Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Monday, May 22, 2006

  It's too dangerous to report how dangerous Iraq has become

Another trenchant story in tomorrow's Independent by Patrick Cockburn, ruminating on Blair's hasty visit to Iraq today. Blair dashed in to the Green Zone, avoiding as far as possible all the messiness that plagues the real Iraq. He promptly burbled some preposterous but soothing sounds.

Mr Blair said the establishment of a national unity government meant there was no longer any justification for the insurgency. He announced that now at last the "Iraqi people [are] able to take charge of their own destiny and write the next chapter of Iraqi history themselves".

So there. Might as well cut it out now, chaps.

But this observation by Cockburn stood out the most:

A frustrating aspect of writing about Iraq since the invasion is that the worse the situation becomes, the easier it is for Tony Blair or George Bush to pretend it is improving. That is because as Baghdad and Iraq, aside from the three Kurdish provinces, become the stalking ground for death squads and assassins, it is impossible to report the collapse of security without being killed doing so.

The importance of the NYT series on the Iraqi policing debacle is partly that the indifference Bush has shown to restoring security in Iraq provides an essential backdrop to Bush's prolonged fantasy about how things are improving day by day there.

"They aren't reporting the good news in Iraq" How many times have you heard that parroted by the President's apologists? The truth is that for years now there have been precious few journalists who've dared to report about much of anything in Iraq, except from inside the Green Zone.

Those who do, often die in the line of duty. Since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 69 journalists have been killed already. Another 26 media support workers have been killed as well.

The CPJ figure includes only those journalists who died from hostile action. That may be a partial explanation why the International Federation of Journalists has a much higher figure:

The International Federation of Journalists has called for urgent international action as a series of new targeted killings in Iraq have increased the pressure on media. The killing of three news people over the past three days has created an “unprecedented atmosphere of terror and intimidation” for journalists throughout the country, says the IFJ.

The IFJ says that the latest murders bring to around 120 the number of journalists and media staff killed in the country since the invasion by United States and British forces in 2003.

Three journalists were killed on Sunday, two of them kidnapped and then brutally murdered south of Baghdad, and a third assassinated by a gunman in Basra. The IFJ is investigating the deaths of three other journalists.

“These deaths add fresh brutality to the atmosphere of terror and intimidation that has overtaken Iraqi media,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “Despite the claims of the Iraqi authorities that they would act to defend journalists, the reality is one of unbearable suffering for media people that continues to intensify.”

The deliberate targeting of journalists in Iraq is an especially vile aspect of a war that has been marinated in unmitigated horror from the outset. The clearest parallels known to me for deliberate killing of reporters, were the nightmare years in Central America (1979-1989), when some 89 reporters were killed, and in Argentina (1976-1983) where 98 reporters died or disappeared.

But for the sheer speed with which journalists are being killed, Iraq seems to have no parallel. For the sake of comparison, the number of journalists killed during the entire Vietnam War has been put at either 66 or 71. During World War II, 68 journalists are thought to have been killed. I have discovered no comparable three-year period of warfare during the 20th century, in which journalists were killed at anything like the rate that has been occuring, consistently, in Iraq.

For all the carping the right wing does about the alleged failings of journalists in Iraq, the haters and screamers have overlooked this one salient fact. The shocking rate at which journalists are being slaughtered in Iraq is the most under-reported story coming out of the war.

There has long been a blind hatred of journalism on the right wing fringes, whipped up with malice by GOP politicians. But ere now, the fringes have come to envelope much of that Party. If you prefer not to think so, check out the knee-jerk reactions of commentators to this important report from ABC, which first revealed that the FBI has been spying on journalists' phone calls without warrant, by means of the Orwellian Patriot Act.

We saw similar rants from similar quarters when Eason Jordan stated that he knew of 12 journalists who'd been targeted by U.S. troops. As early as April 2003 there were clear signs of indifference toward the safety of journalists in Iraq, if not outright hostility, in the U.S. bombings of the Palestine Hotel and the Baghdad offices of Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV. Yet the true believers prefered to hound Jordan from his job than to look seriously into the question of whether journalists were in significant danger in Iraq, and if so, what that would mean for the course of the war and the reconstruction effort.

Since then, I suspect, journalists have been under-reporting the story of the killing of journalists in Iraq. From time to time this has preoccupied my thoughts, when for example Tom Lasseter chose to stay on in Iraq this year rather than return to the U.S. as scheduled.

But it's time for a little push-back against the nutters on behalf of working reporters in Iraq, and Patrick Cockburn points the way. The only reason that George Bush and his dwindling band of fanatics have been able to maintain until now the shreds of their infantile fiction, about an Iraq nuzzled in the loving bossom of peace&freedom™, is that Iraq is far too dangerous for any but the most intrepid journalists to report upon. And the reason it is that dangerous is that Mister Bush has been virtually indifferent to the need to restore and maintain order in Iraq.


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