Subject: week 3
I have decided to start watching TV news to see how
things are reported. Itís a mess.
A week or so ago, there was a turn over in the group
of producers and correspondent for the network news
that I am embedded in. A fresh, new, scared crew of
people who come to replace the old crew whoíve gotten
bored and jaded by the end of their 3-6 week stay.
DR, the big network boss-- the new crew claimed-- had
ordered them to send some happy stories instead of the
negative portrayals of death, defeat and destruction
that was saturating the news. This was said with a
bit of resentment, less because it was a ridiculous
order, and more because death and destruction is more
camera friendly and easy to do. Unfortunately for DR
and whoever else wanted happy news stories, the first
Blackhawk helicopter went down a couple of days later
and the new ëhappyí crew rushed out to get the story
and I havenít heard about any more happy stories
So, I figured Iíd follow the news and see what is
actually being said.
The raging debate over there where you guys are, as
far as I can tell, revolves around the idea that
America's new (?) aggressive offensive will either 1)
free Iraqis of the ëterroristsí that have come to use
iraq as the site for their crazed ideology, or it will
2) anger the Iraqis and send them into the arms of
ëthe resistanceí. Journalists here, whether they know
it or not are basing their stories around these two
positions, with plenty of "Iraqis" quoted to prove
their point. That's how it works, the political
establishment sets the parameters of the debate and
the journalists plug into it with their reportis. How
often have you read or heard "Well, Dan, most Iraqis
want Ö." it sounds so empty, and until you are
walking around and seeing real Iraqis, I am not sure
how empty the words sound to you.
Rule of thumb: if anyone purports to tell you what the
ëIraqisí want, know that they are probably delluding
themselves (looking for someone to tell them what they
want to hear) and in the process misinforming, if not
lying to you.
The opinion polls in Iraq have not had time to become
a scientific assessment of the communal angsts ruling
over the middle class-- yet. So the Iraq specialists,
journalists and such are left to assess public opinion
through their own scientific research: morning
conversations with the waiter, noon conversation with
the driver, night conversations with some friends you
have made haphazardly to bolster your claims of
ëauthenticí indigenous voices. You can imagine what
happens to this kind of polling considering the fact
that most Iraqis speak minimum English and virtually
no American reporters bother to learn Arabic.
At the moment I do not see any mass expression of
Iraqi sentiment for or against anything and if I were
to take a similar scientific poll of all the 20 or so
people who I talk to, I would say that most Iraqis are
pretty confused and it depends on outside factors such
as the questionerís identity and credentials, the
presence of other Iraqis in the vicinity and the
ìIraqi'sî own level of fatigue (exacerbated by fasting
The more I stay here and the more I talk to people,
the LESS capable I am of telling you and convincing
myself of what it is exactly that the Iraqi people
want. The only chorus I have heard from Iraqis Ö what
they all say repeatedly and in unison is this: I want
to get the hell out of this place.
It's hard to miss, and easy to dismiss.
It feeds off the hoplessness and insecurity that
drives people to desperate measures, and it feeds into
the guilt of those who came here to sympathize rather
than report. Either case, the point is not very
TV-ready as a concept. So it's easier to talk about
terrorists and resistance.
So ... I have little news of resistance in any
inspiring sense, and if I were to go by my scientific
opinion poll of the 20-odd people who I speak to, I
would have to say that the attacks on American forces
ARE being done by terrorists who carry little sympathy
from the populace, and who are in fact resented by
them. But that is not general by any means and I
wouldnít want to write an article saying it.
What IS clear to me is that America has created a
situation in Iraq similar in varying degrees to places
like Spain, Israel, Palestine, Sri Lanka and Colombia
where the local population learns to live with
constant threat of random violence.
Actually, this is my news from Baghdad: The ëRamadan
Offensiveí has been normalized. It has become part of
peopleís lives. There is less daily fear: there have
been no threats of mass violence from the ëresistanceí
aimed at scaring the public for the past three weeks;
some traffic lights are working, people hang out more
at night, you can find streets where people, including
women walk securely after dark. And there are bombs
that go off every once in a while, somewhere. So the
threat is there, but in a city of a few million,
whatís the probability that you will be one of the
thirty killed in a bomb blast?
America has announced that it will pull out sooner
than later. No matter how they spin it, that sounds
like the ëresistance/terroristsí have won to some
degree. Their army will stay, though, sort of like
post-war Japan and Germany (or, rather, the
Philippines) and considering the fact that this is the
Mid East which carries a historical resentment and
mistrust of American presence, the terror/resistance
will continue on a low albeit constant basis. Their
call for general strikes and armed resistance have not
been heeded, thatís what the ìRamadan Offensiveî has
shown, and America will have to truly fuck up to turn
this population into an anti-occupation force.
The other night my producer came back from a few days
of embeddedness with the army -- some regiment who is
patrolling one of the ëless secureí parts of Baghdad.
So this is what he got: at 8 oíclock the army units go
knock on peopleís doors: folks who live next to this
palm grove where a couple of missiles had been
launched against the American compound. Residents were
told to make sure the kids are off the street by nine
because they want to bomb the palm grove. By nine
oíclock as the camera is being strategically stationed
to capture the moment, the streets are emptied,
families are locked in and most probably the missile
attackers are off to another part of town. By ten
oíclock, a few hits on the empty palm grove (which was
a waste because the producer didnít think it was too
camera-friendly.) Other journalist crews reported of
similar ëstrategically guidedí operations made
especially for them, and the American public.
Apparently (meaning I heard this as a rumor and
nothing to be taken as fact) the bombs being used are
from an old ammunitions silo in Missouri that needs to
be emptied to make room for newer models, so where
better to empty old bombs than lobbing them into the
night here in Baghdad.
So itís not as bad as it sounds, really. Israelis
have been doing this for ages and getting away with
it, so why not the Americans. The US army is not out
to kill Baghdad civilians. They are just using the
moment to empty their guns and show their force to
their own public and the folks who have come here to
get even with them. The resistance does not enjoy
popular support, yet, and it has not turned against
the populace, either ñ yet.
Iraqis might learn to live with that.