The Future of Iraq

Nationalism or religious fundamentalism. Sectarianism or secularism. Unified sovereignty or Balkanization. Occupation or resistance. A future Iraq or no Iraq at all?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

US media continues to shortchange Iraqis - massacres are now called accidents of perception

In our continuing series examining some of the glaring mistakes and biases perpetrated by US media in covering the Iraq war, we came across an interesting article which in the aftermath of the Blackwater controversy highlights the impunity and free rein US armed forces have in Iraq and how the free press in America covers for them.

The article,
"Knowing the enemy difficult in Iraq" by Katarina Kratovac for the Associated Press marks a turning point in what is now being referred to as armchair journalism and a failure to investigate and dig deeper for the truth.

It is also yet another example of the propaganda war conducted by so-called wire agencies.

Below is our criticism of this shabby US military press release disguised as objective journalism.

Knowing the enemy difficult in Iraq
By KATARINA KRATOVAC, Associated Press Writer

When U.S. sentries fatally shot three guards near an Iraqi-manned checkpoint south of Baghdad, they thought they were targeting enemy fighters planting roadside bombs, according to the American commander of the region.

A military operation of any kind is in modern warfare not conducted without intelligence. Bad intelligence gathering or lack thereof can result in a disaster. In this case, the writer makes the jump to an error in perception despite the fact that the next paragraph indicates there is an ongoing investigation.

The shootings, which are still under investigation, underscore a new dilemma facing U.S. troops as former fighters join forces against extremists and Iraqis are increasingly forced to take up arms to protect themselves — how does one distinguish them from the enemy?

Firstly, this is hardly a new event. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been "mistakenly" killed by US forces either at checkpoints, during raids, due to air strikes and so on. To classify it as a "dilemma" offers the reader that there is a moral quandary, yet nearly five years after the war these attacks have persisted.

Secondly, the paragraph seeks to exonerate the US soldiers by claiming that they are engaged in a war with extremists, yet it does not address by what measure such nomenclature is reached. To Iraqis, it is the US that is extremist - therefore, how can a writer arrives at such a judgment call?

The U.S. military said the American troops shot the three civilians Thursday near a checkpoint manned by local members of a U.S.-allied group helping provide security in the village of Abu Lukah, near Musayyib, a Shiite-dominated town 40 miles south of Baghdad.

Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division that controls territory south of Baghdad, stressed the investigation was continuing but said initial results showed that U.S. troops fired on the checkpoint after spotting what appeared to be enemy forces planting roadside bombs.

"What appeared to be" does not explain how this operation was carried out, whether there was any malice involved. It reveals next to nothing ... It leaves the reader wanting to learn more, but unfortunately, the writer does not ask difficult questions which would challenge the statement. Rather the writer reports as if copying from a press release.

"We are not looking to see who made a mistake but rather see what we can learn from that particular event," Lynch told The Associated Press Saturday during a whirlwind tour of patrol bases in the area.

The above paragraph indicates the investigation has already become inconclusive: no party will be held accountable as demanded by international convention; in fact, it is not even termed a mistake.

The use of the word "whirlwind" is unnecessary and seems to indicate that the US military personnel are too busy to deal with such trivial issues as the killing of three Iraqis.

Lynch said it's critical to "better coordinate between coalition forces, Iraqi security forces and concerned citizens," as he calls the vigilante-style groups that have sprouted up across the country to fight extremists.

The use of "vigilante-style groups" is a judgment call once again by the writer and/or the wire agency. It is a purposeful coloring of the US military officer's statement.

The comments reflect rising concerns about possible friendly fire killings that could threaten to undermine the U.S. strategy of seeking alliances with local Sunni and Shiite leaders to fill the vacuum left by a national police force that has been plagued by corruption allegations and infiltration by militants.

Incidents of shooting of civilians at checkpoints has drawn allegations by many, in Iraq and beyond, that U.S. troops and contractors are quick to fire and ask question later.

The killings are referred to as "incidents", not crimes.

Who are the many? Why are they not named? Why is widespread British military condemnation of US military practice in Iraq - particularly in firing first and asking questions later - not mentioned here?

Such criticism was widespread after the March 2005 fatal shooting of an Italian intelligence officer at a checkpoint near Baghdad airport. The officer was traveling at night shortly after securing the release of a kidnapped Italian reporter, who was wounded along with an Italian driver when a U.S. soldier opened fire. The U.S. military has said the soldier acted appropriately in the incident.

