an ever-widening gulf between official language and the reality of the actual situation in Baghdad
March 25, 2006 10:18 AM   Subscribe

Prisoners of their Bureaus--the Besieged Press of Baghdad What it's like to be a journalist in Iraq now--and especially relevant given the current attacks on the media for not reporting all the good that's happening in Iraq-- ... an ever-widening gulf between official language and the reality of the actual situation in Baghdad. While official language is relentlessly upbeat, the already nightmarish reality has been getting worse with each passing day. ... the insurgent attacks on the US forces and Iraqi government and the sectarian fighting between Sunnis and Shiites have become destructive beyond what most journalists have been able to convey ... (NY Review of Books)
posted by amberglow (35 comments total)
and from the second link: ... The other day: in search of a "good story," Jake Tapper visited the set of a popular sitcom, "Me and Layla" filming in the streets of Baghdad and starring the "Iraqi Danny Devito." Tapper was going to focus on the head of the entertainment company producing the show, a man named Hamid, in an attempt to highlight those "who are trying to make the Iraqi people laugh." Just as the ABC crew was taping a segment showing the sitcom being filmed, Tapper captured the director running to take an urgent phone call. Hamid, the man who had greenlighted "Me and Layla" and arranged for ABC to do the story, had just been assassinated. ...
posted by amberglow at 10:24 AM on March 25, 2006

What it's like to be a journalist in Iraq

Night Draws Near, by Anthony Shadid who won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize (for his Iraq reporting).
posted by stbalbach at 10:25 AM on March 25, 2006

Developed by the Israelis in order to put up a physical barrier between themselves and the Palestinians, the Iraq version of these segmented walls is constructed out of thousands of portable, twelve-foot-high slabs of steel-reinforced concrete. When stood upright on their pedestals, these "T-walls" look something like giant tombstones, totems perhaps from some long-lost Easter Island culture gone minimalist. When placed together edge-to-edge as "blast walls," they form the gray undulations that have now become Baghdad's most distinguishing feature. And because they proliferated during the administration of L. Paul Bremer III, they became known to some as "Bremer walls."

What's really intresting (so far) is the description of how everyday iraq has just deteriorated under the occupation, far more so then under saddam.
posted by delmoi at 10:49 AM on March 25, 2006

Iraq is now a lot like hell. And it's probably going to only get worse. Joy.

had just been assassinated. ...

I saw this. They wanted a happy/feelgood piece about Iraq -- instead they got carnage. Which was apropos, really. But at least they reported on the guy's assassination in the given time slot, rather than just changing out the story and never mentioning what happened.
posted by teece at 10:59 AM on March 25, 2006

The situation is depressing when one considers how many lives (Iraqi, American and others) have been lost or significantly negatively affected by all this. And to think the US spent what is now more than 300 billion dollars on this endeavor.

Anyhow, back in late 2003 or early 2004 Thomas Friedman in the New York Times said that it may be best if Iraq was split into three separate states that were ethnically-based. This potential solution still makes relatively sense to me -- call is the Czechoslovakia solution. Although I do sense that the US will lose significant influence wrt Iraq's future (and oil reserves) if it no longer has to act as the mediator between the various factions that make up Iraq currently.
posted by bhouston at 11:06 AM on March 25, 2006

Nice description of life inside the Green Zone; wall off reality, live a life of illusion and prosperity where anything is possible: follow the yellow brick road. . .

'Inside the Green Zone, one encounters a world that is nowhere to be found outside. The zone has its own taxi service. There are women joggers; men in rakish safari hats; thirty-year-olds in neckties who have vaguely described jobs "advising" the Iraqis on political and administrative matters; sweating women in halter tops, short skirts, and flip-flops. And almost everyone has an identity pouch hung around his or her neck with double transparent windows for all those important plastic ID cards. If most of the wearers weren't so tall, white, and overweight, they might be confused with those tagged refugees who are found in US airports waiting in groups to be put on mercy flights to a new host city.'
posted by mk1gti at 11:19 AM on March 25, 2006

A brilliant article, one of the best I've read on the war. Thanks, amberglow.
posted by digaman at 11:21 AM on March 25, 2006

as dusk deepens, a blast of frigid pre-spring air carries an eerie hoot and muted gibbering across the white house lawn...
posted by quonsar at 11:30 AM on March 25, 2006

Anyhow, back in late 2003 or early 2004 Thomas Friedman in the New York Times said that it may be best if Iraq was split into three separate states that were ethnically-based.

