Saturday, July 29, 2006

NYT: Two strong reports from Iraq

During a rally in the southern Shiite holy city of Najaf, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the largest Shiite bloc, said that the worsening security situation was caused by "carelessness" and "wrong policies."
[. . .]
Mr. Hakim, who leads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, has said that Iraqi forces should have more responsibility for the country's security. But his criticism on Friday were particularly actue because they came only three days after President Bush and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki announced an agreement to significantly strengthen the American military presence in the capital.

The above is from Kirk Semple's "Shiite Leader Criticizes Plan for Stronger U.S. Role in Iraq's Security." James Glanz has an article in the paper today and it will probably get more attention. Both are worthy of any attention (though these days, how many follow Iraq is open to debate) but we opened with Semple's because it could easily pass through the day without comment due to the topic it covers as opposed to Glanz' article. Glanz writes of bank robberies and that's much more exciting, much more visual. Semple's writing of a rally and doing so at a time when the nation's eyes are largely elsewhere. That's too bad for those wanting some reality in their news coverage (or, too often, "news" coverage). Semple's addressing the implications of the remarks (including the possibility of pressure on political rival al-Maliki), the state of the Iraqi police force (noting recent spin-heavy assessments coming privately from "American officials") and he addresses yesterday's press release -- something very few reports did (most just included without question) -- from the US military beginning with this paragraph:

The American military command, seemingly eager to demonstrate success in its fight against insurgents issued an unusually long statement on Friday describing what it called a "daylong battle" last Sunday in the town south of Baghdad. The statement said American and Iraqi forces killed 33 "terrorists" in the firefight.

In other wars, the paragraph above would be expected from correspondents. What we've seen instead (repeatedly) in coverage in the last three years has been reporters (and "reporters") reading the press releases and writing articles around them (often borrowing non-quotes from them and other details with attribution) as though the information derived from something, anything, other than a press release. (See "Reading Press Releases Live From the Green Zone.") In past wars, some people actually distinguished themselves as war correspondents. (Today we have Dahr Jamail, Aaron Glantz, Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk, Nancy A. Youssef and a few others -- if you're favorite wasn't listed, assumed they made the list. I would include the coverage coming from the Washington Post in the last few months.) Some of them, in the past, covered the battlefield exclusively. And war pornography didn't begin with Michael Gordon by any means.

Those types were generally laughed at. They swallowed anything and then printed it. They struck poses (as so many did today) and puffed out their chests, strutted, you name it. But the real journalists, whether they were recounting a battle for their paper or news service or showing their readers (audience) the toll of the war in other ways were about as likely to fall for (or repeat) the spin coming from the top of the military chain-of-command as the 'grunts' serving were. The real reporters were doing something heroic in journalism terms and we don't see that today. We see a lot of p.r. blowhards who make TV appearances, we don't see a lot of journalists. Journalists are supposed to be skeptics -- they're supposed to question.

But these days, a number seem to have signed up in a p.r. battle (like Dan Rather did and all the praise and glee of the Mark Cuban deal do not change the fact that he embarrassed himself gravely by 'signing' up on Letterman -- but his entire career has been a study in excess as opposed to journalism). Semple's story is what the Times should be going for, not the simplistic nonsense that's been applauded on rah-rah standards as opposed to journalistic ones. The phone's not stopped ringing this morning as friends (who are journalists) have called to discuss it. We've agreed, it's not the longest story, it's may not be on a topic that drives the day's news cycle (it's Saturday -- there is no day's news cycle) but it's one of the few moments that the paper should actually take pride in. A friend who's retired now but covered Korea and Vietnam (and covered it quite well) dubbed it the thing real "newsmen" would have saluted and "bought a round" for. ("Newsmen"? His term. Yes, women covered Vietnam and he quickly backed up to note that. But the point he was making was that, regardless of gender, a "newsman" was someone who stood like an adult. As opposed to a plethora of "Frank Burns-like suck ups" -- and Frank Burns is a character on M*A*S*H, not a relation of John F. Burns though these days anyone who might confuse the two could hardly be blamed.)