In this paragraph, the writer again ascertains that the large number of civilian fatalities due to direct US military action are not worthy of mention. It is only when an Italian intelligence office was killed by US soldiers that the reader is made to believe the criticism became widespread. This is both factually incorrect and purposeful misdirection of the reader's attention.

Human rights groups have launched awareness campaigns and condemned US military action since 2003. They did not wait till the "fatal shooting" of an Italian to condemn US action in Iraq.

Furthermore, we ask our readers to look at the terminology used - fatal shooting - which serves only to exonerate and misdirect attention that this was a deliberate killing, not a mishap or an incidental fatal shooting.

After the Abu Lukah shooting, the so-called North of Hillah Awakening Council staged a three-day strike to register its anger over the loss of three of its members, but guards resumed their posts on Sunday.

Why so-called? If this is what they choose to call themselves, then the writer should not cast doubt on the legitimacy of the group by using "so-called".

"Such acts will create a gap between us and the Americans. We are trying to restore security in the area while the Americans are killing us," Nabil Saleh, 37, said as he stood with his AK-47 slung over his shoulder at his post in Abu Lukah.

Jabar Hamid, a 33-year-old Shiite from the village, said the U.S. military had paid $2,500 to each family of the three men killed.

"It is a tragedy and regrettable thing," he said.

The above comments from Iraqis are injected into this piece for the sake of appearing to be objective. However, is the reader to assume that the Iraqis do not have an account of what happened? We are only given the US account. But the Iraqis have either no account worth mentioning or do not care, or so the writer wants us to assume.

In a bid to distinguish the recruits from potential militants, the groups have been given vests with reflective stripes, similar to those worn by traffic police in many countries. Others wear brown T-shirts with Iraqi hats similar to those worn by the national army.

Capt. John Newman, 31, of Columbus, Ga., said the soldiers believe they can discern volunteers from the insurgents.

"We've given them their road guard vests," Newman said. "So, he'd better be wearing that vest if I see him carrying an AK-47."

In the above, the US military is exonerated once again. If an Iraqi is not wearing a vest then he becomes a legitimate target. It seems the life of an Iraqi is determined by whether a US military commander deems one is wearing a vest or not.

Lynch stressed the Americans are not arming the groups because the men already have weapons, primarily AK-47s that are legally permitted in Iraqi households.

"We are allowing the people of Iraq to secure their own areas and they are using their personal firearms to do that," he said.

Allowing Iraqis to secure Iraq? Issues of sovereignty seem to have been clumsily discarded here.

The southern belt of Baghdad is a mosaic of Sunni enclaves, such as Arab Jabour and Jisr Diyala, once al-Qaida havens, and all-Shiite strongholds, such as the town of Nahrawan. In that community, the country's strongest Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army, has lately been overshadowed by rogue Shiite elements and "gangs," as the U.S. military describes them.

The use of havens and strongholds is misleading. It indicates that Qaida had been given safe passage and freedom of movement in the former, and that the town of Nahrawan is a military fortress. Is the reader to assume that there are no civilians in that town, no women and children, no invalids but only armed fighters? Once again, misleading and dangerously erroneous.

Iraqi volunteers — both Sunnis and Shiites — mostly watch over their neighborhoods, guard mosques and man checkpoints. The theory is that, as natives to the area, they can better recognize foreign fighters and al-Qaida loyalists in their midst.

The tactic was first implemented in the Sunni western Anbar province, and later in Diyala, a province northeast of Baghdad.

Now it is being tested in Lynch's territory, such as the wind-swept planes surrounding U.S. patrol base Hawks, 20 miles southeast of Baghdad — one of 36 small bases Lynch's troops have built up as outposts in their region.

Is any part of Iraq the "territory" of a US commander? Issues of sovereignty seem to have been clumsily discarded here.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other Shiite leaders have expressed concern over the American policy of sponsoring armed Sunnis, many of whom were likely former insurgents.

Why use the term "likely"? Can the writer produce evidence to back this up? Once again, a dangerous judgment call.

"Acceptance rules for these recruits should be within a legal framework so that we do not allow the emergence of new militias," al-Maliki said Friday during a meeting with the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen.

The U.S. military says the ultimate goal is to bring the volunteers into the Iraqi security forces, which the Americans hope will be eventually able to take over the country's security so they can go home.

