The Big Lie

I’m not talking about WMDs or anything like that. More in my quixotic feud with noted fiction writer Ralph Peters, who came here for a little while and declared All is Well, and “the media” are aiming to undermine the heroic mission here in Iraq with all that bad news. Why, he himself saw Iraqis cheering his patrol as he rumbled through Baghdad atop an up-armored humvee.

BAGHDAD — And no, I’m not talking about WMDs or anything like that. More in my quixotic feud with noted fiction writer Ralph Peters, who came here for a little while and declared All is Well, and “the media” are aiming to undermine the heroic mission here in Iraq with all that bad news. Why, he himself saw Iraqis cheering his patrol as he rumbled through Baghdad atop an up-armored humvee.
Let’s conduct a little thought experiment. “The media” here are fiercely competitive. Everyone of us is looking for any angle — any! — that will break news, make our stories stand out or otherwise distinguish ourselves. That’s what journalists do, and the corps here comes from the entire ideological spectrum, from the conservative to the socialist. But weirdly, this herd of cats — which is what we could be best be compared to — have all come to the same conclusion: Iraq is a mess.
I would argue that this prevailing view is the aggregate of a lot of professional reporting, mine but a small bit. If it gravitates toward a single viewpoint, well, that’s the way it is. Sorry, truth hurts. But a guy who writes exclusively for publications that supported the war before it went down comes here and says things are fine, and somehow I’m supposed to suddenly doubt my own observations and experience? Pardon me if I believe my lyin’ eyes instead of him.
But more unforgivably, Peters also “continues his libel”: against Iraqi stringers/journalists by saying the “The Iraqi leg-men earn blood money for unbalanced, often-hysterical claims.” (emphasis added.)
Mr. Peters, you should be ashamed of yourself. Three Iraqi journalists have been killed this week alone trying to report the news, and the stringer who work for us are no less the journalists than the guys at the Iraqi networks. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists:

Muhsin Khudhair, editor of the news magazine Alef Ba, was killed by unidentified gunmen near his home in Baghdad Monday night, becoming the third journalist killed in Iraq in the last week, Reuters and Agence France-Presse reported. The shooting took place just hours after Khudair attended a meeting of the Iraqi Journalists Union, which discussed the targeting of local journalists in Iraq, Reuters said.
The killing punctuated a deadly week for the press. Amjad Hameed, head of programming for Iraq’s national television channel Al-Iraqiya, and driver Anwar Turki were killed on Saturday by gunmen apparently affiliated with al-Qaeda. Munsuf Abdallah al-Khaldi, a presenter for Baghdad TV, was killed by unidentified gunmen last Tuesday as he was driving from Baghdad to the northern city of Mosul.
At least 67 journalists and 24 media support workers have been killed in Iraq since March 2003, making it the deadliest conflict for the media in recent history. The killings continue two trends in Iraq: the vast majority of victims have been Iraqi citizens; and most cases have been targeted assassinations rather than crossfire. CPJ research shows that Iraqis constitute nearly 80 percent of journalists and support staffers killed for their work in Iraq. Overall, sixty percent of journalist deaths were murders.

Maybe Mr. Peters would like a nice chat with “Salih” from the _Washington Post_, who reported a story about the looting of Saddam’s palaces in Tikrit after the U.S. military turned it over to the Iraqi security forces. His reward? A $50,000 bounty put on his head by the head of security in Tikrit, Jassam Jabara.
Perhaps he’d like to talk to the family of Allan Enwiyah, the translator for the _Christian Science Monitor_’s Jill Carroll. He was killed when Jill was kidnapped Jan. 7, unprotected by American firepower. She is still captive, by the way.
Or perhaps he’d like to discuss “blood money” with the widow of Yasser Salihee, a careful and conscientious reporter for Knight-Ridder who was killed by American soldiers at a checkpoint when the car in front of him blocked his view of the troops, who opened fire and killed him. Did I know him? Yes, but not well. I found out about his death when Hannah Allam, then bureau chief for Knight-Ridder called me in hysterics.
You want to know what the Iraqis — who frankly do a better job that we do — feel and think? “Read this”: Highlight:

“To get a story you have to risk your life,” [said Salima] matter-of-factly. “Sometimes I wonder if the people in the U.S. really understand how much we go through in order to write the story.” To underscore that, she told of being pushed from behind by an Iraqi man while covering a story with a Western reporter, of being caught in a firefight in Sadr City, Baghdad’s sprawling and violent slum, and of being threatened by a group of insurgents while out reporting. Yet in a country with few opportunities, journalism is a way to make a living, and to stay involved. “We never know when something could happen to us,” she said. “But then at the same time, I cannot stop living.”

