Thursday, August 20, 2009

'One of the deadliest days of the entire Iraq War' (NBC Nightly News)

A lorry packed with explosives that went off within 30ft of the Foreign Ministry is reported to have killed up to 59 people and injured 250. The ministry's compound wall was flattened and the ten-storey building all but destroyed. Cars and buildings in the vicinity were devastated and houses five miles away were shaken.
The bomb left a crater in the road 10 feet deep and 25 feet wide; it was filled with charred bodies. The heat of the ensuing fire melted debris into the torn asphalt. Dozens of buildings were damaged, including the Rasheed Hotel, on the edge of the fortified green zone. John Tipple, a British solicitor, said: "The windows were blown out -- even the door frames went. If I had been in my room I would have been seriously injured or worse. Everything is locked down now. Nobody can move anywhere."

The above is from Oliver August's "US pullout in doubt after day of slaughter on streets of Baghdad" (Times of London, link has text and video)on the deadliest of the series of bombs striking Baghdad yesterday. And, until the next big splash in the news cycle (real news or junk news), Iraq got a little bit of attention. The New York Times even put it on the front page. Ernesto Londono and Greg Jaffe (Washington Post) note that the Baghdad bombings "killed about 100 people and wounded more than 500". The reporters quote various gas bags weighing in on what the bombings mean -- if there's hidden meaning in the bombings (and the need for gas baggery would suggest there might be), you won't find the answer in the usual trotted out suspects trotting out their tired analysis. Of more value in the article is this passage:

Gazim Mohammed, 54, sat outside, under the scorching sun, looking desolate as he watched the building. Two of his sons worked at the ministry, and they were not answering their phones.
"They've disappeared," he said quietly.

While it's human nature to look at chaos and try to find a rationale explanation or lesson, the reality of violence is better rendered in the above two paragraphs. Liz Sly and Usama Redha (Los Angeles Times) focus on the knowns in their coverage:

Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, has based his fortunes on overseeing the sharp reduction in violence and fostering a sense of national pride among Iraqis who are eager to see the Americans leave. U.S. helicopters were seen buzzing over the blast sites Wednesday, but Maliki did not ask for help. U.S. troops left Iraq's cities June 30 with great fanfare, and Iraqi politicians said that for Maliki to ask them back would be tantamount to admitting failure.
Scenes on the bloodiest day since that U.S. withdrawal were reminiscent of the worst of the insurgency and served as a reminder that attackers still can strike with devastating effect.

Among the knowns yesterday was Jane Arraf's haunting and poetic opening, "At the site of the deadliest Baghdad bombing in 18 months, Iraqi faith that their security forces could protect them lay shattered in the wreckage." Arraf now reports for the Christian Science Monitor and she discussed the bombings last night with Ray Suarez on PBS' NewsHour (link has text, video and audio options):

RAY SUAREZ: Jane Arraf, welcome to the program. You were in the part of Baghdad targeted by these attacks. Tell us what you saw.

JANE ARRAF: Well, it was mostly what I heard, first of all. I was going to the U.N., which was commemorating the sixth anniversary of the bombing of U.N. headquarters, when there was a huge explosion, which turned out to be a mortar, landing fairly close to the U.N. building.
And then the blast, this huge blast that was part of a wave of explosions that rocked Baghdad in what really is the biggest security challenge, perhaps, to the Iraqi government in some time, and certainly a challenge to Iraqi security forces' ability to secure the city.
Now, the biggest one was outside the Foreign Ministry, where a truck packed with an estimated ton of explosives detonated. There was another bomb shortly after near the Finance Ministry that collapsed part of an overpass.
Now, these are some of the most heavily defended buildings in Baghdad. Iraqi authorities say that they confiscated a third truck packed with explosives and showed that on television, big, red plastic barrels filled with explosive material.
All in all, it's seen as a test, and a test that Iraqi security forces have failed today.

RAY SUAREZ: Who is the Iraqi government blaming for this explosion? Who would have an interest in committing this kind of crime?

JANE ARRAF: Well, that's the problem in Iraq. Pretty much everyone has an interest, but this specifically, the Iraqi government is saying it's Sunni insurgents and former Saddam loyalists, a strange sort of mix.
But it does have the hallmarks of al-Qaida. I went to the site later this afternoon to see what the wreckage looked like and talked to some of the survivors, and it was a huge bomb that actually did look quite a bit like -- the remnants did look like that bombing six years ago.
It was a truck that managed to get close enough and packed with enough explosives that it did tremendous damage. The big ones are normally thought to be al-Qaida, the big suicide bombs, sophisticated attacks, coordinated attacks, and that's who's being blamed for this one today, being blamed, as well, on the streets. A lot of Iraqis think this is either al-Qaida or ex-Baathists, although some of them persist in believing it's the Americans.

