Article

Remember Iraq?

The White House's colossal failure down the road in Iraq is falling through the cracks of mainstream media coverage.

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  • Eric Alterman
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As CNN redeploys its global resources to engage in saturation coverage of the fighting in Lebanon (Atrios provides a great screen shot of just how over the top the network’s coverage has become), George W. Bush’s colossal failure down the road in Iraq is falling through the cracks of mainstream media coverage.

By July 23, CNN had a total of 22 reporters deployed in Lebanon, Cyprus, and Israel to cover the story and the evacuation of American citizens from Lebanon. And each night on the network’s broadcast, it rolls out the design department’s newest creation – a movie trailer-like graphic, complete with ominous soundtrack, proclaiming how many days “fighting in the Middle East” has been going on. The network seems to count July 10 of this year as the kickoff date, which would come as a surprise to millions of Iraqis who have been living with horrific violence for well more than a thousand days and counting.

Oddly enough, CNN seems to realize this on some level, running a banner headline on July 24 (another catch by Atrios) proclaiming “Iraq: The Forgotten War.” Michael Ware, former Time Baghdad bureau chief and now CNN commentator (who has also moved on to cover Lebanon) told Howard Kurtz last week that there may be some “Iraq fatigue” among readers and editors, causing them to begin to tune out events in Iraq.

While three plus years of a debilitating insurgency with few signs of progress and no end in sight would certainly test even the most diehard news consumer, it still doesn’t excuse lack of attention being paid to the almost unimaginable level of terror currently Iraq.

Consider just some of the news that has been buried on the back pages-and disappearing entirely from television-since the war in Lebanon has begun. On Wednesday, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said that he envisions Iraqi forces taking over security in all eighteen Iraqi provinces by the end of 2006. He held forth on a day where two bombs went off in a Baghdad soccer stadium, killing 12 people (another bomb in the city killed five more), and two American troops were killed.

His statement also occurs at a time when the U.S. military is moving 3,700 soldiers from Mosul to Baghdad to try and quell the ongoing chaos in that city, and a day after the AP reported that

“- a roadside bomb destroyed a bus packed with Iraqi soldiers near Beiji, 240 kilometers (155 miles) north of Baghdad. All 24 people aboard were killed.

– in Baghdad 14 people died and 37 were wounded when a car bomb exploded at a bank where police and soldiers were picking up monthly paychecks.

– an American soldier assigned to the 1st Armored Division died “due to enemy action” in Anbar province west of Baghdad, the U.S. command said.

-a British soldier was fatally wounded in a mortar barrage on a British base in the southern city of Basra.

– an Iraqi journalist working for the Iranian government-run Al-Alam television was slain in western Baghdad.”

There was also an unconfirmed claim that 37 policemen in Najaf had been captured by insurgents.

Reuters ran an even more gruesome list of the violence that is still ripping that unlucky country apart, three years after American troops were to be greeted with “flowers and chocolates” and a new era in Middle East politics was to begin.

In July, the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq released a report that received barely a mention in the media, estimating that estimating that between January and the end of June, the civilian death toll in Iraq shot up an obscene 77 percent, from 1,778 deaths in January to 3,149 in June. During the unhappy months of May and June alone, a total of 5,818 Iraqi civilians were killed in sectarian violence and a staggering 14,338 civilians have been killed so far in 2006. That’s about 100 deaths a day.

Even before the war in Lebanon came to dominate the news, the murderous sectarian strife unleashed by the American invasion of Iraq had long ago fallen from the front pages. A July 19 explosion in Kufa that killed 53 people and wounded more than 130 found itself on page A13 of The Washington Post. That bombing came just one day after gunmen killed more than 40 people in a market in the town of Mahmudiyah. And on July 31, the Iraqi government reported that 30,359 families had fled their homes — or been chased out – to “escape sectarian violence from mid-February through July 30 (roughly 182,000 people). Baghdad accounted for the highest number of displaced.” About the same time, the Canadian press reported that gunmen in Hawija forced four policemen and a lawyer out of their car and beheaded them in the street. Did you remember any of these stories capturing the attention of cable news or the Washington punditocracy? (Not, as the saying goes, if you have to ask�??)

To put a more personal touch on the story, and prove just how widespread the violence in Iraq really is, a Reuters correspondent in Baghdad took a random survey of 20 people who happened to pass by on a Baghdad street. Of the 20, “eight had lost family or close friends to gunmen, four had suffered from kidnaps in their immediate circle, four knew people well who had received death threats. Four knew people well who had died in bombings. Some had themselves been threatened.” Note that Reuters is a foreign, rather than an American-based news service.

Certainly in this age of constant corporate pressure on earnings, news organizations can’t be everywhere at once or give every issue the coverage it merits. But the wall-to-wall coverage of the war in Lebanon, and the harrowing footage being broadcast from both there and Israel makes one wonder why, with a trillion dollar investment and more than 2500 dead, America’s number one national security issue-however depressing-does not warrant at least as much attention as a foreign war against an enemy that never even threatened us. After all, our war, not Israel’s, is one where Americans are fighting and dying, and upon which our future-and perhaps our next election-rests.

Eric Alterman is a senior fellow of the Center for American Progress and the author of six books. His most recent, When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and its Consequences, was just published in paperback by Penguin, which is the subject of a major historians’ online symposium, HERE.

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Eric Alterman

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