How dare you, Ralph. How dare you question these men and women’s intentions and honesty. I’ve worked with our staff in the TIME house for two years and I’ve never seen a more dedicated, careful group of journalists. They’re not in this for the money. We pay them well, yes, but they could make more money doing other work. Lord knows they’d be safer, and their families would be, too. But they come in to work every day and do their level best to get us every scrap of information and to get it right. Anyone of them is a better journalist than Ralph Peters, who feels his view from the back of humvee is the only valid one. It’s _a_ viewpoint, yes, but hardly the whole story. You come talk with _me_, Ralph, we’ll go walk the streets of Karradah, drive without armor, feel the copper in your mouth when the fear and adrenaline comes to you in wave after wave and you realize the L-T from the 320th hasn’t got your six for you, man. You come talk to me then.
Finally, I’ll let a former Army guy have the last word. This from a buddy of mine who was a Public Affairs Officer just a few short months ago:

Oh my god, dude. [Peters] is completely full of sh*t. That’s all I can say. Apparently that f**k hasn’t spent enough time down in the trenches here to understad the little bastards will run out and wave at any patrol for one reason — begging for choclate or soccer balls. They don’t care the Grunts are valiently coming to save the day. … He’s not aware of how f**king dangerous it is for gringos to roam the streets here.

Airstrikes … in Baghdad

Air strikes… in Baghdad?!

BAGHDAD — So this is what all the booms were today (From a U.S. military press release):

WASHINGTON, Feb. 15, 2006 — In a joint effort, Coalition Forces conducted a precision air strike, using four U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles, against a known terrorist facility at approximately 4:30 p.m. Feb. 15 in southern Baghdad.
Terrorists were using a former Iraqi regime munitions storage bunker, located in a large, uninhabited weapons-storage complex in the Babil province, to acquire and transport bomb-making munitions to be used in attacks against the Iraqi people and Coalition Forces.
Coalition Forces participating in the mission took all available precautions to ensure no civilians were present during the strike. The aircraft conducted a clearing pass while Multi-National Division — Baghdad helicopters scanned for any civilians in the area in a deliberate effort to ensure no collateral damage.
The sorties made multiple passes to ensure the complete and methodical destruction of the bunker.

The area they’re talking about is probably al-Saha, on the other side of the neighborhood of Dora, where a major refinery is located.
I’m not sure, but I don’t recall air strikes in or near Iraq’s capital city for a long time. In fact, I can’t remember any since I got here in May 2004, although these things tend to blend together after a while. But if the war’s going so well, and the Iraqis are taking the fight to the terrorists, blah blah, why are the Americans resorting to air strikes here? That’s, like, _so_ 2003.

Welcome back, habibi

Ehlen w’sehlehn, as they say here. (“Welcome.”) To which I should probably reply, “Thanks… I think.” I’m back in Iraq’s capital after two and a half months away, and in that time I faced upheavals in my personal life, and three weeks in Beirut. The two are more or less unrelated. But Baghdad is almost exactly the same as when I left, despite the fact that there’s been a monumental election here — the full import of which has yet to be felt.