Who knows why reality came in so strongly in Semple's coverage today? Maybe an editor was bored or busy? Maybe the 120 degree heat got to Semple and he was ticked off? Whatever the reason, it read like it was written by an actual reporter as opposed to something by "suck ups and glory hogs." I'm happy ridicule, mock or slam (and do so freely). And until the phone calls started coming in, I was honestly wondering if my reaction was due to the fast or the fact that I am tired? When I checked the caller i.d. for the first few calls, I figured Glanz was going to be to sole the topic of the call (he's written a fine article, we're getting to it in a minute). That didn't end up being the case and Semple deserves credit for what runs today. (What runs next? Who knows?)

James Glanz is on the front page with "Violence in Iraq Creating Chaos in Bank System." "There's nothing in Iraq to talk about!" Some would have you believe that. Some would argue that the coverage has taken a nose dive "Now That Everything's Been Said" (to note a Carole King & Toni Stern song and title of King's group, The City's, only album). That's not the case and it hasn't been the case. Glanz takes a serious look at the way the war is impacting the banking system. That includes insurers refusing to honor policies in some instances of bank robberies because they're citing the "acts of war" clauses. Glanz stitches together many incidents of the last three years including a May 2005 raid by US and Iraqi forces on "the home of Saad al-Bunnia, chairman of the Iraqi Bank Association and chariman of the bank that was robbed" where they discovered cash (approximate worth in US dollars, six million dollars) and concluded that it was being used to aid the 'insurgency.' The bank has stated he was asked to hold the money at his residence and that should have been the end of it but over a year later, the money has still not been returned. Glanz offers a look at the robberies (including Thursday's which he reports was a loss of the US equivalent of "nearly $800,000" -- unless someone offers a differing figure, we'll assume this is the last word on the amount which has also been reported as, US equivalent, $650,000 and 1.3 million) and the impact they're having with banks not keeping money on hand due to the threats and instead entrusting it to various individuals to hide: "Such problems have helped ignite an old-fashioned run on some banks, and several have had to turn depositors away, at least temporarily, telling them to come back another day for their money."

At a time when so many seem to think continued chaos and violence isn't worthy of coverage and fall back on the (false) excuse that everything's been addressed in three year's time, Glanz proves them wrong. That's just one of the many stories the press should be (and could be) covering.

For a development not covered in Semple's article (not a slam, only so much can be covered), Martha highlights Joshua Partlow and Saad Sartlow's "Iraqi Official Warns Against Coup Attempt: Shiite Cites Rumors, Promises a Fight" (Washington Post):

A Shiite Muslim political leader said Friday that rumors were circulating of an impending coup attempt against the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and warned that "we will not allow it."
Hadi al-Amiri, a member of parliament from Iraq's most powerful political party, said in a speech in the holy city of Najaf that "some tongues" were talking about toppling Maliki's Shiite-led government and replacing it with a "national salvation government, which we call a military coup government." He did not detail the allegation.

Peace news? Oh, you know now to count on that being covered. Remember that Alaska's 172nd Stryker Brigade was supposed to be completing it's tour of duty and returning home? You better believe they and their families and friends remember that. "172nd Stryker Brigade Tour of Duty in Iraq Extended; Family Members Speak Out Against the War" (press release so it's printed in full below):

