Tag Archives: Iraq

Some massacres are uncovered, others remain buried

Iraq is suffering it’s bloodiest period in years, so it’s no surprise some deaths go largely unreported, but which ones?IBC data

“It was supposed to be a routine job, police say. Move 69 prisoners from an outlying town to a jail in southern Baghdad.” [Reuters, 27 Jun ‘14]

But those 69 prisoners never reached their destination, they were instead gunned down during a fire fight between the Iraqi army and the insurgent force of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), according to army spokespeople that is. This is the second such mass killing of army prisoners in the last weeks.

Just 9 days ago Reuters reported that 52 prisoners were found in Baquba, a regional capital north of Baghdad, with “execution-style wounds to the head and chest”. Again, according to the government, the prisoners were said to have been killed by crossfire.

However, according to anonymous sources cited by Reuters, these prisoners were not the victims of stray bullets, but were instead summarily executed by their captors.

In Baquba, the New York Times reported that a source at the morgue said that “many of the victims had been shot to death at close range”.

While in Hilla, a police officer and a senior local official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters, “no attack took place, and the police had executed the 69 men”.

But, in contrast to the claims of mass killings made by ISIL earlier this month, these massacres have yet to be widely reported. This is despite reports by Amnesty International and tweets by Human Rights Watch’s Executive Director Kenneth Roth.

In the immediate aftermath of the killings there was some media interest, at the time when responsibility was attributed to ISIL. However, since the blame shifted, the interest has quickly waned – save for less than a handful of reports, the first by Reuters (republished by several other news organisations) and then by the New York Times.

Quietly at least, it seems the Iraqi government is sending a message to ISIL that it does not have a monopoly over mass killings.

The New York Times cited these two events as evidence of the return to a “familiar cycle of violence” between Sunni and Shia. At the very same time, evidence of deaths in Baghdad neighbourhoods are said to “fit the pattern of Shiite death squads during the sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007”.

Yet these aren’t the kind of events that form part of the broader narrative.

ISIL are still the only “extremists” in this conflict, while the Iraqi government and military, and the various Shia militias, are constantly said to be engaged in “counteroffensive”, responding to violence, and only engaging in it after their “patience had run out”. These executions, where they are referred to, are branded of a lesser evil than those of the ISIL led insurgency, unhindered by “a raw, sectarian quality“, despite being directed predominantly towards the Sunni minority.

The Earth’s orbit around the Columnist is expected to be roughly elliptical


Blast from the past: In 2008 we organised a public meeting to discuss the reporting of the Iraq war in the Irish press. Several hundred people came along to watch a panel of experienced reporters, from both corporate and independent institutions, debate the topic (with more following the event live online at RTE.ie and the RealNews.com).

The following day the Irish Independent ran an inaccuracy filled (and predictably ill-willed) hit piece by columnist Kevin Myers. After a protracted exchange with the paper’s editor we submitted the following letter as response:

We write in response to Kevin Myers’s article ‘My narrow escape from an ambush by the liberal left’ (Irish Independent, April 10) which attacks MediaBite and alleges all manner of fiendish plotting and ulterior motives behind our invitation to him to participate in the debate entitled ‘Reporting War’, which took place at DIT Aungier Street the night before Mr Myers’s article appeared.

Mr Myers’s excitement about our debate is as mystifying to us as it is inaccurate: names are spelled incorrectly, he skews the sequence of events he describes and misstates the context and nature of the exchanges we had with him prior to inviting him to participate in the debate.

Most Irish newspaper readers will be accustomed to Mr Myers’s indignation in the pages of the national media.

It is, arguably, generally understood that it is Kevin’s job to be continually working himself up about one thing or another and he has been doing splendid work in that regard for a long time now. What appears to be new in this article, however, is an element of what looks to us like paranoia.

We also believe, perhaps mistakenly, that the article was likely filed for publication before the debate had even begun.

Mr Myers clearly didn’t watch it at any rate — which would have been an advisable thing to do.

The consequences of that omission are sadly apparent in almost every line of the article.

As with most things in life, the explanation for all of this is the obvious one

MediaBite had a polite exchange of opinions with Kevin Myers about an item he had published in relation to the Iraq war.

As a media monitoring project, that is the nature of what we do. We posted this exchange to our website message board, where it can be seen for what it is.