BAGHDAD — Ehlen w’sehlehn, as they say here. (“Welcome.”) To which I should probably reply, “Thanks… I think.” I’m back in Iraq’s capital after two and a half months away, and in that time I faced upheavals in my personal life, and three weeks in Beirut. The two are more or less unrelated. But Baghdad is almost exactly the same as when I left, despite the fact that there’s been a monumental election here — the full import of which has yet to be felt.
Well, it’s not exactly the same. I’ve been back a day and I’ve already received an earful on the high price of petrol: 250 dinars for a liter as opposed to 20 dinars it was in the summer of 2003 and the 30 dinar or so it was when I left in mid-November. Fuel subsidies are being lifted and people are feeling the squeeze.
If only there were fuel for the city’s power stations. Electricity is down to about two hours a day in Baghdad, doled out in fits and spurts of 15 mins or so at a time. Sometimes, gloriously, we get a solid hour, but it’s rare. Generators pick up the slack, and since you have rising fuel costs, you start to see the double squeeze that poor Iraqis are feeling.
Add on to that incessant guerilla attacks on the country’s oil infrastructure that has left exports _below pre-war levels_ and there’s no money coming into the government. Insurgents have hit upon pipeline sabotage as a means to cut off Baghdad’s funding, so no matter what the composition of the government — when it’s finally done — it won’t be able to do much. So the new government, which is still being negotiated, will probably be viewed with the same resentment as the current Jaafari government does, except we’ll be stuck with these guys for four years now.
Speaking of the government, word is that the United Iraqi Alliance list, dominated by Shi’ite religious parties and thought to have the blessings of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is deadlocked over who will be their candidate for the prime minister’s office. Ibrahim al-Jaafari, of the Da’wa Party, wants to keep the job, but current vice president Adel Abdul Mahdi (of the rival SCIRI party) is favored by others in the coalition. The Kurds are willing to support whoever will legalize their hold on Kirkuk.
The question is what will the Sunni groups do. Ally with the UIA in a national unity government? Cleave to Iyad Allawi’s rump bloc in the hopes of creating a viable opposition? We’ll see.
The mood here among reporters, I think, is grim. Jill Carroll’s kidnapping is still unresolved, despite hopeful rumors of her release soon. Those, so far, have gone unrealized.
I arrived yesterday and today did little other than get my bearings and plan some stories with the other reporters. Tomorrow will be taken up with more logistics and media credentialling business. Wednesday, I sit down in the Saddam Circus, or should I say, “Trial.”
On the way in from the airport yesterday, I counted more marriage convoys than I had in months (three.) Why? Because tomorrow is the start of the Islamic new year and the beginning of _Muharram ul Haram_, the month in which religious Shi’ites refrain from marriage or other celebrations. (It must suck to have your birthday this month.) So, everyone was trying to get their last-minute wedding plans in. In 10 days, we’ll be faced with Ashurah, the marking of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein. Iraq’s Shi’ites in Najaf and, especially, Karbala, mark it with bloody parades in which they beat, cut and flagellate themselves in a sign of grief for the death of Hussein. It’s going to be a tense month, for while fighting is generally frowned upon during this month, Salafist/Wahabi Muslims consider the Umayyed Caliph Yazid, who sent the army that killed Hussein and his followers, a righteous figure while Shi’ites naturally detest him. In other words, the potential for violence is high.
Yes, Baghdad is the same as always. As the tagline to “Jarhead” goes, “Welcome to the Suck.”

Make the List Public (Updated and recanted)

I fully agree with the idea that the list of names of people who have been monitored under the NSA’s program to spy on people in the United States should be made public.

*UPDATE 12/21/05 5:58:33 AM:* Upon further thought on this matter, I’m going to publicly reverse myself and rescind my call for the list to be public. It was a poorly thought out decision on my part and I was wrong. People on the list should have access to it through FOIA or some other method, but they should have the right and the opportunity to do what they want with that information _in private._ I understand why people would want the list published, but I think now those reasons — embarrassing the Bush administration, among them — are outweighed by the right of people on the list to maintain some privacy. Lord knows they’ve had that violated enough already. Anyway, I will keep the original post available for archival purposes.
NEW YORK — I fully agree with Steve’s idea that the list of names of people who have been monitored under the NSA’s program to spy on people in the United States should be made public.

If there are specific individuals or numbers that a judge wishes to give ex post facto protection, I can accept that.
But this invasion of privacy in the case of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of American citizens must be challenged in the courts. What Bush did is engage in an extra-legal act against the citizens he is paid to represent — and this is criminal.
Post the list. It should be made public because at this point there is NO NATIONAL SECURITY rationale to justify the monitoring of citizens in cases that have not been approved by a court. That means that all of those citizens monitored are innocent — and unwitting victims of this domestic spy campaign launched by George W. Bush.

