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Addressing Iraqi Myths
Posted by: McQ on Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Seems I spend a lot of time quoting Ralph Peters lately, but I take his reports about Iraq with more than a grain of salt. Peters is retired army officer and, most important, he's there, on the ground in Iraq.

Today he addresses some of the myths which are used to underpin the negative view of our involvement in Iraq. He makes it clear who he holds responsible for the perpetration:
During a recent visit to Baghdad, I saw an enormous failure. On the part of our media. The reality in the streets, day after day, bore little resemblance to the sensational claims of civil war and disaster in the headlines.
He goes on to say that no one is going to argue that everything is rosy in Iraq, but then, in his opinion what is being reported doesn't at all reflect reality in Iraq:
I left Baghdad more optimistic than I was before this visit. While cynicism, political bias and the pressure of a 24/7 news cycle accelerate a race to the bottom in reporting, there are good reasons to be soberly hopeful about Iraq's future.

Much could still go wrong. The Arab genius for failure could still spoil everything. We've made grave mistakes. Still, it's difficult to understand how any first-hand observer could declare that Iraq's been irrevocably "lost."
It is interesting that the more I read reports from those who've actually been to Iraq the more I see this common thread among them. Iraq is bad, but not at all as bad as we're led to believe, and progress is indeed being made. The news, however, concentrates daily on the strife, violence and disorder in small sections of a large country. That, of course, gives those of us without the ability to go to Iraq a skewed view of the reality there.

Anyway, on to a few of the myths:
Claims of civil war. In the wake of the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, a flurry of sectarian attacks inspired wild media claims of a collapse into civil war. It didn't happen. Driving and walking the streets of Baghdad, I found children playing and, in most neighborhoods, business as usual. Iraq can be deadly, but, more often, it's just dreary.
The pundits have been claiming Iraq has been in a civil war or descending into civil war for quite some time. While Peter's observations are anecdotal, they're also indicative. He's not seeing the atmosphere one would expect when a civil war is being fought.

That's because another myth which would support the civil war myth is incorrect as well:
Iraqi disunity. Factional differences are real, but overblown in the reporting. Few Iraqis support calls for religious violence. After the Samarra bombing, only rogue militias and criminals responded to the demagogues' calls for vengeance. Iraqis refused to play along, staging an unrecognized triumph of passive resistance.
If ever there was a perfect pretext for civil war, the Samarra bombing of the Golden Mosque was it. If a nation was ever on the verge of civil war and looking for a tipping point, where would one find a better one? In fact, per Peters, Samarra may actually have been a tipping point, but not as most would expect:
Expanding terrorism. On the contrary, foreign terrorists, such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, have lost ground. They've alienated Iraqis of every stripe. Iraqis regard the foreigners as murderers, wreckers and blasphemers, and they want them gone. The Samarra attack may, indeed, have been a tipping point—against the terrorists.
As I mentioned last week, powerful Iraqi tribes have turned against al Qaeda. And it's interesting that they find the coalition much less of a threat than Zarqawi. They also see eliminating Zarqawi as a means of hastening the withdrawal of the coalition. That's actually progress.
Hatred of the U.S. military. If anything surprised me in the streets of Baghdad, it was the surge in the popularity of U.S. troops among both Shias and Sunnis. In one slum, amid friendly adult waves, children and teenagers cheered a U.S. Army patrol as we passed. Instead of being viewed as occupiers, we're increasingly seen as impartial and well-intentioned.
Want visual proof? Watch this.

Peters addresses other myths such as "The appeal of the religious militias", "The failure of the Iraqi army" (discussed here), "Reconstruction efforts have failed" and "The electricity system is worse than before the war". Read them all.

The obvious bottom line here is while conditions in all areas of Iraq have a long way to go, despite a dearth of reports on the positive aspects of progress it is actually taking place. Peter's reports on the myths make sense. When you link them together as he has and consider them with other reports and, as importantly, things which haven't happened but should have happened if the myths were true, you get a completely different view of where we are in Iraq.
Plenty of serious problems remain in Iraq, from bloodthirsty terrorism to the unreliability of the police. Iran and Syria indulge in deadly mischief. The infrastructure lags generations behind the country's needs. Corruption is widespread. Tribal culture is pernicious. Women’s rights are threatened. And there's no shortage of trouble-making demagogues.

Nonetheless, the real story of the civil-war-that-wasn't is one of the dog that didn't bark. Iraqis resisted the summons to retributive violence. Mundane life prevailed. After a day and a half of squabbling, the political factions returned to the negotiating table. Iraqis increasingly take responsibility for their own security, easing the burden on U.S. forces. And the people of Iraq want peace, not a reign of terror.

