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Myths of Iraq

By Ralph Peters

 

During a recent visit to Baghdad, I saw an enormous failure. On the part of our media. The reality in the streets, day after day, bore little resemblance to the sensational claims of civil war and disaster in the headlines.

 

No one with first-hand experience of Iraq would claim the country's in rosy condition, but the situation on the ground is considerably more promising than the American public has been led to believe. Lurid exaggerations and instant myths obscure real, if difficult, progress.

 

I left Baghdad more optimistic than I was before this visit. While cynicism, political bias and the pressure of a 24/7 news cycle accelerate a race to the bottom in reporting, there are good reasons to be soberly hopeful about Iraq's future.

 

Much could still go wrong. The Arab genius for failure could still spoil everything. We've made grave mistakes. Still, it's difficult to understand how any first-hand observer could declare that Iraq's been irrevocably "lost."

 

Consider just a few of the inaccuracies served up by the media:

 

Claims of civil war. In the wake of the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, a flurry of sectarian attacks inspired wild media claims of a collapse into civil war. It didn't happen. Driving and walking the streets of Baghdad, I found children playing and, in most neighborhoods, business as usual. Iraq can be deadly, but, more often, it's just dreary.

 

Iraqi disunity. Factional differences are real, but overblown in the reporting. Few Iraqis support calls for religious violence. After the Samarra bombing, only rogue militias and criminals responded to the demagogues' calls for vengeance. Iraqis refused to play along, staging an unrecognized triumph of passive resistance.

 

Expanding terrorism. On the contrary, foreign terrorists, such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, have lost ground. They've alienated Iraqis of every stripe. Iraqis regard the foreigners as murderers, wreckers and blasphemers, and they want them gone. The Samarra attack may, indeed, have been a tipping point--against the terrorists.

 

Hatred of the U.S. military. If anything surprised me in the streets of Baghdad, it was the surge in the popularity of U.S. troops among both Shias and Sunnis. In one slum, amid friendly adult waves, children and teenagers cheered a U.S. Army patrol as we passed. Instead of being viewed as occupiers, we're increasingly seen as impartial and well-intentioned.

 

The appeal of the religious militias. They're viewed as mafias. Iraqis want them disarmed and disbanded. Just ask the average citizen.

 

The failure of the Iraqi army. Instead, the past month saw a major milestone in the maturation of Iraq's military. During the mini-crisis that followed the Samarra bombing, the Iraqi army put over 100,000 soldiers into the country's streets. They defused budding confrontations and calmed the situation without killing a single civilian. And Iraqis were proud to have their own army protecting them. The Iraqi army's morale soared as a result of its success.

 

Reconstruction efforts have failed. Just not true. The American goal was never to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure in its entirety. Iraqis have to do that. Meanwhile, slum-dwellers utterly neglected by Saddam Hussein's regime are getting running water and sewage systems for the first time. The Baathist regime left the country in a desolate state while Saddam built palaces. The squalor has to be seen to be believed. But the hopeless now have hope.

 

The electricity system is worse than before the war. Untrue again. The condition of the electric grid under the old regime was appalling. Yet, despite insurgent attacks, the newly revamped system produced 5,300 megawatts last summer--a full thousand megawatts more than the peak under Saddam Hussein. Shortages continue because demand soared--newly free Iraqis went on a buying spree, filling their homes with air conditioners, appliances and the new national symbol, the satellite dish. Nonetheless, satellite photos taken during the hours of darkness show Baghdad as bright as Damascus.

 

Plenty of serious problems remain in Iraq, from bloodthirsty terrorism to the unreliability of the police. Iran and Syria indulge in deadly mischief. The infrastructure lags generations behind the country's needs. Corruption is widespread. Tribal culture is pernicious. Women’s rights are threatened. And there's no shortage of trouble-making demagogues.

 

Nonetheless, the real story of the civil-war-that-wasn't is one of the dog that didn't bark. Iraqis resisted the summons to retributive violence. Mundane life prevailed. After a day and a half of squabbling, the political factions returned to the negotiating table. Iraqis increasingly take responsibility for their own security, easing the burden on U.S. forces. And the people of Iraq want peace, not a reign of terror.

 

But the foreign media have become a destructive factor, extrapolating daily crises from minor incidents. Part of this is ignorance. Some of it is willful. None of it is helpful.

 

The dangerous nature of journalism in Iraq has created a new phenomenon, the all-powerful local stringer. Unwilling to stray too far from secure facilities and their bodyguards, reporters rely heavily on Iraqi assistance in gathering news. And Iraqi stringers, some of whom have their own political agendas, long ago figured out that Americans prefer bad news to good news. The Iraqi leg-men earn blood money for unbalanced, often-hysterical claims, while the Journalism 101 rule of seeking confirmation from a second source has been discarded in the pathetic race for headlines.

