The world press on the war

A senior editor for aljazeera.net says his station is a threat to American media control -- and blames the Pentagon for shutting down the site.


Compiled by Laura McClure
March 29, 2003 12:14AM (UTC)

United Kingdom, al-Jazeera senior editor Faisal Bodi in the Guardian

On March 23, the night the channel screened the first footage of captured US PoW's, al-Jazeera was the most searched item on the internet portal, Lycos, registering three times as many hits as the next item.

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I do not mean to brag - people are turning to us simply because the western media coverage has been so poor. For although Doha is just a 15-minute drive from central command, the view of events from here could not be more different. Of all the major global networks, al-Jazeera has been alone in proceeding from the premise that this war should be viewed as an illegal enterprise. It has broadcast the horror of the bombing campaign, the blown-out brains, the blood-spattered pavements, the screaming infants and the corpses. Its team of on-the-ground, unembedded correspondents has provided a corrective to the official line that the campaign is, barring occasional resistance, going to plan.

Last Tuesday, while western channels were celebrating a Basra "uprising" which none of them could have witnessed since they don't have reporters in the city, our correspondent in the Sheraton there returned a rather flat verdict of "uneventful" - a view confirmed shortly afterwards by a spokesman for the opposition Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. By reporting propaganda as fact, the mainstream media had simply mirrored the Blair/Bush fantasy that the people who have been starved by UN sanctions and deformed by depleted uranium since 1991 will greet them as saviours ...

Throughout the past week, armed peoples in the west and south have been attacking the exposed rearguard of coalition positions, while all the time - despite debilitating sandstorms - western TV audiences have seen little except their steady advance towards Baghdad. This is not truthful reporting ...

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Amid the battle for hearts and minds in the most information-controlled war in history, one measure of the importance of those American PoW pictures and the images of the dead British soldiers is surely the sustained "shock and awe" hacking campaign directed at aljazeera.net since the start of the war. As I write, the al-Jazeera website has been down for three days and few here doubt that the provenance of the attack is the Pentagon. Meanwhile, our hosting company, the US-based DataPipe, has terminated our contract after lobbying by other clients whose websites have been brought down by the hacking.

So far this war has progressed according to a near worst-case scenario. Iraqis have not turned against their tormentor. The southern Shia regard the invasion force as the greater Satan. Opposition in surrounding countries is shaking their regimes. I fear there remains much work to be done.

Iraq, Kanan Makiya's War Diary in the New Republic

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Do not believe any commentator who says that a rising surge of "nationalism" is preventing Iraqis from greeting U.S. and British troops in the streets with open arms. What is preventing them from rising up and taking over the streets of their cities is confusion about American intentions and fear of the murderous brown-shirt thugs known as the Fedayeen Saddam, who are leading the small-arms-fire attacks on American and British soldiers. The coalition forces have an urgent need to send clear and unmistakable signals to the people of Iraq that unlike in 1991, there is no turning back from the destruction of Saddam Hussein. And in order to do this effectively they must turn to the Iraqi opposition, which has so far been marginalized.

The United States needs to understand that Iraqis do not get CNN. They have not heard constant iterations of how Saddam's demise is imminent. More importantly, they have not seen it demonstrated. American forces so far have been content to position themselves outside southern Iraqi cities; they have only just began to disrupt Iraqi TV, which is Saddam's principal tool of maintaining psychological control over Iraq; and, above all, they have not allowed Iraqis to go in and organize the population, a task which we are very eager to carry out ... .

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Iraqi state TV must be put out of commission, and permanently ... Saddam rules through his face, through his ubiquitous presence in day-to-day life. That is what his millions of larger-than-life wall posters are all about. Every day that image is aired reinforces an aura of invincibility ...