But the foreign media have become a destructive factor, extrapolating daily crises from minor incidents. Part of this is ignorance. Some of it is willful. None of it is helpful.
Shorter version? Take the daily reports of what is happening in Iraq with a grain of salt. But understand their impact on those who depend on them:
Only 38 percent said they believe the nearly 3-year-old war was going well for the United States, down from 46 percent in January, while 60 percent said they believed the war was going poorly.
In terms of providing an accurate overall picture of Iraq the bulk of reporting fails. But in terms of creating a preception and helping to dictate policy, it has certainly had an impact.

If the myths Peters highlights are true, we'd see even more violence, more fighting and less cooperation among Iraqis than seems evident. Government? Forget about it. Army successfully deploying in the wake of a bombing ... not happening. Etc., etc.

So, in the future, as you read about the evants in Iraq, balance them against the Peter's explanations. My guess is it will give you a truer view of ground truth in Iraq.
 
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And the media killed the 85 people found in Baghdad today? Or maybe they died from paint fumes while opening a new school?

Reality has this strange way of popping neo-con pipedreams, doesn’t it?
 
Written By: Ed
URL: http://
Reality has this strange way of popping neo-con pipedreams, doesn’t it?
Gee Ed, the reality is that isn’t all that’s going on in Iraq ... or’d you miss that part?
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/
Well congrats, Ed! You refuted exactly none of the points made by Peters or this post.

I guess facts have a strange way of gumming up whatever pitiful excuse of a reasoning system that is collectively used by you anti-war types. Maybe you all should stop employing strawmen to run your reasoning system, eh, Ed?
 
Written By: MichaelW
URL: http://
And entered into the "extrapolating daily crises from minor incidents" category we have...

If there were actually anything like a civil war going on, finding 85 people executed in Baghdad wouldn’t be newsworthy. Now, hundreds or even 85 people executed in every major city in Iraq, that would start to look like a civil war.
 
Written By: BrianOfAtlanta
URL: http://
What do you guys want to see to admit this is degenerating into Civil War? Everyone in the street at the same time? That never happened in Lebanon, so that proves that there was no civil war in Beirut?

Stop living in a fantasy world. Iraq has been totally botched by the Bush administration from the get go. Wishing for another reality will not make it happen. That’s been one of the primary causes of this debacle. We have to acknowledge the situation on the ground, if we want to have any chance of addressing it.

And Brian, Fort Sumter had no casualties. I guess out Civil War didn’t start there. No civil war until there were full fledged armies in the field, right? How many dead will qualify it for you?
 
Written By: Ed
URL: http://
Ed,

When the Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish leaderships generally agree there is a civil war, and it looks like a civil war, battle lines drawn internally on a somewhat time contiguous basis, and the caualties are consistent with the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds having generally agreed to kill each other off until one or two sides say uncle, then there will be civil war.

For example, after the Golden Mosque bombing, Moqtada Al’Sadr was first calling for civil war and was then forced to eat his words by his fellow Shiites and the Iraqi government.

Ergo. No civil war yet. Someone wants to start one real bad, but they haven’t done it.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
 
Written By: Tom Perkins
URL: http://
What do you guys want to see to admit this is degenerating into Civil War?
Oh I don’t know, Ed ... how about an actual civil war?

Like I pointed out we’ve been warned for over a year that a civil war was imminent. And here we are, still without one.
Stop living in a fantasy world. Iraq has been totally botched by the Bush administration from the get go.
Well apparently there are a couple of competing fantasy worlds, Ed and you’re in one of them.

No one here is claiming all the moves of the administration have all been good or well done nor that all is rosy in Iraq, but unlike you, we can get beyond the hate of Bush and the incomplete reporting from Iraq to ferret out facts which point to much less of a mess than you want to believe.
And Brian, Fort Sumter had no casualties. I guess out Civil War didn’t start there.
So now the standard for civil war is no casualties?

Heh ... brilliant Ed, just brilliant.

Tell you what, instead, point us to the comparable "Ft. Sumter" in Iraq, OK?
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/
Now this looks interesting .. Iraq Foils al Qaeda Plot.

al Qaeda recruited 421 members into the Iraqi army and were one signiture away from guarding the Green Zone.
 
Written By: Neo
URL: http://
For the video link in the post, hotlinking is generally considered a no-no. here is the post with the video I believe.

Also, thanks for the link neo.
 
Written By: Chris
URL: http://
Actually, there were a casualties at Ft. Sumter, the fact that they were’t casualties of the Confederate bombardment itself doesn’t mean they weren’t casualties of the action.

"one Union artillerist was killed and three wounded (one mortally) when a cannon exploded prematurely when firing a salute during the evacuation."

Find another example Ed.

 
Written By: looker
URL: http://
Tell you what, instead, point us to the comparable "Ft. Sumter" in Iraq, OK?

Uh...the Golden Mosque in Samarra? The sectarian killing has gone on non-stop since the bombing.