 

To enhance their own indispensability, Iraqi stringers exaggerate the danger to Western journalists (which is real enough, but need not paralyze a determined reporter). Dependence on the unverified reports of local hires has become the dirty secret of semi-celebrity journalism in Iraq as Western journalists succumb to a version of Stockholm Syndrome in which they convince themselves that their Iraqi sources and stringers are exceptions to every failing and foible in the Middle East. The mindset resembles the old colonialist conviction that, while other "boys" might lie and steal, our house-boy's a faithful servant.

 

The result is that we're being told what Iraqi stringers know they can sell and what distant editors crave, not what's actually happening.

 

While there are and have been any number of courageous, ethical journalists reporting from Iraq, others know little more of the reality of the streets than you do. They report what they are told by others, not what they have seen themselves. The result is a distorted, unfair and disheartening picture of a country struggling to rise above its miserable history.

 

Ralph Peters is a retired U.S. Army officer and the author of 20 books, including the recent New Glory: Expanding America's Global Supremacy.

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The dangerous nature of journalism in Iraq has created a new phenomenon, the all-powerful local stringer. Unwilling to stray too far from secure facilities and their bodyguards, reporters rely heavily on Iraqi assistance in gathering news. And Iraqi stringers, some of whom have their own political agendas, long ago figured out that Americans prefer bad news to good news. The Iraqi leg-men earn blood money for unbalanced, often-hysterical claims, while the Journalism 101 rule of seeking confirmation from a second source has been discarded in the pathetic race for headlines.

 

That is a very good point.. I used to look to the foot note of most articles about Iraq by westren media.. I evaluate the article from the name of Iraqi or Arab contributors. Today a journalist can safely walk baghdad streets if he/she reported not to the favour of new Iraq, however he/she need to be very careful on going the other way.

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Guest Solaris

This is my first post and first day at this site. I found this site while trying to find help on a lesson plan to teach High School students a chapter on Islam. (Any help would be appreciated ;) ) I have been reading posts for hours now on this site. I see that the first post on this string mentions an eyewitness account of a westerner. (I am not challenging the validity of this post by any means at all, although I am wondering which region of Iraq was observed) I am also in America and would like to know if Iraq is really edging toward a civil war. Cnn.com has an article posted currently that depicts this is happening. Could someone post a current prospective from within Iraq today? A friend of mine just lost a loved one in Iraq fighting for Iraqi freedom. Salim, I noticed you did not comment on the civil war specifically. You are very active on this board and have a great deal of wisdom and perspective. I would like to know how things are today in Iraq.

 

Thanks! :D

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Solaris,

Wellcome on board. This site is to open a bilang channel to communicate with Iraqis living any where.. Some are writing from inside Iraq others outside. Some don't have commands to wirte read in English, others can't in Arabic, so this channel is a good apportunity to have a window with ordinary Iraqis . Media is not trusted any more, I mean both Arab or westrten. Both are working for narow agenda.. Arab and Islamic nationlists "also to some extent ME governement sponsered" media is working hard to keep the two side of Iraqis and Americans appart. Same is doing the westren media. Each one from a different prospective though. Unfortunately, for Iraqis most of those who can communicate well in English are those berochrat who had the chance to educat them self either through Saddam governemnt support or through personal means. They might not reflect the whole picture, there is a need to ordinary Iraqis to reach with their voices , and here this web site providing one mean.

 

As for your question about the civil war.. I might write more later..Thanks your interest and please keep posting and good luck with your project plan.. I might refere you to some posts i=under "religion" group. Please shot any question that you might run into. There are many experts on this subject on the this board.

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ِA comment I got from a friend who used to live in USA. He was commenting this post main article..

 

I have been in contact with my family and I sent the article below to my niece.She said, that the below article is very true.Things there are not what we hear in the USA.There is alot of exaguration in the news.These days, some people in Iraq are making a lot of money by selling news (good or bad) to specifically, to US journalists.

It is also a fact that American love bad news. Bad news sells. Good news do not . How unfortunate!

In my opinion, the Iraqi people are HEROES. For example: If an American nominate hiself to some elective office, some poeple may like and some may not.

In Iraq, if a patriotic individual nominate herself/himself, THEY GET KILLED. This tells you how much the Iraqis are starving for freedom and democracy.They even sacrifice themselves and the welfare of their families.That is why, the Iraqis will win their freedom for ever.

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