Perhaps I’m indulging in paranoia, but I don’t think I’m being unreasonable. I’m a reporter. In Baghdad. I have dealth with sources in the insurgency and the Mahdi Army. This administration and its agents in the embassy in Baghdad have long been hostile to the press and our work in Baghdad, especially when we try to tell the whole story of the insurgency — by talking with insurgents. And TIME has long had an aggressive approach to covering the insurgency.
Now, I don’t want to pump up my sourcing more than it is. My bureau chief, Michael Ware, deserves far more credit for his work on insurgents than I ever do. But because of my association with the magazine, I can only assume that my brother, mother, friends and others have been potentially monitored because of my activities. And based on my traffic logs, I know military and CIA people read this blog. Thus, anyone who has sent me email in the past two years is _potentially_ on President Bush’s list. So pardon me if I take this a little personally.
Make the list public. Let my loved ones and friends see if they’re on it, and let them then be able to make the decision of what to do then. Because I can tell you truthfully that my brother et al. are not national security risks, and invading their privacy is doing nothing to make America safer.
*UPDATE 12/18/05 11:32:58 AM:* A good friend of mine, who’s very smart, makes the following, dissenting points:

Sorry, dude, not with you on this one. If I’m on that list, I want to be informed of the fact and the reason — and then to have the list utterly destroyed without the public ever seeing it. I have no interest in bearing a scarlet T for Terrorist, thank you very much.
Seriously, can you imagine the impact on some midwest Muslim if the White House put out a list saying that they had monitored his e-mail for possible terrorist activity? No official assurance of innocence would ever take away the smear. Indeed, I would expect some people on that list to end up dead.
Notify the people on the list, yes. Then, if they want to make the fact public, or to sue in open court, their call.

Points to think about. Discuss below…

Abusive comments khaalas

I’ve always been a fan of free speech, but recent comments have driven me to a sad decision.

BEIRUT — I’ve always been a fan of free speech. I rarely moderate comments, except for spam, and I’ve banned very few people. Only once was I raised to rage when a commenter made my mother cry by calling for my death at the hands of Marines because I was allegedly too friendly to the insurgents. He also, weirdly, thought I was a Sunni Arab who was born in Iraq and had immigrated to the U.S. for the purposes of … well, I’m not sure. He was mad. I banned him, mainly on the basis that my embrace of personal expression stops when you make my mom cry.
So I have a lot of patience for rollicking debate. But that’s not what has happened here. Recent comments have been vile, vengeful and more than a little disturbing — and all of them have come from people who allegedly want peace and are antiwar. Che_Guerilla has called for me to be beheaded on the Internet; da_ali_truth_show says: “I’ll fight you. Please come back to the States I’ll fucking smash that smug ‘objective’ bullshit through your stupid face. Bring friends you pussy. Your Time Warner corporate Blackwater mercenaries won’t be protecting you from me, dickhead.” (We’ve never employed Blackwater mercenaries, for the record. Our security staff is made up of Iraqis who have proven themselves truly loyal and good friends in the face of terrible risk to themselves.)
Anyway, what I’m getting at is that *you will no longer be allowed to comment unless you’ve registered with TypeKey.* I tried this once before and it really cut down on the people leaving comments. I didn’t like it. But I feel the barrage of threats of death and violence against me and my family is too much. No one should have to put up with that. I’ve had friends die and be kidnapped; I’ve been shot at by all sides in this conflict. I frankly don’t need juvenile ranting cluttering my site and intruding on my thoughts. You folks who do this are finished. (Which is what _khaalas_ means: “enough, finished, ended, done.”) It should also cut down on comment spam which is still a scourge that is difficult to combat.
So, to my regular readers and commenters, such as Trish and Niall, who have left thoughtful notes through the years, I’m sorry for this step and grateful to you all. I hope you stick around. You guys are always welcome. For the che_guerillas of the world, go to hell. You care for nothing more than scoring cheap points off dead bodies of Iraqis and Americans. You’re just as bad as the _National Review_ crowd who say “2,000 deaths is nothing when you look at how many died in World War II.” You deserve nothing but contempt and you undermine the very antiwar cause you claim to support.