A week and a half later we invited Mr Myers to participate in our debate — both as a journalist who has written frequently about war and out of a concern to represent as fair and full a range of opinion and news media providers as possible

Having placed himself front and centre in his imaginary scheme, Kevin Myers can only, it seems, conceive of the debate itself, its audience, MediaBite, the DIT, RTE.ie.

The Real News Network, the six debate panellists and its moderator (most of whom he takes sideswipes at, and three of whom had flown from the UK, Toronto and California to be present) — as all being mere props and/or dupes to aid us in our alleged objective: to “ambush” Kevin Myers.

He alone was to be the sole and true object of the entire plot.

The idea is made all the more absurd given that Mr Myers was not mentioned once in the course of the debate.

There is not even a particle of truth in Kevin Myers’s allegations about MediaBite, as we hope this letter makes evident.

We can only ask that readers of the Irish Independent take the time to watch the debate, which is available as a webcast on RTE.ie and linked to from MediaBite.org — and make up their own minds as to whether it was a devilish plot against Mr Myers by MediaBite or a worthwhile discussion about media coverage of an issue of serious concern to most Irish people.

Johann Hari: The invasion of Iraq, a ‘response’ to 9/11

A short exchange with the Independent’s Johann Hari regarding his piece in the Irish Independent last week: ‘Flawed US policy keeps Osama’s message alive‘.

While Hari did recant on his robust support for the Iraq war (albeit not until 2006) it seems, on the basis of this piece, his thinking on it is still rather fuzzy.

Dave Spart meets Noam Chomsky

I was listening to Noam Chomsky delivering the 5th Annual Edward Said Memorial Lecture: The Unipolar Moment and the Culture of Imperialism:

…which reminded me of this friendly defamation I ‘suffered’ at the hands of a senior correspondent at the Irish Times back in 2007, in a discussion on RTE’s Tonight with Vincent Browne show following the first in a series of lectures Chomsky gave at UCD. [starts at 37mins 40sec] Thankfully Harry Browne rode to this annoymous persons defense.

Tonight with Vincent Browne 17/01/07

[Interesting use of sound effects at 41mins 21sec]

The actual question that I asked was:

“To what extent is the corporate media; The Irish Times, The Guardian, The Irish Independent etc complicit in Iraq’s illegal war, as a result of their inaccurate portrayal of the case for war and the continuing conflict?”

And Chomsky’s response was:

“The US press, and I don’t think its different elsewhere. In fact the continent is often worse; German press, French press. The war in Iraq is described in the manner that some highschool newspaper would describe the local sports team. The framework of discussion is always ‘how well are we doing?’, ‘did the coach make a mistake?’, ‘should he have substituted another player?’, ‘can we do better next time?’

I have virtually never seen a departure from that framework in the Western press. It’s the way most totalitarian states describe their own atrocities. Within that framework you do get some criticism, but the framework itself is so totally distorted that you just can’t comment on it. And it’s true in case after case…The framework of discussion is so skewed, that even extremely good reporting, and it does exist, is within a framework that is imposing serious mis-impressions.” [MediaBite, A crime within a crime within a crime, 09/01/07]

The complete lecture “Democracy Promotion: Reflections on Intellectuals and the State” can be found here.

The smallest non-victory ever recorded

We recently had an almost infinitesimally short exchange with Michael Christie, Reuters Iraq Bureau Chief, where we challenged his figures for Iraqi mortality.

We are happy to say Christie has since attempted to redress this:

“Muhsin al-Timimi, a 47-year-old journalist, hopes for an end to the war in which more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians, and more than 4,400 U.S. soldiers, have died.” [Iraqis say war “not ending” despite U.S. drawdown, 29/08/2010]

Of course, still no mention of The Human Cost of the War in Iraq, A Mortality Study, 2002-2006.

The Destruction of Fallujah – A US Legacy

Not yet mentioned in the Irish press.

Patrick Cockburn writing in CounterPunch:

Dramatic increases in infant mortality, cancer and leukaemia in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, which was bombarded by US Marines in 2004, exceed those reported by survivors of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, according to a new study.

Iraqi doctors in Fallujah have complained since 2005 of being overwhelmed by the number of babies with serious birth defects, ranging from a girl born with two heads to paralysis of the lower limbs. They said they were also seeing far more cancers than they did before the battle for Fallujah between US troops and insurgents.

