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.