Sunday, October 26, 2008

Wrecked Iraq

Wrecked Iraq: What the Good News From Iraq Really Means
by Michael Schwartz, Commondreams, October 24, 2008. (Found via thwap's schoolyard

As the Smoke Clears in Iraq: Even before the spectacular presidential election campaign became a national obsession, and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression crowded out other news, coverage of the Iraq War had dwindled to next to nothing. National newspapers had long since discontinued their daily feasts of multiple -- usually front page - reports on the country, replacing them with meager meals of mostly inside-the-fold summary stories. On broadcast and cable TV channels, where violence in Iraq had once been the nightly lead, whole news cycles went by without a mention of the war.

The tone of the coverage also changed. The powerful reports of desperate battles and miserable Iraqis disappeared. There are still occasional stories about high-profile bombings or military campaigns in obscure places, but the bulk of the news is about quiescence in old hot spots, political maneuvering by Iraqi factions, and the newly emerging routines of ordinary life.

A typical "return to normal life" piece appeared October 11th in the New York Times under the headline, "Schools Open, and the First Test is Iraqi Safety." Featured was a Baghdad schoolteacher welcoming her students by assuring them that "security has returned to Baghdad, city of peace."

Even as his report began, though, Times reporter Sam Dagher hedged the "return to normal" theme. Here was his first paragraph in full:

"On the first day of school, 10-year-old Basma Osama looked uneasy standing in formation under an already stifling morning sun. She and dozens of schoolmates listened to a teacher's pep talk -- probably a necessary one, given the barren and garbage-strewn playground."

This glimpse of the degraded conditions at one Baghdad public school, amplified in the body of Dagher's article by other examples, is symptomatic of the larger reality in Iraq. In a sense, the (often exaggerated) decline in violence in that country has allowed foreign reporters to move around enough to report on the real conditions facing Iraqis, and so should have provided U.S. readers with a far fuller picture of the devastation George Bush's war wrought.

In reality, though, since there are far fewer foreign reporters moving around a quieter Iraq, far less news is coming out of that wrecked land. The major newspapers and networks have drastically reduced their staffs there and -- with a relative trickle of exceptions like Dagher's fine report -- what's left is often little more than a collection of pronouncements from the U.S. military, or Iraqi and American political leaders in Baghdad and Washington, framing the American public's image of the situation there.

In addition, the devastation that is now Iraq is not of a kind that can always be easily explained in a short report, nor for that matter is it any longer easily repaired. In many cities, an American reliance on artillery and air power during the worst days of fighting helped devastate the Iraqi infrastructure. Political and economic changes imposed by the American occupation did damage of another kind, often depriving Iraqis not just of their livelihoods but of the very tools they would now need to launch a major reconstruction effort in their own country.

As a consequence, what was once the most advanced Middle Eastern society -- economically, socially, and technologically -- has become an economic basket case, rivaling the most desperate countries in the world. Only the (as yet unfulfilled) promise of oil riches, which probably cannot be effectively accessed or used until U.S. forces withdraw from the country, provides a glimmer of hope that Iraq will someday lift itself out of the abyss into which the U.S. invasion pushed it.

Consider only a small sampling of the devastation.

The Economy: Fundamental to the American occupation was the desire to annihilate Saddam Hussein's...(read full article here

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