But eliminating his image is not enough. The coalition needs the Iraqi opposition--Iraqis who can sneak into the cities and help organize other Iraqis, men from the same families and social networks that hold these places together, who know how to communicate with their entrapped brethren, who can tell them why this time Saddam is finished, and who are able to root out his cronies when they try to melt away into the civilian population. One cannot liberate a people--much less facilitate the emergence of a democracy--without empowering the people being liberated ... It is a million times easier for an Iraqi soldier to join his fellow Iraqis in rebellion than it is to surrender his arms in humiliation to a foreigner. To date, however ... the administration still adamantly refuses to let the Iraqi opposition activate our networks to make the fighting easier for the coalition in the cities, towns, and villages. Why?

Malaysia, Sira Habibu in the Star

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It is more frightening to watch images of the US-led coalition forces invasion on television than to live in Baghdad, according to one of three Malaysian students who had refused to leave the Iraqi capital.

Mohamad Abdullah Osman, who is pursuing his masters in Hadith at Saddam University in Baghdad, said images of the heavily "bombarded" city shown over television did not reflect the actual situation there.

"In my neighbourhood, I still see children playing football and women going to the market as usual.

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"We do not hear loud explosions every day. But clips of images by the foreign media showed as if Baghdad is heavily bombarded," he said when contacted by telephone in Baghdad yesterday.

Besides Mohamad, the two others are Rozainy Ghazali of Terengganu and Mohamad Manan Bajuri of Selangor.

Mohamad, who is staying in a rented house together with Manan, claimed the foreign media failed to report the numerous missiles successfully intercepted by the Iraqis.

"My friends and I made it a point to check out the neighbouring areas the coalition claimed to have bombed. Often, we see those places still intact," he said.

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"But the explosion two days ago in a neighbourhood about 1km from where I am staying was real. Six civilians were killed, including a family of four ...

Mohamad described the massive sandstorm sweeping through Baghdad and southern Iraq as a sign of divine intervention, "because in my eight years in Baghdad, I have never seen a sandstorm of this proportion before."

He also said he declined to leave not because he was stubborn but that he wanted to complete his course by January ...

Mohamad said the university authorities had informed him that classes for masters students would resume on Saturday, adding that the university was closed for about a week following the war alert.

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Lebanon, Raghida Dergham in Al-Hayat

Regardless of how the war on Iraq will end, it is a turning point for the Middle East as well as for the American administration, whose president, George W. Bush has been implicated with a handful of conservatives in invading Iraq and occupying it. The Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, has implicated his country and its neighbors in a number of adventures, and now he has implicated himself in the last battles of his regime.

While Arab regimes are busy containing the rage among their populations, or manage them or even outbid such feelings, they are aware of the seriousness of what the American administration has implicated them in through the invasion of Iraq, and the consequences such feelings may have on them. Such consequences may be the result of the rage of their own peoples, or due to visions that have been devised by the forces of extremism in Washington. Any criticism to such vision in America is being described as anti-Semitism, because most of the planners of the war on Iraq are Jews.

Over the past week, an important event took place in the American media when the TV press dared to speak of studies that had been prepared and plans devised in order to realize the dream of the handful of extremists. The Wall Street Journal wrote on its front page the biography of that group and how it managed to hijack the heart and mind of President Bush. The New York Times dared even to question the "dual loyalty" of American Jews to America and Israel, and to work for the benefit of the Jewish state at the expense of American interests ...

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President George Bush deserves no pity for having fallen victim to the thoughts and tactics of such group of "Machiavellians." He implicated himself to an extent that he may lose his bid for a second term in office, as he is a president who took America to an unnecessary war that has suspicious aims known only to the extremist group of dual loyalty. Bush believes that he is serving America by his vengeful demeanor, but America remains divided, which is evident from the continuation of the protests against the war ...

But other Arab countries have different ways to stop the war on Iraq ...

The problem is that some Arab countries are competing with one another to appease the U.S. administration which has employed the strategy of preemption with military strikes or creating confusion in order to shake the status quo, including the ousting of regimes, with the aim of ensuring America's greatness, and to secure the region surrounding Israel against all potentials, as well as to subdue the Arabs and keep them frustrated. And as long as there remain in the Arab region those who are willing to compete in seeking America's good will, no one in America will take the Arabs or their governments seriously.

