Steven Vincent (December 31, 1955 – August 2, 2005) was a respected New York-based writer and critic specializing in stories of art and archaeological theft, fraud and forgery, but a decade of covering the art world left him yearning for new and more meaningful challenges.
On September 11, 2001, from the roof of his East Village co-op, Vincent saw United Flight 175 strike Tower Two, watched the collapse of the World Trade Center, and knew the world had forever changed. Determined to be in the forefront of cataloguing America’s new path, he gave up writing about art and methodically set about turning himself into a war correspondent, covering the initial Iraq war and its continuing aftermath. In September 2003 and again in January 2004, he went to Iraq as a freelancer, paying his own way, sans body armor, cell phone or hired security, unwilling to be beholden to any organization, and wanting the ability to freely report on the things he saw, heard and felt. These trips resulted in the well-received book In the Red Zone, published by Spence Publishing in November 2004.
In April 2005, Vincent set out on what would be his final trip to Iraq. This time he was planning to spend 3 months in the southern city of Basra, which, since it was under British control, was universally considered to be much safer than Baghdad. Once he got there, however, Vincent discovered that, contrary to the generally-accepted view, and with the disengaged complicity of the British, the city was, in fact, becoming a radical Shiite state falling under the influence of Iran, in which women were forced to wear full chador, Christians were persecuted, alcohol sellers were killed on the streets and operators of music and/or video stores had their establishments firebombed.
On July 31, 2005, The New York Times printed what would be Vincent’s last piece, “Switched Off in Basra,” in which he accused the British of turning a blind eye as the Basra police force was systematically infiltrated by Iranian-backed insurgents, Shia extremists loyal to the Ministry of the Interior and followers of the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, documenting how rogue elements within the groups had set up “assassination squads” within the force. These squads, operating unchecked to this day, drive white Toyota Mark II “death cars”, and are still free to kidnap and kill their victims with absolute impunity.
On August 2, 3 months to the day he had arrived in the city, Vincent and his female translator were abducted off the streets of Basra in broad daylight by men in police uniforms driving a white police vehicle; then they were bound, gagged, beaten, driven to the outskirts of town, and shot in the back at close range. The translator, Nour al-Khal, survived; Vincent died.
Six weeks later his friend and fellow journalist, Fakher Haider, a Basra stringer for the New York Times, wrote an article that built upon Steven’s final op-ed piece. Several days after its publication, men in police uniforms and driving police vehicles went to his house; with his wife and three children watching they bound him, took him away, drove him to the outskirts of town, and shot him in the head. His murder was the galvanizing event that brought the Foundation into being.