid workers in Iraq are convinced that Baghdad deliberately staged the June 28 attack. They note several suspicious circumstances. Haidar was pinned down on the ground floor during his battle with police, for instance, yet the Iraqi government claims he killed two hostages who weren't near him. "The victims were upstairs," said one witness. "It's not clear how they were killed by Haidar downstairs." Two people present in the building told NEWSWEEK they suspect the victims--a Somali and an Iraqi--were actually killed by Baghdad's security services. Haidar himself claimed later, "I haven't shot anyone."
The end of the gun battle is also hard to explain. It came abruptly when a senior police official hailed Haidar with a loudspeaker and asked to speak to him. Once inside, the policeman handed Haidar a note. As soon as he read it, Haidar put his gun down and surrendered. The contents of that note have not yet been divulged.
It only gets more odd. After his surrender, Haidar was hustled to a police station, where local journalists were already waiting for a press conference. Wearing handcuffs and flanked by a policeman, Haidar otherwise seemed free to speak his mind. He said he had been driven to his action by concern over the effects of 10 years of sanctions, which he said cost the lives of 1.3 million Iraqis. "The reason is the embargo, the death and murder of thousands of Iraqi children and elderly. I wanted to relay a message," he said. In his statistics and phraseology, Haidar sounded just like Iraqi official statements on U.N. sanctions.
"There's no doubt at all that this was a setup," said a U.N. official in Baghdad. "Haidar certainly didn't sound like a man afraid of being shot for what he did." Those at the press conference say he was joking and smiling. Baghdad denies any involvement in the incident but, privately, officials have promised the United Nations it will never happen again. Iraq sent only low-ranking representatives to the victims' funerals. And if Haidar--believed to be in jail--was tried for his actions, the government never publicized it.