blogenlust
11.15.2004

Context in Iraq


Sadly you have to turn to an Asian newspaper to find an analysis of the situation in Iraq like this. Glaringly absent from most of the US coverage is the fact that Iraqis are divided along ethnic and religious lines. These divisions, in collusion with our actions, have serious consequences for us and the future of Iraq. For instance, many of the Iraqi National Guard soldiers fighing alongside the Marines in Fallujah are Kurdish. This has serious implications because there is a long history of animosity between the Iraqi Kurds and their Muslim compatriots. Tying the Kurds to our attacks, while perhaps necessary, goes a long way towards further inflaming the ethnic tensions. Likewise, the tensions between the Sunnis and Shi'ites is very serious, and yet dangerously under reported. This too has a long history: Shi'ites were a severely persecuted minority under Saddam's secularist regime, and have tried to use the recent power vacuum to exert more influence on Iraq's future. In a nutshell, today's problems boil down to the fact that Fallujah is Sunni and Najaf is Shi'ite. The Shi'ites and their leaders (Sistani, al Sadr) have been nearly silent about our attacks on Fallujah, which is in stark contrast to the public declarations against our past targeting of Sadr and Najaf. For us this silence is not even noticeable, but for the Sunni population in and around Fallujah it is deafening. So not only are the tensions between Kurds and Muslims gearing up, but also the tensions between Sunnis and Shi'ites. Therefore, these tensions, in combination with an increasingly vulnerable occupying force and a leader that is increasingly perceived as a puppet, create a recipe for disaster that appears to be heading towards civil war. Read the whole article, but I found these paragraphs especially important:
Sources in Baghdad tell Asia Times Online that the population is even angrier than usual: the majority of the Sunni-dominated capital sees the assault on Fallujah as part of a massive campaign of normalization of US neo-colonial crimes. Baghdadis seem to be very much aware of the almost impenetrable media blackout imposed by the Pentagon - and the fact that all mainstream Fallujah war "news" comes from embedded media censored by the Pentagon. Fallujah has always been defiant toward Saddam Hussein. Now its civilian population has been reduced to a bunch of "insurgents". No one puts in context why Fallujah has become the symbol of the Iraqi resistance: it's because on April 2003, marines opened fire on a peaceful demonstration, killing at least 18 people and wounding hundreds. Now, reports from family and friends about the deadly devastation inflicted by AC-130 gunships, F-16s, 2,000-pound bombs, cluster bombs and the most lethal snipers in the world against what is essentially a collection of slums should be telling the real story - but they will never make it to embedded CNN or BBC. Al-Jazeera's office in Baghdad was closed by Allawi's "government" in August. Even the al-Arabiya network is being criticized by Iraqi bloggers such as Raed for "doing its best to be as Bushy-friendly as they can; just some fragments of news that don't mean anything. No one is covering what the hell is happening in Iraq." According to official Pentagon spin, "hundreds and hundreds" of "terrorists" have already been killed in Fallujah. There's no proof - and there's no way to independently confirm it. Also because of the news blackout, nobody knows how many Fallujah civilians are dead. Sat-phone calls to Baghdad by trapped Fallujah civilians tell of rows of decomposing bodies littering the streets. Firdoos al-Abadi, the lady who is the head of the Iraqi Red Crescent's emergency committee, sums it all up: "It is a disaster inside Fallujah. There is no water, no electricity, no food. They [the Americans] are forbidding doctors from helping the people." The Red Crescent sent a convoy of four trucks to the city on Thursday with some first aid kits, food, blankets and tents. But a makeshift hospital set up in a mosque is helpless because the doctors are severely under-equipped.
Context is everything and informed opinions about the situation in Iraq are virtually impossible without it. When the Pentagon controls everything coming out of the country (an entirely different problem!), it is understandable that the big picture is more difficult to see. However, that does not absolve the media because there are several important contextual issues not requiring Pentagon-approval that are simply not being reported.