Friday, April 09, 2004

The First Casualty of War

One thing that's disturbing me about the situation in Iraq is the almost complete lack of news coming from the country. On Wednesday night, I was watching "Countdown" on MSNBC, and Keith Oberman was talking by phone with a Newsweek reporter in Baghdad. The reporter was extremely tentative speaking with Oberman, obviously distraught, and it was clear she was choosing her words very carefully.

While the specifics of her report two days ago are now pretty much unimportant, given the rapidly changing situation in Iraq, one thing was clear: all "green zone" hotels (where most journalists stay) were locked down. Reporters were not being allowed outside the hotels, and inflow / outflow of information was being closely monitored. The Newsweek reporter was staying at a private residence outside of the green zone, and she did not feel it safe to even venture outside of the residence.

This morning, I was watching Fox News during breakfast, which carried a live feed from one of their reporters in Baghdad. The report was filed from what was obviously a hotel balcony in the "green zone", and the Fox reporter appeared to be a bit tentative and nervous. Toward the end of his report, he did manage to slip in that a U.S. convoy traveling between Baghdad and Fallujah had come under fire, and early reports indicated significant casualties.

A couple of days ago, I lamented the dearth of factual reporting coming from Iraq. In the subsequent few days, the dearth of factual reporting has deteriorated to the point of no reporting at all from domestic U.S. media. Yeah, they're still regurgitating CPA press releases, but that's about it. Here's an example from this morning: a few hours ago, press reports indicated that Proconsul Paul Bremer had suspended military operations in Fallujah. That apparently came as a surprise to his "boots on the ground", Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt:
"There is no brokered agreement for a ceasefire in Falluja," Kimmitt told AFP. "There is no agreement between the rebels and the coalition forces."Then, less than an hour later, apparently Bremer and Kimmitt got on the same page:
"We suspended unilaterally the operation at 12 noon (0800 GMT). My understanding is that the suspension is still in effect," the US general told US-based network CNN on Friday.Read those words: "my understanding...". For chrissakes, this is coming from the CPA's Deputy Director of Operations. He better damn well understand - and should have from the get go! And then, mere moments later, comes this:
BAGHDAD (AFP) - Chaos spread in Iraq (news - web sites) on the first anniversary of Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)'s ouster as US forces resumed their offensive in the besieged town of Fallujah...

"The suspension of offensive operations lasted for 90 minutes but it is over," said Lieutenant Colonel Brennan Byrne, a battalion commander, adding that planned mediation talks with local tribal sheikhs had never happened.

Moments earlier, the coalition's deputy director of military operations, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, had denied that there was any formal ceasefire agreement with the rebels.

Yet the Iraqi Islamic Party said in a statement obtained by AFP that an agreement had been reached with the coalition for a 24-hour ceasefire in Fallujah from midday.
Is it any wonder why Americans are absolutely confused about what's happening in Iraq? At the end of the day, it's all about spin and the re-election campaign of vacationing George W. Bush. During the height of conflict in WWI, in a 1917 address on the Senate floor, Senator Hiram Johnson opined that "the first casualty when war comes is the truth." In the age of instant information, I don't think Sen. Johnson could have realized how right he was, even in his wildest dreams.