The press in Iraq:”If you are not with us [Archives:2004/728/Opinion]

April 12 2004

Ever since the early days of the Bush Administration, especially after the infamous 9/11 bombings of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President George W. Bush made it very clear that the overall assumptions that govern the relations between the White House (which then was supposedly speaking on behalf of all Americans) was that: “if you are not with us, you are against us”. This was supposedly meant to cover the US's “War on Terror”, which the Bush Administration was launching right after that tragic day of September 11, 2001. However, it appears that the Bush Administration has insisted that this motto should be the general guidelines to be adhered to on all matters of domestic public affairs, international relations and all issues related to the deeds and the misdeeds of the Bush Administration. This attitude shall govern the relations of the Bush Administration with just about everyone outside the “Bushies” clique, no matter what institutional or political manifestation they may fall under. See the New York Times, Paul Krugman op-ed column of April 4, 2004)
In the Iraqi fiasco, the Bushies have made sure that this motto must also apply to the press as well almost from the start of the gearing-up effort for the war. With the powerful media foundations that the Bushies have laid down in advance, every effort was made to strengthen the Bushies stand on going for an all out invasion of Iraq and to dismiss or belittle the obvious questions such an adventure would raise. Any effort by the American press to argue the wisdom of such a clearly dubious deviation from the “War on Terror” was always dismissed as unpatriotic or left wing stupidity. When the war was finally started, amidst strong international and obviously toned down American opposition, the Bushies set up a well organized controlled mechanism for controlling the press coverage of the war to make sure that only what the Bushies saw as acceptable news reporting hit the air waves or the other press media channels. Thus the “embedding program”, which tightly restricted what accompanying US and international press corps members could file back to their respective press media was put in place. In the meantime, any press organs that showed signs of opposition or deviation from the criteria (some announced and others put up at will as events proceed) by the Bushies or the Military and later the Civilian Administrative Commands holding the helms in the Iraqi quagmire would face the meanest of attacks, including possible death or harm to personnel of the deviating press organs. There have been a number of staff members of especially Arab news media organs that have become among the sought after “collateral” damage of the US military effort in Iraq, during the early invasion effort and later during the occupation and subjugation phase of the still to be clearly understood American debacle, inappropriately called the “Iraq Conflict”, by most of the American media. Just over the past week or so two Al-Arabiya Satellite News Channel became the latest victims of the obvious contempt for the press organs that dared to disregard the “with us” criteria set forth by the American military and civilian managements of the American occupation (which the Americans insist must be called a “coalition” of occupiers, although one is quite certain that the absence of the “other members of this “Coalition” would hardly make any real difference from a policy or strategic standpoint).
As if that was not enough, even the democracy that the Americans would like to promote in Iraq must fall under the motto of “if you are not with us, you are against us”. Accordingly, the American Civil Administrator, Mr. Paul Bremer set out to make sure that the domestic press of Iraq submit to the motto, and threw away all notions of press freedom out the window, with one sweep of the pen. The outcome: a suspension order directed against “Al-Hawza Al-Natiqa”, the mouthpiece newspaper of the “Moqtada Sadr organization, the latter of which has been outspoken against the US occupation of Iraq, in more ways than one. While there are many who suggest that the ban on the publication of this domestic press organ, was really intended to ignite a new phase of the Bushies' agenda in Iraq, namely the fueling of Shiite resistance that would eventually provide “justification” for an all out effort against the Islamic Republic of Iran, the suspension order was clearly incongruous with the declared aim of setting up a “model democracy” in Iraq. Many in the American press saw the irrationality of such a decision and were quick to point out that no matter what the paper was writing, it could not have been damaging to the Americans to warrant inflaming the already discontent grass roots following of the Moqtada Sadr organization and in turn the entire Shiite population of Iraq, which has on the whole, assumed a cautious wait and see attitude towards the American invasion and occupation of their country.
On the other hand, the recent obvious diatribes by the spokesmen of the American military and civilian command in Iraq against the reporting of Ahmed Mansour of Al-Jazeera Television Channel of the consequences of the general “revenge” against the entire population of Faluja (for the humiliating mob handling of the armed “civilian” victims of an attack against an American vehicle), underscores the persistence of the Bushies, that even if the facts and scenes on the ground take on what the latter perceive as unfavorable impressions of the facts on the ground, as cameras or eyewitness accounts reveal them to be, they have deviated from the “with us” criteria and thus become “bad news”. There is no telling how far the Americans are the least concerned about how genuine the Bushies declared objectives of their misguided Iraqi adventure are shown, but surely this continuous repression of press freedom adds more to the list of lies and misrepresented intentions of the tragedy that is daily unfolding in Iraq.