United Kingdom, Robert Fisk in the Independent

Two British soldiers lie dead on a Basra roadway, a small Iraqi girl victim of an Anglo American air strike is brought to hospital with her intestines spilling out of her stomach, a terribly wounded woman screams in agony as doctors try to take off her black dress.

An Iraqi general, surrounded by hundreds of his armed troops, stands in central Basra and announces that Iraq's second city remains firmly in Iraqi hands. The unedited al-Jazeera videotape filmed over the past 36 hours and newly arrived in Baghdad is raw, painful, devastating.

It is also proof that Basra reportedly "captured" and "secured" by British troops last week is indeed under the control of Saddam Hussein's forces. Despite claims by British officers that some form of uprising has broken out in Basra, cars and buses continue to move through the streets while Iraqis queue patiently for gas bottles as they are unloaded from a government truck ...

Far more terrible than the pictures of dead British soldiers, however, is the tape from Basra's largest hospital that shows victims of the Anglo-American bombardment being brought to the operating rooms shrieking in pain ...

The al-Jazeera tapes, most of which have never been seen, are the first vivid proof that Basra remains totally outside British control. Not only is one of the city's main roads to Baghdad still open this is how the three main tapes reached the Iraqi capital but General Khaled Hatem is interviewed in a Basra street, surrounded by hundreds of his uniformed and armed troops, and telling al-Jazeera's reporter that his men will "never" surrender to Iraq's enemies. Armed Baath Party militiamen can also be seen in the streets, where traffic cops are directing lorries and buses near the city's Sheraton Hotel ... .

Of course, it is still possible that some small-scale opposition to the Iraqi regime broke out in the city over the past few days, as British officers have claimed. But, seeing the tapes, it is hard to imagine that it amounted, if it existed at all, to anything more than a brief gun battle.

The unedited reports therefore provide damaging proof that Anglo-American spokesmen have not been telling the truth about the battle for Basra. And in the end this is far more devastating to the invading armies than the sight of two dead British soldiers or since Iraqi lives are as sacred as British lives than the pictures of dead Iraqi children.

Saudi Arabia, editorial in the Arab News

As the Iraqi war moves into its eighth day, what is most extraordinary are the absurd and unrealistic expectations that people have had of it. That goes not only for public opinion, the media and politicians in the US, but also for armchair pundits across the world. Regardless of which side people support, if indeed they support either, they have apparently been astonished by Iraq's resistance and the battering the Americans and British have taken. Even those who support Saddam Hussein never really expected the war to be anything but clinical and short. They, too, thought that Iraqi cities would fall like ninepins, that Iraqi troops would desert en masse and that allied forces arrive in Baghdad virtually unscathed. Certainly that is what Americans had been led to think. If truth be told, so did most Arabs, even those who hoped that the US would be humiliated.

That people have been so shocked and amazed by pictures of dead or captured US soldiers and helicopters shot down says much about the unreal world we now live in. We have allowed ourselves to be mesmerized and anaesthetized by the virtual reality of fantasy movies and computer games where the worst that can affect us is mere sensation. We have had a reality by-pass. But this war is for real ... and real wars are never clinical and bloodless, let alone one-sided.

The reality of war is always death and destruction. It always spews out dead bodies ... torn, twisted and charred bodies ... and legions of injured and maimed. It always creates prisoners of war. It always leaves in its wake homes reduced to rubble, lives blighted, families destroyed. It always brings suffering and misery, disease and hunger. It is not a computer game or a movie where, when it is over, we can get up and go and have a meal and a laugh. It is horrible and evil ... which is why it must always be the very last resort ... something that so many governments, so many people, told Washington and London, but something that they ignored ... so convinced were they that it could be played and won with computer-like efficiency.

In real wars, soldiers bleed, soldiers die, no matter which side they are on. In real wars, nothing ever goes quite to plan. And in this real war, the US made another grave miscalculation: It forgot that for all that the Iraqis fear and hate the regime under which they suffer, they are patriots ... and patriots are always at their toughest when defending their homeland.