I'm pretty skeptical that this will fix anything (at least in the near term). Many of the resources worth fighting for are in the Kurdish north and Shia south. The Sunni central has the emotionally significant Baghdad. I suspect any such division would only come after a civil war.
posted by teece at 11:33 AM on March 25, 2006

This is an interesting post, but the Republican spin machine is already working overtime--since the librul MSM is determined to undermine our troops, according to Bush, anything they report regarding Iraqi deaths, the lack of water and electric power, the rise of Shiite and Sunni militias and death squads, all of which are glaringly obvious realities to people on the ground, are now fake propoganda. Literally, Bush is going around the country and telling people that anything bad they hear about Iraq is a lie.

Honestly, the Republicans aren't even trying to win this war any longer. They're just trying to score points, mitigate their losses in 2006, and set themselves up for 2008, at the cost of thousands of lives and all sense of decency.

And Viet Nam? That was the media's fault too.

So I appreciate the piece here, but man, America is fucked. The Iraqis even moreso. Really depressing.
posted by bardic at 11:41 AM on March 25, 2006

According to the book 'Cobra II' it was Douglas Feith's idea to put the Sunni's, Shia's and Kurds in the same government all working together towards a common goal. Anyone with any knowledge of the animosities among those factions knows it for the naive idea it was, and makes General Frank's comment on Feith: "fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth" make perfect sense. Arrogant bunglers marching off to war. . .
In addition, after all the insults to 'old Europe' and clear language from them indicating there would be no 'coalition', the administration still believed strongly that the europeans would just step in and clean up their mess, both physically and financially for them after it was all over.
Secretary of State Powell also suggested putting in a team of arabists from D.C. who would be able to give advice on working with the Iraqis to re-establish their government, this idea was vetoed by Rumsfeld, who wrongfully assumed full State department powers through his Pentagon offices.
posted by mk1gti at 11:52 AM on March 25, 2006

I'm assuming the Fox News Channel has a regular segment dedicated to the happy news from Iraq? Yes?
posted by wrapper at 11:53 AM on March 25, 2006

wrapper, I'm honestly surprised the adminstration hasn't tried Potemkin Villages yet. It would be easy enough to set up a few in Kuwait.

(And about a year ago, I said that as a joke to someone, and now I think it's a real possibility.)
posted by bardic at 11:57 AM on March 25, 2006

Nice conclusion to the article, and sadly exactly where things are headed now:

'It may well be that the besieged American press in Iraq will find that the main story is not about Americans fighting Iraqi insurgents, but Americans standing powerlessly aside in their armed compounds, Green Zone, and military bases, watching as Iraqis kill other Iraqis and the country disintegrates. It would be all too ironic if this were the result of the invasion of March 2003, which was promoted as a critical step in bringing peace to the Middle East.'
posted by mk1gti at 11:59 AM on March 25, 2006

Sadly enough I think that the history of the U.S. will be writ large as not champions of freedom but as the most powerful collection of inept bunglers in the history of the world. Who ya gonna call when you need things busted up? Team America! Fuck Yeah ! ! !
posted by mk1gti at 12:04 PM on March 25, 2006

Great writing.
posted by bukharin at 1:09 PM on March 25, 2006

A journalist himself, Hunter S. Thompson hit this right on in an interview in "loose change", a 9/11 documentary on google video.

As Iraq becomes more and more like hell, all FOX NEWS! can report is "the overwhelming success in Iraq"..

Oh, and , Ameerricaa, FUCK YEAH!
posted by Raoul.Duke at 1:45 PM on March 25, 2006

President Bush has been touting Tal Afar as a success story recently, but some of the citizens aren't buying it:
"I say that Bush is 100 percent a liar because the city of Tal Afar has become a ghost town rather than the example Bush spoke about," said Ali Ibrahim, a Shi'ite Turkmen laborer.
"Anyone who says Tal Afar is good and safe actually knows nothing because the reality is we are unsafe, even inside our houses, because we don't know when we'll be arrested," said pensioner Abdul Karim al-Anizi, 60, a Shi'ite Turkmen

Some of the anger is being directed back at the U.S. forces that pushed out the militants.

"The situation in Tal Afar is deteriorating and the smell of death is everywhere. People never know why they are killed. They only know that the Americans are the cause of their agonies," said Hussein Mahmoud, a Shi'ite Turkmen university professor.
Chris Matthews sounds very skeptical of the president's claims. The administration may be bringing in Jim Baker to help clean up President Bush's mess.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:36 PM on March 25, 2006

... the smell of death is everywhere ...
That's our biggest accomplishment in Iraq so far, i'd say--we've ruined the lives of millions of Iraqis who were just living their lives, trying to get by -- just like us.
posted by amberglow at 4:20 PM on March 25, 2006

