‘Being Slimed in the Green Zone’

It’s very difficult to get accurate information out of Iraq. Spin is the order of the day, and it’s even more difficult when the U.S. military does it in the Green Zone. I’ve seen my share of that. Once, I asked an American trainer about the makeup of the Iraqi Army unit he was working with. How many Shi’ites, Kurds, Sunnis? “Oh, we’re about half Shi’ite and half Sunni,” he said. “It’s a great example of the two sects working together.” I found this hard to believe, as this was a unit in Baghdad and it was about a year before the Sunni tribes had turned on Al Qaeda in Iraq and started joining the security forces. No Kurds? “Well, you know Kurds are mainly Sunnis,” he replied.
What rubbish. He knew the message of the day was Sunni and Shi’ite sittin’ in a tree, f-i-g-h-t-i-n-g al Qaeda together, and he was determined to get it out, even if he had to push Kurds’ Sunni-ness on me. (Kurds are probably the most secular of all Iraqis, and their ethnic identity is what defines them to other Iraqis, not their religion.)

It’s apparently getting worse. The Washington Post today ran a story from Jonathan Weisman about the codels (“Congressional Delegations”) running around the Green Zone. In Weisman’s words, the codels are “brief, choreographed and carefully controlled,” and have often “[showed only what the Pentagon and the Bush administration have wanted the lawmakers to see](http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/30/AR2007083001848.html).” On recent codel, Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher, D-Calif., and Rep. James P. Moran Jr., D-Va., both witnessed their bios — complete with their harsh anti-war language highlighted — distributed to military officials they were meeting with. The bios seem to split the visiting Congress members into “for us” and “agin’ us” types, with Moran’s most inflammatory anti-war comments highlighted, and Tauscher’s voting record distorted to make it look like she voted against the troops.
“This is beyond parsing,” Tauscher said. “This is being slimed in the Green Zone.”
But that’s not the worst of it. At one point, An American who urgently wanted to get their attention, “apparently to voice concerns about the war effort,” was whisked away by security guards before he could talk to them.
“Spin City,” Moran grumbled. “The Iraqis and the Americans were all singing from the same song sheet, and it was deliberately manipulated.”
And speaking of spin, it seems Republicans just can’t bring themselves to criticize their Iraqi clients in the Green Zone even when it’s completely warranted. In a meeting with Iraq’s national security advisor Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the two representatives tried to turn off a big TV with a children’s cartoon on that was proving distracting. “But this is my favorite television show,” Rubaie protested.
Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., basically said it was weird and disrespectful — this was the *national security advisor* watching cartoons in the middle of the day and during a meeting with members of a foreign government — but at least they had electricity. “I don’t disagree it was an odd moment, but I did take a deep breath and say, ‘Wait a minute, at least they are using the latest technology, and they are monitoring the world,’ ” Porter said.
He did allow that it was “pretty annoying.”
By the way, al-Rubaie is a joke. He has no qualifications for being national security advisor and he regularly showed his contempt for reporters. Once, while working for TIME Magazine, I had an appointment with him. He kept me waiting on the street outside the Green Zone for half an hour. A potentially fatal delay. He finally called the guard shack near where I was waiting and told me he couldn’t see me because “I have an appointment with a reporter from TIME Magazine.” I replied that *I* was that reporter. “Oh,” he said. “I will call you back in 10 minutes.” A few minutes later, he called back and said he couldn’t see me and would I like another appointment. What a dick.
Porter again makes excuses for the dog and pony show that are codels to the Green Zone by saying that despite the spin, trip was worth it. (Presumably his two colleagues would disagree.) Yes, there are people spouting the company line, he said, “But I spent time with people who were not officers, four of them from Nevada, two who were very blunt” *about their support for the war and their anger over partisan fighting in Washington.* Really? Porter got straight talk from people who were “very blunt” about their support for the war and their anger over “partisan politics”? Wow, sounds like he got some enlisted men he already agreed with and used that as evidence of his keen investigatory powers.
I have a lot of respect for the guys fighting this war, but the PR campaign coming out of CPIC, the Pentagon, the Embassy and the White House is just sickening. The happy talk, spin and excuses for failure are growing really, really tiresome.