Lynch insisted that every volunteer is nominated by tribal leaders and vetted by Americans with retina scans and fingerprinting. The serial numbers of their AK-47s also are logged.
"We know who they are, where they are," Lynch said, adding that his region now has more 20,000 Sunnis and Shiites who have come forward to join the alliances.

He said the formation of such groups has been a major factor in the success achieved since his troops arrived in April as part of President Bush's troop buildup. He cited a 64 percent reduction in attacks and a 60 percent drop in the number of local casualties, although he didn't give specific figures.

Lynch also acknowledged the volunteer groups could become a problem later if they are not brought into the mainstream.

"They want recognition," he said. "If they get a sense that they are not recognized or treated as legitimate, they could potentially go back to their rogue ways."

In conclusion, it is this kind of reporting that has left US readers starved for information. All to often, readers of Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, other Arab-owned English-language press and Iraqi blogs are puzzled why the information they receive at home is in stark contrast to what their nightly news and local newspapers inform them.

One hopes the US public has learned from the mistakes of the past and realizes the fallacy of trusting in US media.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The plan for Iraq is (was) partition

In recent years, the US media has continued to float hints and innuendos that the Bush administration was coming up with an alternative plan to the Iraq quagmire.

But three events which occured over the past several weeks shed light on what is in store for Iraqis.

The first is news that presidential hopeful Senator Clinton has been secretely meeting with senior Bush advisers to map out a strategy for post-Bush Iraq.

The second is reports that Bush himself is prepping a new generation of US leaders for continuing administration (occupation) of Iraq.

And finally, we have the report that the US Congress passed a non-binding vote to break up Iraq into cantons.

These three tidbits of news offer us a glimpse into what the "alternative" approach to Iraq really is.

The partition of Iraq is vaunted as the alternative to a failed US policy in Iraq.

But use of the word "alternative" is grossly misleading, if not an outright lie.

The plan works thusly: The White House will be occupied by a Democratic president in 2009. This president will wax condemningly of the previous tenants and the failed policies inherent to the predecessor administration.

The Bush (GOP) administration will be painted as the "bad cop". The Democratic president will be the "good cop" valiantly trying to correct the errors of predecessors.

Because Bush continued to push for maintaining Iraqi sovereignty as a unified nation, his efforts in Iraq failed, made the US look bad in the eyes of the international community, and cost trillions in monies and human resources.

To correct this course, the Democratic president will say, we must reverse all his actions at the foundations. Why must American lives be sacrificed for a country that itself at its heart is disjointed. The Democrats will point to the Kurds as the epitome of a nation that has seceeded.

And that, unfortunately, is how the logic will go.

The US public is already being readied for partition. But not that partition will bother any of the US voters. As a matter of fact, they couldn't care less.

Therefore, it has always struck us as odd that US media reports the plan for Iraq is faltering.

How could it falter if all the elements were put in place in 1990 to lead to the partition of the country?

The plan in Iraq IS working. Militarily it has been defeated. Politically it is an unbridled success.

The plan was, is and always will be to destroy Iraq. No elections. No democracy. Not even social order. Simply division.

We mentioned that the plan was kicked into motion in 1990.

Here is how it works. Destroy the social order in Iraq through 13 years of sanctions. Then invade the country and remove the working political infrastructure under the guise that you are removing Baathists.

Five million Iraqis belonged to the Baath party. Mostly in name.

They held civil services jobs, worked in the ministrys, were advisors and consultants. All removed. Why? Because you do not want a nation that works well. You want to sow dysfunction.

Take this quote from an Al Jazeera article as evidence:
But for Badriya al-Amiri, 39, an Iraqi housewife, the failure to start schools on time has been yet another sign the country is increasingly dysfunctional.

She said: "Schools just started today, several weeks too late, all that because our country is insecure. I will not send my seven-year-old daughter to school, it is dangerous - I will send only her two teenaged brothers."

She has given up in any talk of political reconciliation.

"We do hope that God will take care of us," she said.
This woman is expressing what many Iraqis feel today. Their country is dysfunctional. It has been rendered thus.

And this was also part of the plan. For the plan to work, Iraqis must go along with plans for partition. Kurdish allies of the US are already on board despite the persistent ramblings of a few "Iraq" experts (editor: and bloggers) who insist that the Kurds realize they are better off right now than to earn the bellicosity of neighbors if they become independent.

The Hakim clan, financed and run by Iranian mullahs, is also on board.

And by creating the utmost level of decay, the planners hope that nationality and nationhood are sacrificed for order.

