Unembedded in Iraq

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When a journalist decides to "embed" they can only report on the unit they are with. They see what the unit sees, and limit themselves to what the military decides they will see.

In many instances they sign forms granting the military the right to censor their work. It is impossible for such "embedded" journalists to report accurately on how Iraqis are being affected by the occupation.

My type of reportage, like other independent journalists, focuses instead on the Iraqi perspective. I have focused my stories on how rampant unemployment, lack of water and electricity, the US-backed segregation of Baghdad, and the horrible security situation had an impact on Iraqis.

For example, how do parents decide whether to allow their five year old daughter to go to school in those conditions? How do they earn money to buy basic foodstuffs in a collapsed economy and while the US backed government in Baghdad is cutting items from the monthly food ration? How do Iraqis really feel about the occupation? Recent polls suggest that a minimum of 70 percent of Iraqis want the US and Britain out immediately.

While embedding reporters is not new, the current embed programme utilised by the Pentagon was set up as a means of information control. It was tested out during the 1991 US attack on Iraq, and then streamlined into the system we see today. Thus Western journalists who "embed" are unwittingly volunteering to act as propagandists for the US military.

Yet this is done under the pretext that they are "reporting" when in actuality the military is using them for its own propaganda purposes.

At best, this misrepresentation of the situation is sloppy journalism. At worst, it is voluntarily spreading propaganda. In late February, Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, who was appointed by the US and British governments, tried to push through legislation to impose roadblocks ahead of the upcoming provincial elections in October. He did this because he knows that if there were to be a legitimate election in Basra it would be dominated by Muqtada al-Sadr because he has the sheer numbers.

He then thought better of his openly anti-democratic move, and opted to use the military to attack Sadr's base in the south, particularly Basra, and started planning the failed operation the fallout of which we're witnessing now. Maliki attempted to use the Iraqi military - heavily populated by Mehdi Army members - to attack Sadr's base in Basra.

Needless to say, it has been a dismal failure. Now Sadr is acutely aware of the lengths to which Maliki and Bush are willing to go to stem its position of power. This recent attempt, like the several others previously, has actually increased Sadr's power throughout the south, and Baghdad.

However, this situation is continuing to unfold and is far from being resolved. The only time "law and order" will have a chance of being restored in Basra, let alone the rest of Iraq, is when the occupation is over.

The longer the occupation persists, the worse things get for Iraqis. This is the one constant we can point to throughout the occupation. Of course, David Petraeus, Bush and Gordon Brown won't withdraw troops. That would run contrary to the US National Security Strategy which states, "Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing or equalling the power of the US. To accomplish this, the US will require bases and stations within and beyond Western Europe and Northeast Asia."

Withdrawal would also contradict the Department of Defence's Quadrennial Defence Review Report, which says there is a stated ability for the US military to fight "multiple overlapping wars" as they are doing now, and that the military will be used to "ensure that all major and emerging powers are integrated as constructive actors and stakeholders into the international system". How's that for democracy?

My point is, look at those documents, and look at the facts on the ground. Next month the US will open its "embassy" in Baghdad - an "embassy" the size of Vatican City. This is in addition to between six and 12 "enduring" bases. (They don't call them permanent, but, they don't call their bases in Japan or Germany permanent either.)

There is no plan for US withdrawal from Iraq, not until the oil runs out. Let us not forget what US vice-president Dick Cheney said in 1999 before he was sworn in: "By 2010 we [the US] will need a further 50 million barrels [of oil] a day. The Middle East, with two thirds of the oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize lies."

The US will only leave Iraq is if they are forced out.


Dahr Jamail is the author of Beyond the Green Zone. His website is at www.dahrjamailiraq.com.