Without quibbling about whether a civil war is or is not underway, perhaps Ralph Peters should spend some time outside the Green Zone wihout the benefit of a military escort when explaining to us that things really aren’t that bad in Iraq, it’s just the media.

If there were actually anything like a civil war going on, finding 85 people executed in Baghdad wouldn’t be newsworthy. Now, hundreds or even 85 people executed in every major city in Iraq, that would start to look like a civil war.

A breathtakingly stupid remark.
 
Written By: Pug
URL: http://
Uh...the Golden Mosque in Samarra? The sectarian killing has gone on non-stop since the bombing.
Uh, no. Did you read the article?

The different sides backed off after the initial violence in the bombing’s aftermath. The Iraqi army successfully deployed and defused the tension. The religious leaders on all sides called for and got peace.

Since when do those engaged in a civil war agree to back off?

Was that the case after Ft. Sumter, or did the violence escalate and both sides refuse to cool it?

The sectarian killing has taken place in mostly one area. 14 of 18 provinces are essentially at peace. Hate to break it to you, but that doesn’t constitute a civil war.

There’s a marked difference between incidents of civil strife and a full out civil war for those willing to consider such a difference. For those to whom such differences are inconvenient to their contrived memes we hear "civil war".
A breathtakingly stupid remark.
As opposed to what, someone who equates a bombing in which all sides backed away from escalating the violence to that of civil war?

I wouldn’t be so quick to point at others if I were you.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/
I’ll remain agnostic about whether we can call the situation in Iraq a 1) low level civil war, 2) "precursor" to civil war, 3) "full blown" civil war, 4) significant sectarian conflict, or 5) predictable state of affairs in a country with sectarian tension and a serious internal security problem. None of the 5 options are terribly reassuring, but I can’t tell which it is.

However, this is misleading...
The sectarian killing has taken place in mostly one area. 14 of 18 provinces are essentially at peace. Hate to break it to you, but that doesn’t constitute a civil war.
That’s true...but then, about half the Iraqi population is in the 4 provinces in question. Including the capital and the largest cities. The other 14 provinces could be a regular Garden of Eden with low taxes, great weather and more peace than you could shake a stick at. That won’t matter a hill of beans if the other 4 provinces don’t settle down.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
I’ve said this before, and will undoubtedly have to say it again: if the US succeeds in transforming Iraq into at least a semi-democracy, in control of itself and peaceful, how will the media explain how they got it so wrong for how long? And how will people ever be able to trust a media that gets such a big story so wrong for so long? Sadly, it is now (even if it was not initially) in the media’s best interests for America to fail in Iraq, and for Iraq to descend into chaos, violence and bloodshed: it would validate their reporting. On the other hand, a successful conclusion cannot ever be accepted by the media, for the same reasons that accepting that only about a thousand people, disproportionately white, died in Katrina, and then mostly because of local, not national failures; or why newspapers print corrections to page 1 stories on page 17 if at all. Admitting they were wrong is the one thing the press cannot do and survive. Yet it’s what they must do to retain public trust and thus survive. That’s some catch, that Catch 22.
 
Written By: Jeff Medcalf
URL: http://www.caerdroia.org/blog
Can we get away from using the USA as baseline for a normal nation? Maybe a civil war looks different, other places, from the North American Unpleasantness of the 1860s. ...

I’m thinkin’ that Mexico, right now, has armed revolutionary reactionary gangs/militias/local autonomies: the EZLN and the People’s Revolutionary Army and maybe other, smaller, groups controlling territories where the Federales dare not go. Do we therefore say that Mexico is currently in the throes of a civil war?

Ditto the Phillipines. Ex-Generals under house arrest and the current military waging peace by openly declaring it will NOT obey certain orders from either the elected government, or the opposition leaders. Is THAT civil war?

East Timor? Dafur? Bosnia? Northern Ireland?

Specify for me a few recent or contemporary examples of violence acts that are, and are not, civil wars — point out to me the distinctions defining what makes each one fit, or fall outside, its type. THEN maybe we can tell something about Iraq.


Until then, let’s just realize all the folks opining about Iraq and Sumter — whether paleocon or neoprogressive — are just provincial ignorant isolationary American chauvenists who cannot see the world except thru the distorted lenses of their own family history.
 
Written By: pouncer
URL: http://
Jeff Medcalf wrote:
"if the US succeeds in transforming Iraq into at least a semi-democracy, in control of itself and peaceful, how will the media explain how they got it so wrong for how long?"
And just to reiterate the point, the media will never explain their failures, at least I can’t think of a time they have yet.

The might apologize, but they won’t themselves or let anyone else pull back the curtain.

And now we have blogs, who can do it anyway ;^)

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
 
Written By: Tom Perkins
URL: http://

 
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