Lack of order, of course, comes by way of disbanding the army. A national army is the fortitude of a nation. Disband it and you disband the nation. Purge it. Now, next step. Create interim governments based strictly on sectarian lines.

When the IGC was formed thousands of Iraqi thinkers, philosophers, advisors and historians warned that it would be a recipe for tearing Iraq apart. Bremer at the time ignored them. Because he knew they were right. And because they knew he knew, they were killed off.

One by one. Or fled for their lives. After the IGC, which has already began to sow dissent among unified Iraqis, set up elections. Shape the elections so that the electorate head to the booths with sectarian and religious aspirations in mind. Not national ones.

The elections were simply the most intelligent (diabolical) ruse to ever stymie the Iraqi people. They ran to the election booths believing that Iraq would be safe, that they were voting for a democratic, peaceful future for Iraq.

But, unfortunately, there is no central media that serves the Iraqi people.

Had there been, it would have showed them articles such as Dividing Iraq In a report released in August, the Fund for Peace calls for the "managed" break-up of Iraq into three separate states with their own governments and representatives to the United Nations, but continued economic cooperation in a larger entity modeled on the European Union.

Prospects of Iraqi leaders being able to establish a multiethnic democracy are now "fanciful," the nonpartisan Washington think tank says in its report titled "A Way Out: The Union of Iraqi States."

Based on data tracked monthly since before the U.S. invasion in 2003, the report authored by Fund president Pauline Baker concludes that Iraq is now "near total collapse."

"While there may be pockets of improvement from the 'surge,' these are transitory and limited achievements that are about four years too late . . . Rather than fight fragmentation, it would be better to manage the trend with a view toward establishing an entirely new political order," the report concludes. Observe the terminology. "New political order."

Yet another article from Al Jazeera says:
Iraq will disintegrate and an independent Kurdish state is likely to emerge should the US military ends its presence there, say experts ahead of a crucial report on progress in the country by General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq.
Nir Rosen, a journalist who has braved the dangers of Iraq many times and authored In the Belly of the Green Beast, says this of Iraq:
Iraq has been changed irrevocably, I think. I don’t think Iraq even -- you can say it exists anymore. ... Baghdad used to be the most important city in Iraq, and whoever controlled Baghdad controlled Iraq. These days, you have a collection of city states: Mosul, Basra, Baghdad, Kirkuk, Irbil, Sulaymaniyah. Each one is virtually independent, and they have their own warlords and their own militias. ... But no matter what, Iraq doesn’t exist anymore. Baghdad will never be in the hands of Sunnis again. Baghdad will be controlled by Shia militias. They’ve been cleansing all the Sunnis from Baghdad. So Sunnis are basically being pushed out of Iraq, period.

They can go to the Anbar Province, which isn’t a very friendly place. I think you’ll see that there won’t be any more elections in Iraq. Maliki is the last prime minister Iraq will have for a long time. There is neither the infrastructure for elections anymore, nor the desire to have them, nor the ability of Iraqi groups to cooperate anymore.

So what you’ll see is basically Mogadishu in Iraq: various warlords controlling small neighborhoods.
It is poignant that Rosen speaks of Somalia here because this leads us to our next point.

When the US invaded Iraq it used a loosely interpreted and purposefully confusing UN resolution as legal support. The US, much despite its disdain for the UN, resorted to the UN.

It did this again in 2004 when the UN legalized the US occupation.

And it is about to embark on yet another mandate for the US agenda in Iraq, this time, partition.

The UN partitioned Palestine in 1947 and will do so again in Iraq 60 years later.

The US needs an international mandate to divide Iraq. It can't do it alone.

After four years of doing nothing for the Iraqis, the UN is about to re-enter Iraq but for what purpose if there is no human rights to protect and no humanitarian assistance programs?

The plan for Iraq is and always has been partition.

(Contributed by Abu Ahmad from Iraqi media reports and contributing writers.
Translated from Arabic by Radhi.

Editors note: Some passages have been copied in entirety from other writers with their prior consent and permission. Thank you, brothers and sisters)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The age of Iraqi bloggers, come and gone?

As the media bullets flew in the 18 months preceding the US invasion of Iraq, connected Iraqis who were both web-savvy as well as proficient in foreign languages took to the internet to give a rare, albeit belated, look at life in the embargoed country.