But there is no point swinging like a pendulum to the opposite pole and imagining that because the Americans and British have discovered that events are not going quite to plan, that they are going to lose this war. Saddam Hussein's boasts that he will win a great victory have to be treated with the same scorn as his great boasts in earlier wars. Whatever emotion those who back him may invest in the idea of the Americans and British being defeated, the idea is wholly illogical. America's massive military superiority makes Saddam's defeat inevitable. Even now, despite the setbacks, that superiority is taking its toll. Iraqi positions are falling although snipers will remain a problem, now and at any time in the future. Even when the regime becomes history, there will always be sufficient Iraqi patriots who see the British and American soldiers as the prime enemy.

To have imagined anything else is Washington's and London's biggest miscalculation.

India, C. Rahul Singh in the Times of India

A week into the Iraq war and a feeling of deep unease is spreading over the Arab world. American and British troops, painfully making their way towards Baghdad, are being looked upon as invaders, rather than liberators. That is not how the script written by George Bush and Colin Powell had read. They had imagined that their "shock and awe" tactics of a massive bombardment of Iraq's capital would have "decapitated" the Iraqi leadership.

The advancing coalition troops would then be welcomed with flowers and open arms by the Iraqi public, leading to the installation of a new government ...

Washington has grossly miscalculated ...

The nightly bombardments of Baghdad are sickening the civilised world. The so-called "smart" bombs have killed and injured hundreds of civilians. For the first time, three Arab TV channels are operating from Iraq: Al Jazeera, and two new ones, Abu Dhabi Television and the recently set up Al Arabia channel. They have been beaming terrifying images of women and children horribly burnt and maimed by the US bombings.

Washington has got worked up about the coverage by these Arab TV channels of American prisoners of war (PoWs), citing violation of the Geneva Convention. An American commander called the coverage "disgusting". But what about the US treatment of PoWs in Afghanistan at Mazar-e-Sharif and the 650 PoWs being held in Cuba's Guantanamo Bay? it is being asked. At Mazar-e-Sharif, American and Northern Alliance troops fired on .. and killed ... a large number of PoWs. Mary Robinson, the then high commissioner for human rights, had called for an inquiry, which was angrily rejected by the USA. The PoWs in Guantanamo Bay have been blindfolded, shackled, chained and held in what can only be described as cages. No Geneva Convention for them ...

The Americans came to Kuwait's help in 1991, not out of any great love for the Kuwaitis but because of oil. And they want to take over Iraq ... the second biggest producer of oil, after Saudi Arabia, in the world ... for the same reason. Few people, even outside the Muslim world, dispute that contention. There are also juicy contracts for American industry to be had in the "reconstruction of Iraq". But, Mr Bush, and those close to him, have a deeper, more sinister strategy planned. The first step in that strategy was Afghanistan. Iraq is the second. All in the name of fighting terrorism, after Sept. 11, but actually intended to ensure US domination of the world.

Germany, Article in Der Spiegel

Other than the basic idea, the new peace movement today has little in common with the activists who managed to get 200,000 demonstrators to assemble in the Bonn Hofgarten during the last Gulf War. Missing are the slogans thought up weeks before, the banners professionally designed for maximum effect. Ideology is replaced by spontaneously expressed feelings, sometimes also by a naive belief in "good."

And when like-minded people from Tokyo, Sydney, and Rome penetrate the Berlin youth scene via e-mail chain letters, you get the feeling they're helping turn the political setscrews on an international level ...

Anna, who has a Che Guevara flag draped around her hips, "because he fought for freedom," doesn't have any grand illusions about the effect her protest had on Bush. "But at least we didn't just accept it."

High school student Christian, 18, [said]... Of course you had to count on war breaking out for quite a long time, "but you're still horrified when it happens." And because he now thinks of America "not with greater hostility, but more critically" he is demonstrating in front of the US Embassy.


Compiled by Laura McClure

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