Thursday, February 24, 2011

Fawning over Moqtada, forgetting context

What Passes For Progress

Moqtada al-Sadr found his way back to Iraq (on orders from Iran?) and thinks he can quell the protests (on orders from Iran?) and the western press again plays steonographer to Moqtada as opposed to acting like reporters. Illustration is Isaiah's "What Passes For Progress."

Yesterday four protests took place in Dhi Qar. Al Mada reports that hundreds protested in cities in the province such as Nasiriyah as they demanded improved basic services, the end of corruption in the government and opportunities for the people of Iraq. 5 police officers were injured in the Panthers demonstration. They also note a smaller protest before the provincial council by the University of Dhi Qar employees who are demanding that the university's housing project commence (land has been allocated some time ago but no construction has ever taken place).

An essay on Kitabat's main page explains that Friday is the day Iraqis stand up to leaders who attempted to perpetuate divisions among the people, leaders who abused the Iraqi people's patiences, leaders who ignored the people and now the day of rage calls all Iraqis to Tahrir Square in Baghdad to make Iraq's voice heard. The writer offers a religious prayer asking for protection for the marchers and a peaceful march with no attacks from the government. Friday, the essay announces, will be when Iraq leaves its recent sectarian and ethnic categories and again becomes one nation with "brother having the back of his brother" and the people emerging triumphant over the politicians after too many bleak years. "Tomorrow we are all one and the same and will root out the corruption and the violence and death" that has plauged Iraq.

Moqtada al-Sadr has returned and, with his return, his fawning press base is back. Yesterday's snapshot noted an article by Michael S. Schmidt and Yasir Ghazi (New York Times) that we panned for gold from and I ignored the very weak parts of. The article had just gone up and I thought it would be redone before going into print (which is often the case). That didn't happen. The article includes these laughable paragraphs:

Mr. Sadr is widely seen as the only one who can rival Mr. Maliki for the support of the Iraqi people. In 2008, Mr. Maliki sent troops into southern Iraq to clear the cities of Mr. Sadr’s militias, ultimately leading Mr. Sadr to abandon them.

But Mr. Sadr’s partisans did very well in last March’s election and later provided key support to Mr. Maliki so he could continue to be prime minister.

We're not a pro-State of Law website and we certainly *don't* carry Nouri's water for him. But a rival would Ayad Allawi whose political slate actually beat Nouri's State of Law. A rival would not be someone who came in with half the seates of Allawi or Nouri. Sadr's about as popular (or was at election time) as the Kurds -- which it a tiny portion of Iraq. To claim otherwise is to rewrite history. Before Sadr 'abandon'ed those militias, he first attempted to launch an uprising but that was taken down in Basra and in Baghdad.

Did Sadr provide key support for Nouri?

Yes, he did and that's where reporters provide context but no one apparently can either because they don't know recent history or they just don't care. Moqtada al-Sadr resurfaced in Iraq yesterday to issue a call that the protests long planned for tomorrow be called off. What he offered instead was a referendum. The press is obligated to tell the story of Moqtada's most recent referendum -- less than a year ago. But no one wants to remember that today.

Dropping back to the April 7th snapshot:

Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc won 40 seats in the Parliament. Kadhim Ajrash and Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) report that Ibrahim al-Jaafari "won 24 percent of the 428,000 ballots cast in the internal referendum, ahead of al-Sadr's second cousin, Jafar Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, who obtained 23 percent, Sadrist spokesman Salah al-Ubaidi said today in the southern city of Najaf." Al Jazeera notes that Nouri al-Maliki received 10% of the vote and Ayad Allawi 9%. The US military invaded Iraq in March 2003 (and still hasn't left).

The Times reporters are correct, Moqtada did throw his support behind Nouri. After holding a referendum -- one that he said would determine who his bloc would support. Nouri isn't who won the referendum. Nouri didn't even come in second. But Moqtada broke his word and still supported Nouri. He ignored the wishes of the people.

Now he's showing back up proposing another referendum? A skeptical press would greet his vanity move with laughter. We don't have a skeptical press in the west. We apparently don't even have a functioning one.

How do you referendum basic services?

"Are you for or opposed to water you can drink safely without first boiling? Are you for or opposed to trash pick ups? Are you for or opposed to electricity?"

What a load of nonsense and the fawning on Moqtada has really gotten embarrassing for the west. They made him a king maker. He wasn't. The White House would laugh at that notion. The Kurds ended up the king makers (yet again). And that's why Joe Biden spent so much time with them ahead of the agreement that 'ended' the stalemate.

Moqtada's suddenly back and now he wants the protests to stop. al-Sistani with ties to Iran wants the protests to stop. Is this really about Iraq? Or is it about the Iranian government's fears of protests being highly infectious?

While a reporter might not be able to explore that on their own in a report (as opposed to a column), they can easily call on experts to offer analysis. Has anyone noticed how lacking that has been in the Iraq reports from NYT, for example? They do their this happend, that happened and that's the end. There is no attempt at context, there is no attempt at providing interpretations via experts. It's the flattest and dullest stenography around. As a friend with a wire service said this morning on the phone, "Who would have thought they could make an ongoing war so boring?" Indeed.

Xinhua reports

Earlier in the day, Sadr's political office released a statement by Moqtada al-Sadr calling for holding a survey among Iraqis within a week in all Iraq's 18 provinces about their opinion over public services.
One of the survey's questions asking people whether they prefer peaceful demonstrations if the government fail to improve public services after more than six months.
Observers here see Sadr's move as part of various measures by the Iraqi politicians to help soothe rising anger among Iraqis who accuse the politicians and the government officials of failure yet they get very high salaries while normal people are suffering poverty and poor public services.

Tomorrow Iraq Veterans Against the War holds this event:

February 25, 2011 9:30 - 10:30 am
Busboys & Poets, Langston room
14th & V st NW Washington DC
This report back will be to answer questions from media and the peace movement about the recent trip back to Iraq by members of Iraq Veterans Against the War. The war is not over but it is not the same as it was in years past. What is the humanitarian situation in Iraq?
How can we do reparations and reconciliation work?
Speakers are all returning from this delegation and include:
Geoff Millard (IVAW) Hart Viges (IVAW) Haider Al-Saedy (Iraqi Health Now)
Richard Rowely (
Big Noise Films)

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