WaPo and NYT Duel on Sigificance of National Congress
One of the wonderful things about the internet is that it is easier than ever to see lots of news reports on the same event and to get a sense of the different angles that reporters work in reporting them.
There is a night and day difference between how John Burns of the New York Times reports the national congress held Sunday and the version given us of that event by Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post.
Burns’s says that the convention was a mess, disrupted by repeated mortar fire and by angry delegates who stormed the stage to denounce the Allawi government and demand it cease military operations in Najaf. One senses that Burns himself, who does not suffer fools gladly, may have almost gotten caught by the incoming mortars and perhaps was not in a good mood as a result. His angle on the story is that the disruptions faced by the convention mirror the other failures of the US in Iraq, including the failure, despite repeated attempts, to root out the Sadr movement.
Chandrasekaran presents an almost panglossian story of the triumph of democracy– noisy, disruptive, but still triumphant. He reports that the delegates said they had secured from Allawi a promise to suspend military action until further negotiations could take place, and he seems even to believe that Allawi gave such an undertaking and would abide by it! He also reports that the almost 1200 delegates will select 81 representatives, and that 19 seats had been awarded to the Interim Governing Council members originally appointed by Paul Bremer.
He does not note that originally, 20 seats were to be appointive. I take it that Ahmad Chalabi’s has fallen vacant because he is under a legal cloud. Why don’t we deserve to be told this? And, doesn’t anyone but me object to 19 seats being set aside for American appointees who were never elected by anyone?
Al-Jazeerah says that 100 Shiites out of the 1200 angrily resigned because of the US miltiary operations in Najaf. Neither of the American reports mention any resignations. Al-Hayat clears up the mystery, reporting that about 100 delegates walked out of the first session in protest, but came back to attend the second session.
I think Burns’s story more accurately reflects the Iraqi reality. I don’t think the conference is any significant check on the executive, as Chandrasekaran argues it is. Allawi will do as he pleases and ignore this weak Duma. The conference had to be held almost furtively for fear it would be blown up, and it almost was anyway. Many of Iraq’s major cities are being bombed semi-regularly by the US Air Force– Fallujah, Samarra, Kut, Najaf, etc.
The reports on CNN suggest that Allawi is on the verge of sending Iraqi troops into the Shrine of Ali in Najaf, despite any pledges he gave the delegates.
Note, too, that CNN’s headline news reported repeatedly on Sunday afternoon and evening that the Mahdi Army fighters holed up in the shrine of Ali were “foreign fighters.” This allegation is Allawi’s propaganda, and simply untrue. The Mahdi Army are Iraqi Shiite ghetto youth. They are not foreigners. There may be a sprinkling of Iranian volunteers among them, but the number is tiny.
Likewise, CNN appears to have been the victim of a second-hand psy-ops campaign, insofar as it is referring to the guerrillas as “anti-Iraqi forces.” The idea of characterizing them not as anti-American or anti-regime but “anti-Iraq” was, according to journalist Nir Rosen, come up with by a PR company contracting in Iraq. Nir says that they were told that no Iraqis would fall for it. So apparently it has now been retailed to major American news programs, on the theory that the American public is congenitally stupid.
The American public has no idea how bad it is in Iraq because it gets lots of contradictory reports and has no way of wading through or evaluating them. On the evidence of Sunday, I’d advise them to keep their eyes on what John Burns says. He is a veteran war correspondent with his eyes open. If he thinks things in Iraq are bad, they likely are.
Meanwhile, on Monday morning US warplanes and tanks attacked targets in Najaf again, and warplanes bombed Fallujah, causing several deaths. The Allawi government forced all independent journalists to leave Najaf on Sunday, so that the only reporting we will have on operations there will come from journalists embedded with the US forces.