To: National Desk
Contact: Ryan Fletcher, 202-641-0277; Nancy Lessin, 617-320-5301; both for Military Families Speak Out
WASHINGTON, July 28 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Members of the 172nd Stryker Brigade were returning home, and Jennifer Davis, a member of
Military Families Speak Out from Anchorage, Alaska, was preparing for her husband's homecoming. He had served almost one year in
Iraq. She just received a call she never expected. "My husband called to let me know in the best way that he knew how, that the Army was extending his deployment four more months, mere hours before he was to board a flight home," said Ms. Davis. "I am totally frustrated, disappointed and heartbroken. Just when I thought we were going to be able to resume a 'normal' life. Just when I thought the nightmare was over, it was extended... This war should never have started, and now I'm left wondering if it will ever end. My husband and all of the troops should be brought home now."
Kathy Knowles, a member of
Military Families Speak Out from Shorewood, Illinois was preparing to celebrate her son's 25th birthday next week with him after his deployment in Iraq with the 172nd Stryker Brigade - and she too received the call that he would not be coming home. "I am devastated - I was so excited that he was returning to our soil and we could celebrate the victory that he had survived the hell of this war," said Ms. Knowles. "The president and Congress have truly let us down - returning my son and so many others to combat in a war that should never have happened."
The 172nd Stryker Brigade is one of the units scheduled to return to the United States, but is instead being extended and kept in Iraq for several more months under orders from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Despite numerous promises of progress being made and milestones being accomplished, the war in Iraq is once again about "taking Baghdad." As the violence continues to escalate, fueled by the ongoing U.S. military occupation, the burden of the failures of this administration is again falling on the troops who have given so much and the families back home who love them.
Ms. Davis and Ms. Knowles are available for interview, to speak about the damage to families and to the troops that is being done by the war in Iraq and by the unscheduled extensions of service.
For further information, visit:

There's also news on the Troops Home Fast, Lucy notes this e-mail from CODEPINK:

We have exciting news to share with you today! After being rebuffed in our numerous attempts to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, including setting up "Camp Al-Maliki" across from the Iraqi Embassy and publishing an open letter to him in one of the largest Iraqi newspapers, we received an amazing invitation: Five members of the Iraqi Parliament who are working on a Reconciliation Plan to end the violence in their country contacted us. Moved by the commitment of the long-term fasters and dismayed by their prime minister’s refusal to meet with us, these parliamentarians asked us to join them in Amman, Jordan next week to discuss their Reconciliation Plan, on condition that we break our long-term fast with them!
We are thrilled. It will be such a breakthrough for the US peace movement to be working directly with Iraqi peacemakers, and what better way to break our fast than with members of the Iraqi government seeking an end to the violence. So next week, we’ll be on our way to Jordan. In addition to a group of long-term fasters, we are inviting Congresspeople, academics, and notable journalists to join us.
This marks a big turning point in the fast, yet we know that we have a long way to go towards bringing the 140,000 US servicemen and women home from Iraq. We strongly encourage our local fasters to continue to do weekly or ongoing fasts, and to make your fasts public by holding actions outside Congressional offices and calling the media.
Click here for info about getting involved in the fast locally. We plan to continue the Troops Home Fast campaign as energy builds towards the International Day of Peace, September 21, when Declaration of Peace events will begin around the country.
The news about the invitation to meet with the Iraqi Parliamentarians comes on the heels of an exhilarating week of actions at our DC fast: Faster and CODEPINK cofounder Medea Benjamin spoke up during al-Maliki's address to Congress on Wednesday, saying loudly and repeatedly, "Iraqis want the troops to leave, bring them home now! Listen to the Iraqis!" Medea was cuffed, removed from the Capitol and arrested. Read about this action and see video clips and photos by clicking here.
Yesterday, Thursday, July 27, two hunger strikers, Gael Murphy and Eve Tetaz, interrupted the long overdue Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on John Bolton’s nomination as US Ambassador to the U.N. They wore t-shirts saying "No Bolton" and
urged Senators to reject Bolton as the worst possible choice for the job and for world peace. And today, when George Bush is visited by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, we’ll be there to greet them in true anti-war fashion.Diane Wilson and other long term fasters are outside the White House each day; see the photos, read the blogs, hear a song written and sung by long-term faster Jesse Dyen, and check out what our local groups are doing.
We thank you for your support of the fast, and for this historic opportunity to link with Iraqi leaders who have a plan to make peace a reality.

Hungry but hopeful,
Anedra, Allison, Dana, Erin, Farida, Gael, Jodie, Katie, Laura, Medea, Meredith, Nancy, Rae, Sam & Tiffany

The fast continues. Anyone can pick up a one-day fast. (Or pick up another one-day fast.)
I was going off the first (which is any day now) but I'm going to do it one more week. I'm not recommending a longterm fast for anyone. If you're doing that, you're doing it because you want to, not because anyone's urging it on you. I do think, for most people, a one-day fast is an option. If I go off the Monday after next, I'll pick up the one-day a week. The news above is news and a sign of progress. But Diane Wilson remains on her strike and has stated she's staying on it until the troops come home. She's on a very strict water-only regime.

