Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Media, War on Terror — Rick Moran @ 9:45 am

In some ways, I sympathize with the media and their efforts to try and cover the confusing twists, turns, ins and outs of the Iraq War. The political situation especially is so muddled that one literally needs a scorecard to tell who the players are.

The insurgency also has so many elements as to almost defy belief. Then there are the shadowy players - the militias - who at times seem to be playing both sides against the middle. Coalition forces have used some of the militias to help with local security while these same militias have carried out sectarian attacks that have contributed mightily to the instability in the country.

What’s a reporter/network/newspaper to do?

They can start by rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty. By that I mean if reporters are to do their jobs it is absolutely essential that they get beyond the body counts and simplistic summaries of which political parties (or insurgent groups) are doing what to whom and start giving context to what is going on in country. In order to carry out that mission, reporters are going to have to start doing a little of their own work and stop relying on stringers and hangers-on for information that turns out to be little better than rumor.

Never has the failings of the American media in Iraq been more obvious than the recent reporting on sectarian violence - strife that continues at fairly high level despite assurances by officials of the American military and Iraqi government that the situation is much better. But the wild, out of control rumor mongering by the western media during the worst of the violence highlighted the pathetically poor job being done by in-country reporters who evidently fell for al Qaeda in Iraq propaganda in a disinformation operation that was as carefully planned by the terrorists as the bombing of the Golden Shrine in Samarra itself.

Yes we should cut them plenty of slack given the horrible security conditions for Americans outside of the fortified Green Zone. A western face that would show itself at a demonstration or any other gathering of Iraqis belongs to a brave individual indeed. But the point I’m trying to make is that there is good reporting from Iraq - reporting that gives depth and understanding to the problems and personalities at play and goes beyond the gory details of terrorist attacks and body counts that make up so much of the “news” that filters down to the average American. The question is why there isn’t a good deal more of it.

Specifically, both the New York Times and Washington Post have had excellent backgrounders on Iraqi militias in the past month (both articles now behind pay archive walls). Both articles played the story fairly straight pointing out that both Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Militia and the much larger and more influential Badr Brigades (which is the armed wing of the major political party in Iraq the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq or SCIRI) have infiltrated the police and the army as well as being virtually independent of any government control. And while they have worked with American forces at times to take out al Qaeda in Iraq cells, these militias remain outside the law for the most part and have been accused (with some evidence) of dispensing a kind of vigilante justice to Sunni Muslims who they believe are part of the insurgency.

Also, CNN recently did a long (7 minute) piece on al-Sadr and his growing influence on the political landscape of Iraq. Sadr has gone from being a thorn in the side of the American military to being a thorn in the side of the government in that his call for an immediate American withdrawal as well as his poorly disguised fealty to Iran flies in the face of the more moderate Shia elements who are trying to form a government with the Kurds and Sunnis.

Then there are the tribal militias who tend to be little better than outlaw gangs. Practicing murder, rape, extortion, and outright thievery, many of these tribal militias carry out revenge killings for money and are considered a big part of the monumental law and order problem in Iraq today. That problem was hugely exacerbated by Saddam Hussein who, in the final days of his regime, flung open the doors of his prisons and let loose an army of common criminals estimated at up to 100,000 murderers, rapists, thieves, and kidnappers. These criminals have formed ill-organized gangs who prey upon Iraqi citizens of all religious stripes and are a security problem on top of the other miseries that the new government must deal with.


For the average Iraqi, the biggest complaint is crime. Murder, extortion, robbery, burglary, kidnapping, muggings and carjackings are things that every Iraqi, especially in Baghdad, have to worry about. There are thousands of criminal gangs in Iraq. Some of them are basically enforcers for tribal leadership or the local religious leader. These semi-legitimate gangs get “paid” by whatever they are given, or take, in return for their protective services. This is basically an extortion racket, and the police will often leave these guys alone as long as they don’t get greedy, and more violent.

But the most worrisome gangs are those that kidnap, murder (for hire, or as a side effect of some other crime), rape and barge into, and loot, peoples homes. Many of the violent gangs are very temporary, either because the cops, or local vigilantes catch them, or because members find less stressful, and dangerous, employment.

The most common crime fighting tactic is to put more gunmen on the street, particularly at night. For most of Iraq, the police have brought peace to the streets in daylight. But night is another matter. That’s when more of the criminals are about, and when they are harder to catch. Most police don’t like to operate at night. There are several thousand special police (SWAT and the like) who are trained and equipped to go gangster hunting at night, and some of these are being assigned to that task. But for the moment, the priority is still taking down terrorist gangs.

The ins and outs of the political situation is much easier to report but even here, most reporters simply fall back on tired, shallow analyses that reveal little of the major forces at work to unify the country on one hand and drive the factions apart on the other. For instance, the number one reason that the SCIRI is so dominant is a very simple one; it has been organizing and planning for regime change for nearly 30 years.

The party formed during the 1970’s and organized effectively through their offices in Damascus and Tehran. Then after the fall of Saddam, the SCIRI hit the ground running and were miles ahead of any other political party that had to start almost from scratch, although Ayad Allawi’s secular Iraqi National Accord party had been around since the early 1990’s. The fact is, while there were political organizations involving all the factions, the kind of nuts and bolts organizing done by SCIRI was far beyond the scope of any Kurdish or Sunni group. It goes without saying that this kind of advantage translated into success for the SCIRI at the polls.

Then there is the political tug of war within the umbrella group of Shia parties that is presently trying to form a coalition to run the government. Some Shia factions wish to cut out the Sunnis and Kurds entirely while others wish to include them. The situation is further muddied by the machinations of smaller Shia parties that are jostling for cabinet posts and other means of influence. And there are the Kurds and Sunnis with their own factions, particularly the Sunnis whose umbrella group includes those who are fighting the Americans and the government itself as well as more moderate Sunnis like Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer who served as interim President following the handover of sovereignty in June, 2004 and currently serves as one of three Vice Presidents.

Clearly, much of this information would be of little interest to the average reader. But that is no excuse for the kind of cynical, lazy, and incomplete reporting done by people whose job is to see that Americans are informed about what is going on in a place where their sons and daughters are helping to rebuild a country at great personal danger and sacrifice to themselves.

As Americans, we should demand that they do a better job.


  1. Reporting the facts from Iraq would require the elite bunch of momma’s boys and girls to get out of the posh hotels in Bagdad and that ain’t gonna happen. Ninety nine percent of what they put out as news is days old and third/fourth hand information. Some news(sic) that I see is reported day after day (repeated) as the latest news. Are that many people so stupid they don’t remember what they saw/heard yesterday? They don’t even bother to try and cover their failure, but will report the same death during the same attack (day after day) as happening today. Adopt my attitude, nothing from the former MSM is true and you will be right more than you are wrong.

    Comment by scrapiron — 3/6/2006 @ 10:12 am

  2. Fewer Blacks Enlisting In Military

    The unpopularity of the Iraq war has contributed to a 14 percent decline in black enlistments since

    Trackback by Unpartisan.com Political News and Blog Aggregator — 3/7/2006 @ 9:01 am

  3. I don’t agree that the reporters in Iraq are cowardly–look at poor John Siegenthaler, in the hospital thanks to an IED.

    But too many of ‘em are suckers for whatever taxicab scuttlebutt they get fed. I liked that one quote from a reporterette last year, protesting about being called home: “I do my job. I never leave the hotel.”

    Comment by The Sanity Inspector — 3/7/2006 @ 10:29 pm

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