In 2002, a blogger by the name of Salam Pax started to earn notoriety as he searched for his chum Raed, in the now defunct Where is Raed blog. Western media jumped all over the blog - and the blogger - as the novelty of it all (a young Iraqi beyond the watchful eye of the Baathist minder speaking freely) provided fodder for a glimpse into what the enemy sounds like.

Or looks like.

There was nothing and no one like Salam Pax at the time - the name of the blog a play on the words peace in Arabic and Latin.

But Salam's fame du jour would only grow into its finite maturity as shock and awe brought Iraq to its knees. Writings became ones of desperation and angst as Baghdad slowly unraveled under a horrific barrage of firepower.

From Salam, the origin of all Iraqi bloggers, came Raed's, Riverbend's Baghdad Burning, Iraq The Model's (ITM) and Zeyad's Healing Iraq, all fruits of an invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003.

From the outset, it was evident that Iraqi bloggers did not speak with one voice. Articulate, enthralling, and sometimes riveting, Salam, Raed, Riverbend and Zeyad provided a potpourri of differing reactions to the invasion and occupation of their city Baghdad.

From the outset as well, these bloggers started to divert the American - and indeed global - discourse on Iraq.

While US embeds would claim a newsbit from Baghdad, the aforementioned bloggers would take darts to a dartboard and tear apart the US media construct.

All of a sudden, US media monopoly on Iraq was broken (for an English-speaking audience; Al Jazeera would have a profound impact on Arabic audiences, but more on that later).

These Iraqis, all of them blogging from within the war-ravaged country, formed the core of Iraqi bloggers.

But the fissures began to grow. ITM, a blog by two brothers who would eventually be rewarded for their writings with a visit to the White House to meet with US President George Bush, began to extol the virtues of the invasion.

They stressed the advantages of being invaded and administered by Paul L. Bremer. As the US public ever so slowly started to turn against the war by 2004, thanks in large part to the writings of Riverbend's Baghdad Burning, the ITM blog began to approach that of mainstream right-wing US talk radio.

Careful appreciation of GOP platforms and aims in Iraq isolated ITM from other Iraqi bloggers which now numbered in the dozens.

Nor did the visit to meet Bush did not sit well with other Iraqi bloggers. As a result, ITM became more of an forum for a US audience more interested in hearing that the Iraqi campaign was going well rather than hearing stories of Iraqis being killed at checkpoints.

But the reality on the ground would override much of the fairy tale renderings on their blog.

By 2004, Salam was less interested in blogging and strayed into documentary film-making. His blog lost its steam. Healing Iraq, Zeyad's writings, which had formerly whitewashed the US invasion, slowly began to become darker in its vision. By 2007, Zeyad would become severely embittered, perhaps disillusioned with the democratic model gone wrong.

His blog, however, remains an excellent news source portraying some of the extremely dire conditions Iraqis in and outside the country face and is usually a first stop for journalists wishing to learn more than the usual Green Zone fanfare.

Raed moved to the US and his blog as well turned into a rant, focusing on issues non-Iraqi, which seemed to weaken his forte. When Raed worked with Mowaffaq Al Roubbaie, a principal architect of the Iraq war, many Iraqis rejected him and questioned his previous anti-war, anti-US position. That he blogged criticism of the US while living in California did not sit well with US readers either.

Out of the first patch of bloggers only Riverbend's Baghdad Burning survived the deluge that was to destroy Iraq in the period 2003-2005.

The fame, and popularity, of said blogs inspired nearly three hundred other Iraqi blogs. However, none have yet come close to match the veracity, tenacity, and dissimilitude of the giants, if we may be so bold.

Several of the new blogs appeared little more than vehicles of opportunism, with some of their authors seeking apprenticeship abroad, usually in the US.

And none of the blogs matched the serious political acumen of Riverbend, Zeyad, Salam, Raed and ITM.

Several of the new blogs tried to become new Riverbends. A slew of women tried their hands at earning the popularity of "Girl Blog from Iraq" but failed miserably. Neither their language proficiency (lack thereof) or their political naivete helped.

This list includes several "flowery" blogs by high school bloggers who wrote of cats, flowers and other rainbow-inspired themes while explosions and kidnappings sent 6 million Iraqis fleeing beyond the country's borders.

Others focused on writing of their personal lives, their dance classes, their hopes to get pregnant, make friends, kill the boredom, and so on. These included the oddly titled Neurotic Iraqi Wife, Ihath, Konfused Kid, and others.

The subject was not Iraq per se but stories of personal gain and triviality. As a result, the focus was lost and with it the urgency to tap into these blogs as valuable news resources. They are not considered serious efforts.