Yep, James Baker will fix everything, just like the 2000 presidential elections and the 2004 prez elections, and everything else before or after. Oh, except he's not dealing with complacent, ambivalent 'muricans this time. . . Maybe, for the first time in James Baker's life, those who's freedoms he wishes to subvert and take away will say 'Go Fudge Yaself!' And maybe they'll get away with it, and maybe 'murican's will raise their lard asses off the couch or barcolounger and start regaining control of their country that they've lost many, many years before due to their lazy, dorito and donut munching ways. But I doubt it. Doesn't fit the profile of the contemporary 'murican these days.
posted by mk1gti at 4:42 PM on March 25, 2006

I read "Jim Baker" and thought you meant Tammy Faye's husband. The scary part is, I could see Bush doing that.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:40 PM on March 25, 2006

I've met Tammy Faye's husband (and Tammy Faye back when they were a couple) and Jim Baker is no James Baker, I'll tell you that. And don't get on Tammy's bad side or she'll sic a little old granny on you with a ruler! At least that's what she threatened me and my fellow cub scouts with when we were on 'The Jim and Tammy Show' back many, many years ago. I can still see her heavily mascaraed eyes peering at me now, like two burning coals. Devil woman! Aaaaaahhhhhh ! ! !
posted by mk1gti at 7:54 PM on March 25, 2006

she's gotten better since then---much better.

Jim Baker is the Bush Fixer, but how can you fix Iraq? This is not like Florida 2000.
posted by amberglow at 8:37 PM on March 25, 2006

Jim Baker is the Bush Fixer, but how can you fix Iraq? This is not like Florida 2000.
And that's why I smile, Jimmy's not in Kansas anymore. Perhaps he and Bill O'Reilly can get out there in the Iraqi desert and 'go commando' on each other. . .
posted by mk1gti at 9:25 PM on March 25, 2006

Oh, and no disrespect to Tammy Faye now, she's reformed definitely (loved the documentary on her, by the way), but back then, she was a *bitch*
posted by mk1gti at 9:26 PM on March 25, 2006

bhouston: "Anyhow, back in late 2003 or early 2004 Thomas Friedman in the New York Times said that it may be best if Iraq was split into three separate states that were ethnically-based. This potential solution still makes relatively sense to me -- call is the Czechoslovakia solution. Although I do sense that the US will lose significant influence wrt Iraq's future (and oil reserves) if it no longer has to act as the mediator between the various factions that make up Iraq currently."

I think one of the problems with this approach is that the oil fields aren't distributed equally throughout the country. And before anyone argues that "it's not about the oil" - I'm not talking about foreign interests here. Do you really think that warring factions would give a chunk of their potential wealth to the others? If you really create separate nations, you heavily favor those that have territory on the natural ressources.
Breaking up the country also increases the risk that a separation along religious groups occurs and radical theocrats get a chance to come to power. Add to this the fact that the two main religions don't occur in a 95%-5% ratio in most areas, so you're looking at vast relocation programs and ethnic cleansings.
And then it might turn out stable after a couple of decades or so, but that is no solution for the current problems and might only worsen them in the short run.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 1:36 AM on March 26, 2006

Given the security situation and the kidnapping of Jill Carroll (and the 50+ journalists who have been outright murdered in Iraq since the invasion) and particularly the bomb injury suffered by ABC's top anchor Bob Woodruff, it was particularly galling to hear Laura Ingraham suggest that NBC "bring the Today show to Iraq" (which she described as "to go out with the Iraqi military ... to have a conversation with the Iraqi people") and -- here's the kicker -- snidely added "instead of reporting from hotel balconies".

There's really no hell good enough for people like that. NBC, of course, has suffered the death of David Bloom (not from hostile fire).

The next day Richard Engel told the Today Show that Iraqis say the situation is worse than the American media report.

Ingraham has been to Iraq, but only went around in a bulletproof vest and a cavalry squadron. Ralph Peters was recently in Baghdad for a few hours and reported he didn't see mcuh of a Civil War, telling reporters they should get out and repoort on the good news, because "The 506th Infantry Regiment -- and other great military units -- will take journalists on their patrols virtually anywhere in the city." My, the very privilege.
posted by dhartung at 1:38 AM on March 26, 2006

James Baker has extensive contacts in the Middle East, and his arrival may herald the start of the "Saddam Jr." strategy, which is to find a secular person to become a strongman, since clearly "democracy" is going nowhere.
posted by cell divide at 3:34 AM on March 26, 2006

It's hard work.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:50 AM on March 26, 2006

Lara Logan smack down.
posted by homunculus at 12:13 PM on March 26, 2006

Maybe I missed it, but I didn't see any right-wing idiot's apologia on this thread...yet.
posted by rougy at 3:10 PM on March 26, 2006

Go Lara, she's got the balls when FOX News propagandists (oh, sorry, *journalists*) don't.
posted by mk1gti at 3:18 PM on March 26, 2006

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