The NewsHour covered it. Where were the commercial broadcast networks? Don Hewitt was the lead story on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric and, as someone who knew Don, I find that insulting. I think he would find it insulting. A special to honor his accomplishments? Absolutely. But leading the news, the evening news with his death? He'd see it as naval gazing and he'd be correct. And it wasn't just noted at the top and then revisited later in the broadcast, it was the lead story. At 6 minutes and 15 seconds into the broadcast, they were finally putting the topic on hold. Not wrapping up, putting it on hold to return later with 'memories' from some who had worked with him. (The 'memories' were several seconds shy of three minutes meaning that CBS Evening News devoted 9 minutes of their 22 minute broadcast to the death of one of their own -- the death by natural causes of one of their own. Naval gazing and shameful.) We've noted Don was sick here before. And I was wondering yesterday if I needed to share anything there and thinking of trotting out an enchilada story but that's not how you honor all that Don represented. You honor him by staying focused on the news. CBS Evening News last night embarrassed itself.

If CBS was naval gazing, what do you call ABC News' obsession with Don Hewitt?

Pioneer envy?

Whatever, they didn't have time for Iraq but did have for Don. NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, of all the commercial network evening news shows, stood alone in offering a report on the bombings. Video below and transcript below that.

Lester Holt: This is one of the bloodiest days in a long time in Iraq it's certainly the most violent since US forces withdrew from Iraqi cities in June, multiple bombings killed at least 95 people in Baghdad and wounded more than 500. A major test for Iraq's security forces and for US policy. We get more now from our Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski. Mick, good evening.

Jim Miklaszewski: Good evening, Lester. US officials are already blaming al Qaeda for today's bombings in an effort to stir up sectarian violence but whos ever responsible, today's bloody and blatant bombings raise serious questions about Iraq's ability to take over its own defense. Six powerful bombs rocked Baghdad within minutes in one of the deadliest days of the entire Iraq War. One blast shook up a meeting of tribal leaders. As smoke filled the room, the speaker called it terrorism. The carnage began with a suicide car bombing at Iraq's Finance Ministry at about eleven this morning. Only three minutes later, a massive truck bomb exploded outside the Foreign Ministry. Then over the next ten minutes four separate bombs tore through Baghdad in a highly coordinated attack. The Foreign Ministry took the most devastating hit -- two tons of explosives shredded the front of the building, killing at least 59 Iraqis. The wounded flocked to Baghdad hospitals. This man said one explosion threw his car into the air. The attacks come less than two months after American combat forces withdrew from Baghdad in an agreement with Iraq's government. Iraqi forces were supposed to take over security operations, but after today's bombings, NBC News producer Ghazi Balkiz says the Iraqis admit they failed in their mission.

Ghazi Balkiz: In a surprising statement tonight, the Iraqi Defense Ministry admitted that the attacks were the result of Iraqi forces negligence and said that they should take most of the blame for the security breach.

Jim Miklaszewski: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki could ask the US forces to return to the cities but that would be political suicide and it's unlikely American combat forces would step back into the middle of an Iraqi sectarian war

Ret General Barry McCaffrey : The last time we went in to take Baghdad, we had several thousand killed and wounded. We won't do it again. We shouldn't do it again.

Jim Miklaszewski: And despite today's attacks and a recent spike in overall violence, US military and Pentagon officials say they still intend to withdraw all US combat forces on schedule. According to one senior official, it's time for the Iraqis to step up and take over ready or not. Lester.

Lester Holt: Jim Miklaszewski, tonight at the Pentagon, thank you.

One of the deadliest days of the entire Iraq War and instead of covering that, CBS Evening News with Katie Couric (Katie did the report on Hewitt but did not anchor the broadcast -- like Brian Williams, she is on vacation) spent nine minutes on the passing of Don Hewitt. And no one sees the problem with that? Once upon a noted passing at a network resulted in the final thirty seconds with a title card showing the date of birth and date of death. Last night, CBS ignored the news and wallowed in an attempt to turn a private tragedy into world news.

The following community sites updated yesterday:

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the los angeles times
liz sly
usama redha
the times of london the christian science monitor
jane arraf
the washington post
ernesto londono

the christian science monitor
jane arraf

thomas friedman is a great man

oh boy it never ends