While Zeyad and Riverbend continued to receive tens of thousands of emails and comments on their blogs, the new bloggers could barely manage in the few dozen.

For a while, it seemed that the popularity of Iraqi bloggers had waned. Such blogs as 24 Steps to Liberty, An Arab Woman Blues, Truth About Iraqis, Baghdad Dweller, Treasure of Baghdad, Star of Mosul, Eye Raki, Morbid Smile, Where Date Palms Grow, and a handful of others tried to carry on the torch of serious reporting of events in Iraq, even though most of them were writing from elsewhere.

But unfortunately, these blogs were infested by non-Iraqis trying to aggravate the issues and blog owners. A group of commentators who all seemed to frequent a non-Iraqi blog about Iraq prowled through the above and tried to disrupt the message the Iraqis attempted to deliver.

Eventually, some of these blog owners ended up trying to explain the Iraqi perspective - and deflecting accusations of terrorism - to their readers.

Consequently, the ship carrying their messages ran aground and were beached. Their blogs have become tired forums of mudslinging between those who stand against the Iraq war and those who continue to support it.

The facts, unfortunately, are lost in the melee.

It has been nearly five years since the invasion of Iraq and in this time we have concluded that only one blogger has distinguished their role and cemented their contribution to the discourse on Iraq:


Beyond the publishing of two highly acclaimed books derived from her blogs and the various international literary awards and merits she has won, her style, demeanor, and characterization of events in Iraq could be considered to have diverted the course of the war itself.

In no other case has the adage the pen is mightier than the sword been more apt.

Yahoo, which reviewed Riverbend's blog, seems to think so as well. From their review:

The pseudonymous "Riverbend" has written with great eloquence, passion, and cogency about her experience during the occupation, so much so that her posts have been aggregated in two books. While we try to quantify the tragedy in Iraq with reported numbers symbolizing the dead, wounded, and displaced, this one first-hand account cuts to the truth of the situation on the ground more than any news reports or histories ever could.
More from the review.

Riverbend finally left Iraq in the summer of 2007 and posted a very poignant reminder of what Iraqi families feeling the country must endure, both physically and psychologically.

For further reading on Iraqi bloggers:

Av Iraqi rounds up Iraqi bloggers

Asterism's weekly summary


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sourcing Iraq News coverage: Who do you trust?

In the past five years there has been little to rival the literature, nomenclature, and "research" on the subject of Iraq, Iraqi WMD, Saddam Hussein, pre-emptive war, oil, Israel, Zionism, Kurds, Yazeedis, and so on.

It is understandable that the reader will be alarmed at the wealth of information, but truth be said most of it is hardly as worthy as the paper (or terrabytes) it is printed on.

So, before we can move on and address the shape of a future Iraq and its people, we must first discern between reliable sources and unreliable sources and what distinguishes them as such.

With one swift swoop, we urge the reader of this blog to discard - The New York Times, the Washington Times, the Washington Post, the Miami Herald, the Los Angeles Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Wall Street Journal, the Christian Science Monitor, Time, Newsweek, USA Today and many other mainstream North American publications - because in the science of averages they have produced far more subjective than objective news content.


First off, all of the above resorted to press conference journalism in the wake of 9/11. Patriotism, not objectivity, was the rule of thumb. The White House holds a press conference, in jet the journalists, write up the statements they are given, ask token, surface questions and type away at their laptops.

The next day, the reader/viewer can pick up any of some 200 major newspapers and magazines and find nearly identical coverage. To be fair, the paragraphs are moved around somewhat to give the semblance that there is variety, objectivity, etc.

Journalists who go beyond the norm and ask the typical talking heads questions are ostracized by the White House, their peers, their families, and so on.

One such luminous name stands out: Karen Thomas who persistently challenged President Bush and White House spokespersons on the issues.

But her voice was definitely muted by the rush to vengeance for 9/11. The US public did not care who paid for 9/11 as long as it was someone in the Middle East, Arab and Muslim.

Iraq was an ideal target - particularly a media blindspot - because it was an ironclad society with little to no reporting conducted there in 13 years (1990-2003).

Whatever news came out of the White House or the various think-tank war proponents was swallowed hook, line and sinker. It did not matter that American journalists were failing time and again to do their jobs effectively.

There was a hunger for blood that makes the adage truth is first casualty of war sound like a nursery school limerick.