Mike and Jess are fasting each Friday until September 21st, Elaine, Sunny and Ava are doing Wednesdays and Wally's doing Mondays. Cedric's grabbed a day each week as well but I'm blanking on which day. Others doing a one-day a week fast include: Ruth, KeShawn, Molly, Liang, Charlie, Three Cool Old Guys, Portland, Eli, Brandon, Marcia, Erika and Zach. Keesha is fasting each Saturday and Sunday until September 21st. If you did a one-fast (or even attempted one) or more, Gina and Krista are planning a feature on that for next Friday's round-robin so community members should contact them. (And note, I said "others include" -- I'm tired. A full list will run in the round-robin Friday. In Polly's Brew tomorrow, I'm writing about that for my contribution and Polly's got a roundtable with members in England who are taking part. Goldie's also covering it in her column which I haven't read yet but Polly says is a must read so look for that in your inboxes tomorrow.) (And Kyle already pointed out that I forgot to do any heads up yesterday to the fact that Rebecca's wedding picture ran in yesterday's round-robin. My apologies. And that was far from the only thing I forgot to note online yesterday.)

Today in Iraq? Ryan Lenz (AP) opens his article with this paragraph:

A car packed with explosives blew up in a residential district of Kirkuk on Saturday, killing four people and injuring 13, police said. The U.S. command said three U.S. Marines died in action in western Iraq.

By the way, Semple notes that at least eight corpses were discovered yesterday and the US military announced that four marines died on Thursday (Anbar Provicne).

Yesterday two "Iraq snapshots" hit the site. One was from the day before (Ava saw it and deleted it). Members of several months or longer are aware that e-mailed posts hit the site whenever they want to. That may be an hour after they've been sent. (If they're not up within two hours, Ava, Jess, Shirley, Martha, Dallas, Eli or myself usually puts it up.) In the past, that wasn't a problem because the date was noted (via a highlight) in the entry. But when Ava told me about it happening yesterday, I realized the date wasn't being included. To avoid any confusion, I'll try to include the date at some point in the e-mailed snapshots. There are two floating out there. (Wally saw Thursday's snapshot hit yesterday and noted that he's got two posts floating around "somewhere" that didn't hit The Daily Jot this week. In the past, his have just gone missing. But if you see a 'repeat' at The Daily Jot, that's why.) (I think we have at least one from this week that didn't hit. Worth mentioning since one Thursday in the fall we had three e-mailed posts that all hit, days after the fact.)

And Billie just e-mailed to highlight Margaret Kimberley's "Groping Killer Speaks at NAACP" (Freedom Rider, The Black Commentator):

The NAACP made more headlines than usual at its recent annual convention because of one speaker. Who was that person?
1. He stole one and possibly two elections to become president of the USA
2. He was photographed sexually harassing the Chancellor of Germany
3. He sent a huge cache of weapons to a nation on the verge of invading another sovereign nation 4. All of the above
Number four is correct. George W. Bush spoke at the NAACP convention. Most presidents, including Nixon and Reagan, do that at least once during their term in office, but Bush had never seen fit to show up. This year's convention was the sixth held during the Bush presidency and the first invitation the White House accepted. Hopefully it will be the last.
It isn't really surprising that he would show up now. The Republicans are fighting to retain control of Congress this November. That is why they held their first ever Be Nice to Black People week before Bush made his splash.

[. . .]
Condi Rice had to be present of course. While the world demanded that Bush attempt to end the bloodshed brought to Lebanon and Gaza by Israel, his Secretary of State sat and gave him domestic political cover. She should have been on her way to Jerusalem, ordering the Israelis to stop their carnage. Instead they declared their intention to kill more people, telling the terrorized Lebanese to run fast, or risk being killed.

(Thank you to Billie because we're supposed to highlight Kimberley on Saturdays and I had forgotten this morning.)

The e-mail address for this site is (Ruth will go up today but I'm seeing Trina and her husband off to the airport.)