On July 13, as on just about every day in Iraq, a car bomb exploded near Baghdad, killing several Iraqi children. A statement put out by the 3rd Infantry Division's press office described how an anonymous Iraqi man said he felt about the attack: "The terrorists are attacking the infrastructure, the children and all of Iraq," the man was quoted as saying. "They are enemies of humanity without religion or any sort of ethics. They have attacked my community today and I will now take the fight to the terrorists."
Then, a little more than a week later, on July 24, a car bomb exploded at a police station in Baghdad, killing more than 25 Iraqis. Again, the 3rd Infantry Division's press office put out a statement condemning the attack. And again, an anonymous Iraqi man had harsh words for the attackers: "The terrorists are attacking the infrastructure, the [Iraqi police] and all of Iraq. They are enemies of humanity without religion or any sort of ethics. They have attacked my community today and I will now take the fight to the terrorists."
Who is this angry, eloquent, very consistent Iraqi man? As it happens, he's a fiction. When reporters who'd been given the second statement pointed out the similarities to the military, the 3rd Infantry Division removed the quote from the press release, explaining that it had made an "administrative error." It promised to investigate the matter.
Of course, accidents happen, but considering that the two quotes are similar but not identical -- one notes that the victims are children, and the other says they're police -- it's difficult to see how such an error might have occurred entirely innocently. And forgive us if we note, too, the propaganda value of the quote: an Iraqi man angrily responding to yet another devastating car bomb by vowing to "take the fight to the terrorists" -- just like George W. Bush says we should do! -- sure looks designed to ease the public's flagging confidence in the mission.
But let's give the military the benefit of the doubt. Let's say this was an innocent slip-up -- that there was an Iraqi man who said what the military says he said on July 13, and that somebody somehow sneaked his quote into the July 24 press release without meaning to. Such a scenario clears the military of outright lying, but doesn't it also tell us something worse -- that bombs in Iraq have become so routine, so normal, that responding to them has become, for the military, just a matter of cutting-and-pasting together a press release composed of strong words of condemnation? Either way, the thing's unsettling.