But everything is documented. And in future generations, the world will look back at the horrific crime that was perpetrated by the American government, the American media, and the American people.

Supportive material: Lack of Skepticism Leads to Poor Reporting on Iraq Weapons Claims

... On March 20, the second day of the invasion, U.S. military sources initially described missiles launched by Iraq as "Scuds"-- the U.S. name for a Soviet-made missile used by Iraq during the Gulf War. They exceed the range limits imposed on Iraqi weapons by the 1991 ceasefire agreement.

While some reporters appropriately sourced the Scud reports to military officials, and cautioned their audience about the uncertainty of the identification, others rushed to report claims as facts. NBC's Matt Lauer's report was definitive: "We understand they have fired three missiles. One of those was a Scud missile. It was destroyed by a Patriot missile battery as it headed toward Kuwait."

His colleague Tim Russert was similarly certain, saying, "Because of last night's activity, clearly the Iraqis are now trying to respond with at least one Scud fired at the troops mapped on the border of Kuwait and Iraq." Fellow NBC anchor Brian Williams added, "We learned one Scud had been intercepted, but two missiles had made it to Kuwaiti soil."

On NPR that day, anchor Bob Edwards was equally sure about what happened: "Iraq this morning launched Scud missiles at Kuwait in retaliation for the American strike on Baghdad a few hours earlier." Correspondent Mike Shuster helpfully pointed out that "these Scuds are banned under U.N. Security Council resolutions and have a range of up to 400 miles."

ABC's Ted Koppel, "embedded" with an infantry division, reported matter-of-factly that "there were two Scud missiles that came in. One was intercepted by a patriot missile." ABC anchor Derek McGinty had earlier explained that "there was a Scud attack, one Scud fired from Basra into Kuwait. It was intercepted by an American patriot battery, and apparently knocked out of the sky. There is still no word exactly what was on that Scud, whether or not there might have been any sort of unconventional weaponry onboard."

Fox News Channel's William La Jeunesse was not only asserting that a Scud had been launched, but was drawing conclusions about its significance: "Now, Iraq is not supposed to have Scuds because they have a range of 175 up to 400 miles. The limit by the U.N., of course, is like 95 miles. So, we already know they have something they're not supposed to have."

As the day went on, however, the Pentagon was less definitive about what kind of missile Iraq was using, prompting some journalists to back off the story. Associated Press reported on March 22 that "Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the vice director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon news conference that the Iraqis have not fired any Scuds and that U.S. forces searching airfields in the far western desert of Iraq have uncovered no missiles or launchers."

Even so, the next day, columnist Peter Bronson (Cincinnati Enquirer,3/23/03) was still writing, "The Scuds he swore he did not have were fired at Kuwait, and Iraq was launching lame denials while the craters still smoked." Apparently the corrections of the earlier, incorrect reports had not reached even all of those whose job it is to follow the news. ...

U.S.-based journalists are generally quick to caution readers, when describing an allegation made by Iraq, that the information "could not be independently confirmed." The fact is that information provided by any government should be treated with skepticism; reporters might try extending their critical approach to the U.S. military's statements.

Bear in mind that these events correspond to but a two-day period of news coverage about the war. It did not begin there nor did it end there.

Hindsight may be 20/20 but has anyone learned from the retrospective analysis?

For example, in the prelude to the war, as the Bush administration sought to increase the drum beating and fearmongering that Iraq was on the verge of mounting a nuclear attack on US cities, the United Nations inspectors were busy at work in Iraq, uncovering (and embarrassing) nearly all the incriminating data.

On 5 December 2002, Suzanne Malveaux was reporting from outside the White House, and told an anxious audience that President Bush and his closest advisers were highly skeptical of Iraqi intentions, especially after the United Nations inspection team UNMOVIC discovered mustard gas in some Iraqi shells.

And she ended her report there.

However, the report was incomplete. Perhaps it was Malveaux's journalistic naivete or deliberate malintent at misinformation but she failed to indicate that the mustard gas had been discovered (and documented) by UNSCOM (UNMOVIC's predecessor) in 1998. UNMOVIC returned in 2002 to find the same shells still there, waiting to be destroyed.

On Saturday, December 7, Miles O'Brien talking to Rym Brahimi reporting live outside the Iraqi Ministry of Information:

"Rym, you are outside the [Iraqi] Ministry of Information, we should call it the Ministry of Propaganda, or the Ministry of Disinformation..."