Their claims have been supported by a survey showing a four-fold increase in all cancers and a 12-fold increase in childhood cancer in under-14s. Infant mortality in the city is more than four times higher than in neighboring Jordan and eight times higher than in Kuwait.

Dr Chris Busby, a visiting professor at the University of Ulster and one of the authors of the survey of 4,800 individuals in Fallujah, said it is difficult to pin down the exact cause of the cancers and birth defects. He added that “to produce an effect like this, some very major mutagenic exposure must have occurred in 2004 when the attacks happened”. [The Toxic Legacy From the Siege of Fallujah – Worse Than Hiroshima?, CounterPunch, 27/07/10]

Cockburn interviewed by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez on Democracy Now!:

JUAN GONZALEZ: Patrick, I’d like to ask you about this whole other issue of the report on—by Chris Busby and some other epidemiologists about the situation in Fallujah and the enormous increases in leukemias and cancers in Fallujah after the US soldiers’ attack on that city. Could you talk about that?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Sure. I think what’s significant, very significant, about this study is that it confirms lots of anecdotal evidence that there had been a serious increase in cancer, in babies being born deformed, I mean, sometimes with—grotesquely so, babies—you know, a baby girl born with two heads, you know, people born without limbs, then a whole range of cancers increased enormously. That this was—when I was in Fallujah, doctors would talk about this, but, you know one couldn’t—one could write about this, but one couldn’t really prove it from anecdotal evidence. Now this is a study, a scientific study, based on interviews with 4,800 people, which gives—proves that this was in fact happening and is happening. And, of course, it took—you know, it has taken place so much later than the siege of Fallujah, when it was heavily bombarded in 2004 by the US military, because previously, you know, Fallujah is such a dangerous place to this day, difficult to carry out a survey, but it’s been finally done, and the results are pretty extraordinary.

AMY GOODMAN: What were the various weapons that were used in the bombing of Fallujah in 2004?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, primarily, it was sort of, you know, artillery and bombing. Initially it was denied that white phosphorus had been used, but later this was confirmed. I think one shouldn’t lose sight of the fact, in this case, that before one thinks about was depleted uranium used and other things, that just simply the use of high—large quantities of high explosives in a city filled with civilians and people packed into houses—often you find, you know, whole families living in one room—was, in itself, going to create, lead to very, very high civilian casualties. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about the increase in cancers and so forth, and the suspicion that maybe depleted uranium, maybe some other weapon, which we don’t know about—this is not my speculation, but of one of the professors who carried out the study—might have been employed in Fallujah, and that would be an explanation for results which parallel, in fact exceed, the illnesses subsequently suffered by survivors of Hiroshima. [Democracy Now!, 29/07/10]

And the report itself: ‘Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005–2009’ [International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health]

via MLMB

Reuters – Bureau Chief, Iraq

There’s another article in today’s Irish Times about US plans to reduce troop numbers in Iraq. It makes the same ‘mistakes’ as previous reports mentioned here and here. But among the errors and distortions there is one howler that stands out…

Dear Michael,

Further to your report on the latest reduction in US troops numbers in Iraq [1], which I came across in the Irish Times [2], I wanted to point out the following. You write:

“up to 106,071 Iraqi civilians also died in fierce warfare unleashed between majority Shi’ites and minority Sunni Muslims who dominated the country under Saddam.”

This figure corresponds to that provided by Iraq Body Count [3], who count those civilian deaths reported in the media. Yet IBC freely admit their figures “can only be a sample of true deaths unless one assumes that every civilian death has been reported. It is likely that many if not most civilian casualties will go unreported by the media. That is the sad nature of war.” [4]

Further, the deaths recorded by IBC “includes deaths caused by US-led coalition forces and paramilitary or criminal attacks by others.” [5]

Kind regards,

David [Email, 19/8/10]

Reuters Bureau Chief, Iraq, Michael Christie responded as follows:

“thanks for outpointing” [Email, 19/8/10]

1. http://uk.reuters.com/article/idUKTRE67H62C20100819
2. http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/breaking/2010/0819/breaking2.html
3. http://www.iraqbodycount.org/
4. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6045112.stm
5. http://www.iraqbodycount.org/about/

Response to “War – Defense – Security – ?”

