Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Important News From Iraq This Week, But You Probably Didn't See Much About It

While the news outlets have been obsessed with the Austrian father who kept his daughter as a sex slave, the weirdo religious sect in Texas that paired middle-aged men with teenage girls (is this a trend?) and non-stop discussion of Rev. Jeremiah Wright (wait, is he running for office?), there is precious airtime, print space and bandwidth left for less interesting stories ... like what is going on in Iraq. At least that's how it seems the TV news folks see it.

As a public service, here is a reminder of some Iraq-related stories you might have missed in the last week.

Last Friday Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who does not support the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government, spoke out to clarify exactly what he and his army stand for. He said, "When we threatened to declare an open war until the liberation, we meant war against the occupier." He made it clear that he had no interest in fighting the Iraqi government, who recently tried to clear his army from Basra, but only the American forces currently in Iraq.

This statement is actually pretty staggering when you consider that George W. Bush, John McCain and the rest of the Republican crowd supporting the war in Iraq tell us over and over again that if the U.S. was to pull its forces out of the country, there would be carnage. Others have argued for quite some time that the American presence in Iraq is the very factor that gives rise to much of the violence, and if the U.S. was to leave, the violence could actually abate to some extent.

It would seem that the statement by al-Sadr, one of the most powerful anti-government leaders in Iraq, leaves the foundation of Bush and McCain's position quite shaky. Al-Sadr's remarks only serve to focus how the U.S. is now simply refereeing a civil war, a venture that has broken our army, killed more than 4,000 of our soldiers, injured tens of thousands of our servicepeople, and sucked hundreds of billions of dollars from the country at a time of economic uncertainty.

But none of the television news outlets saw fit to give this news much air time. I guess if Al-Sadr had admitted to having sex with a 15-year-old girl, the story would have rocketed to the lead.

Monday brought the news that Shiite insurgents launched rockets and mortar shells into the Green Zone in Baghdad. As you will recall, the Green Zone is supposed to be the safe, protected area of the capital and the center for the international presence in the country. Now, Republicans keep telling us that their vaunted surge made Iraq safer, and that this improvement is why more than 140,000 U.S. forces have to remain in Iraq. So what does it mean now if things are at the point where the Green Zone isn't safe? Similarly, demonstrating that the surge was not something that could be sustained, it was reported today that the death toll in Iraq for April was the highest in seven months. The month has seen 47 American soldiers killed.

The news outlets are so quick to parrot Republican claims that "the surge is working," but apparently reporting the rise in deaths in Iraq is too much of a downer. Now, if American soldiers in Iraq were having sex with 15-year-old girls in the Green Zone, that just might warrant at least a fraction of the coverage now devoted to the speeches of a guy who used to be the pastor for one of the presidential candidates. (As I wrote about on March 24, the news media, despite being obsessed with Rev. Wright, seems not to care at all about the war-mongering, homophobic and downright loopy statements made by the Rev. John Hagee, a man McCain was "very proud" to have endorse him, but I digress.)

Also today, a U.S. report found that al-Qaeda has rebuilt much of its pre-9/11 capabilities from its refuges in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That would be the same al-Qaeda that Bush and McCain keep telling us is the number one enemy, and the same al-Qaeda that perpetrated the 9/11 attacks. One can only wonder how much damage the U.S. military could have done to al-Qaeda if Bush hadn't lost focus and moved the bulk of American military capabilities from Afghanistan to the useless, unjustified, poorly planned, disastrous, draining entanglement in Iraq.

On September 13, 2001, Bush said, "The most important thing is for us to find Osama bin Laden. It is our number one priority and we will not rest until we find him." By January of 2008, the top military officer in the pentagon, Adm. Mike Mullen, said, "In Afghanistan, we do what we can. In Iraq, we do what we must."

In other words, Bush chose to pursue his war in Iraq at the expense of fighting al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. How many Americans do you think agree with that decision (even accounting for the section of the country that believes, thanks to Bush's propaganda, that Iraq was behind 9/11)?

The report that al-Qaeda is resurgent should be breaking news. Maybe if al-Qaeda was having sex with 15-year-old ... yeah, yeah, you know where I'm going with this.

As I discussed at length on April 14, it has become clear, even in the minds of the U.S. military and some Republicans in the Congress, that the U.S. cannot sustain its current level of engagement in Iraq for much longer (or, more accurately, any longer). The stories of the last week in Iraq only crystallize that there is no justification for the U.S. to remain there. And yet, these news items were buried behind sensationalistic tabloid stories. It's shocking to think that the mainstream media has become not much better than the National Enquirer.

Then again, if you were watching the news for the last week, you are probably an expert on the teachings of Rev. Wright, and you've heard a lot about religious fanatics dressing women in pioneer outfits, not to mention getting your fill of the "Saw"-like sadistic thrills hearing about the sicko in Austria who brutalized, isolated and sexually assaulted his daughter for decades.

Personally, I found the interest in the Wright story overblown, the religious sect silly, and the Austrian criminal sick, and I'd rather hear more about the truth of what's going on in Iraq. But I guess, to television news executives, I'm the odd one. Go figure.