On 13 December 2002, the UNMOVIC inspection team had told reporters that Iraq was cooperating with their mandadte. Mohammed ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told the BBC, "We are off to a good start, but we are far from being able to reach a conclusion. We are not keen to rush to a conclusion … I hope the world will bear with us."

A few days later, Hans Blix, head of UNMOVIC, told the Spanish newspaper, El Pais, "There have been no impediments. We didn't expect any. That is pleasing."

But in a prime-time speech, President Bush sounded a different tone when he said "the signs from Iraq are not encouraging."

US media, still reeling from the duty-bound weight of patriotism over journalistic integrity, gave almost no airplay to Blix and ElBaradei but hyped up President Bush's statements. Neither did the White House pool of "investigative" journalists query the President why his remarks were at ostensible odds with those of the UN inspectors in Iraq.

So how did the public respond? By taking the initiative and investigating news on their own. Up popped any number of onlines news and views outlets, in addition to citizen journalism.

March 2003. Shock and awe. The age of bloggers was about to begin.


Friday, September 07, 2007

Contemplating the Future of Iraq

Saddam Hussein, the President of Iraq, was deposed on April 9, 2003. He was captured on December 14, 2003 and executed on December 30, 2006.

At every major historic point involving Saddam Hussein, US forces in Iraq, supported by the political leadership in Washington have promised a new threshold. A breaking point.

When April 9, 2003 witnessed the photo-op pulling of the Saddam Hussein statue in Firdaws Square in Baghdad, US media cheered that their military had scored a triumph and that US President George Bush had been justified in pursuing a war (despite international concerns and public alarm) in Iraq.

Soon thereafter, a national resistance was fuelled by a US massacre of civilians in Anbar province, Iraq's western-most and most desert-like province, home to a fiercely proud and religious number of tribes.

This was followed by the May 1 Bush speech declaring Mission Accomplished. Beyond the usual distinctions of 'hindsight is 20-20', many Iraqi pundits, Arab Middle East experts, and historians expressed dismay that the US had committed a plunder unparalleled in its young, and rather bellicose history.

As the Iraqi resistance continued to pound (and confound) US and foreign forces, the White House promised that the fighting would end once Saddam Hussein would be caught.

In the four-week period immediately following his capture, fighting did not subside but surged. US officials, such as Rumsfeld, described the rise in attacks on US forces as the work of deadenders.

The trial of Saddam Hussein was publicized as a means to bring about Iraqi reconciliation. But it was so mishandled, trivialized and censored that international legal experts decried it as a kangaroo court. Iraqis lost interest.

And the fighting continued. With no end in sight to a persistent and fierce resistance, the focus turned to a new enemy - Al-Qaida - which was touted by US media as the face of the "insurgency". Immediately, factional and sectarian warfare broke out, almost timed to coincide with "historic" elections.

Many Iraqi pundits warned that the elections would tear the social fabric of the country apart. Nevertheless, many Iraqis (now acknowledging they were naive to have believed in a democratic process that itself was stillborn) voted. However, it seems, looking back three years later, they had no idea for whom they were voting.

A democratically-elected government came to power in Iraq. And wholesale ethnic cleansing of ministries, schools, colleges, districts, municipalities, and neighborhoods began in earnest.

Under the watchful eyes of the new government and the ministry of interior, the Askari mosque was destroyed specifically to ensure that a civil war would break out.

Militias became the new law (and terror) enforcers.

As Iraq plunged into chaos, the Bush administration chose to start 2007 on a good note. Saddam's execution was rapidly carried out in the dawn hours of December 30, 2006. The Bush administration had hoped to turn over a new leaf at the New Year.

But the fighting continued.

And continues to this day. US forces have acknowledged that there are some 120 attacks on US-led forces every day in Iraq.

The number of Iraqis killed in Iraq is thought to be 1 million. And counting.

Two million Iraqis have fled their homes within Iraq and many live in squatter tent villages elsewhere. Nearly 4 million Iraqis have left the country entirely.

The elections have failed. The execution of Saddam has brought no solace nor respite to the fighting.

September 10, 2007, no weapons of mass destruction have been found. Osama bin Laden thrives in Afghanistan. Al-Qaida is strengthening in much of the Middle East.

And so, we look to the future of Iraq. But no future can be built without first establishing a concrete understanding of the past. What are the mistakes? What are the successes? Is Iraq better off now than it was four years ago? A series of analyses, arguments and counter-arguments will be made here.