Response to War – Defense – Security – ?:

“Thank you very much for your email.
I thought I was entering a note of caution when I made clear that the shift from the combat fighting role was largely a linguistic one – noting Obama’s acknowledgment that there would still be “American sacrifice”. And of course the reduction from 140,000 or so in early 2009 has been a longer term process.
Indeed, the August 2010 date was always something of a midway point between the dates the Bush administration agreed with the Iraqis, for withdrawing US troops from Iraqi cities in summer of 2009 and supposedly pulling out altogether at the end of 2011.
So I take your wider point that there was a certain amount of spin in the speech – which is why I described it as an attempt to boost his standing as a war president and contrasted his claims with the casualty figures, in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

All best and thanks again” [Email, 4 August, 2010]

My bad. Sometimes you just need a bigger magnifying glass to find the criticial analysis.

War – Defense – Security – ?

Yesterday’s Irish Times featured two reports on Iraq. The first of which declared: “US combat troops to leave Iraq by end of month“. The second claimed that “Violence [in Iraq] has fallen sharply in the last three years.”

The second report states that “nearly 400 civilians were killed in bombings and other attacks in July.” Iraqi government officials however put the figure at 535, with a further 1,000 injured, in what they describe as “the deadliest month in Iraq since May 2008.”

Yet the Irish Times goes on to say “violence has fallen sharply in the last three years.” What this doesn’t tell you is that a) civilian deaths are roughly back to where they were in the two years following the invasion and b) any which way you look at it, 400 deaths or 535 deaths, even using conservative estimates this is the most deadly month in Iraq of 2010.

But, Irish Times, let’s stick to the good news.

The first report looks like the kind you or I might write, if we chose to limit our research to whatever we can find in US government press releases. While they’d be basically accurate, albeit within the strict limits we’d set out, inevitably, what we would have left out would have been of far more interest.

For example, we wouldn’t have discussed whether the reduction in troops signifies any change in terms of policy, we wouldn’t have asked whether the situation that necessitated the troops presence yesterday no longer applies today (which relates neatly back to the second report) and most importantly we wouldn’t have asked the leaders of the country being (partially un)occupied what they thought of the whole charade.

In late 2008 Obama pledged that he “would remove combat troops from Iraq in 16 months.” It’s now about 16 months on, so that explains why we have an Irish Times report declaring the “US would meet its deadline of ending combat operations in Iraq at the end of this month.” However, as you’d imagine that’s not the whole story, a few paragraphs later we are told: “US forces in Iraq are scheduled to be cut to just 50,000.” So actually what the writer is trying to tell us, in a roundabout way, is that troop numbers are to be reduced from “a peak of more than 140,000” to about a third that number.

That’s not really the whole story either though, the peak in troop numbers over the last few years was more like 170,000, but that’s back in October 2007. Troops numbers prior to this news were neither 140,000 nor 170,000, they were more like 98,000. So the troop numbers are only planned to be halved.

But again, that’s not even half the story. Actually, its almost exactly half the story.

As of May 2010 there were approximately 250,000 contractors (or mercenaries to you and me) working in Afghanistan, Iraq and the U.S. Central Command, with almost 100,000 of them active in Iraq (and at least 11,000 of these armed). Which is exactly the same as the number of US troops deployed there.

So, in total the US has approximately 200,000 military or contracted military personnel in Iraq at present. With Obama’s ‘withdrawal’ the US has reduced numbers by about one quarter. Which hardly warrants a headline like “US combat troops to leave Iraq by end of month”.

This headline is essentially justified by Obama’s rhetorical trick of calling this particular quarter of the US occupying force “combat troops” and the work they were undertaking the “combat mission”.

In reality though, where rhetorical gadgets like the one above are dismissed, the US is not withdrawing from Iraq, it is simply switching from what is referred to as a “military” force to a “security” force. According to Jeremy Scahill, writing in The Nation, “The [US] State Department is asking Congress to approve funds to more than double the number of private security contractors in Iraq,” apparently submitting a request to the Wartime Contracting Commission for up to 7,000 further hired guns. Which may just signal another rebranding, from the Department of War, to the Department of Defense, to the Department of Security.

[Update: A response to this post from the writer of the second report can be found here]