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Monday, January 7, 2008

Media mistakes RE: Basra, Iraq, and the Brits

On the home front in the United States and in Briton there is an ignorance that is spreading and growing. The public, and at times world perspective, is shaped by 15 second sound bytes. Most use some catchy headline that twists or misrepresents the true story.

But when the News gets it "Wrong", why don't we see the same vigor to correct the issue? The facts are of much more interest to me....

Basra is one of these situations.

I hope you will read Michael Yon's latest dispatch "Men of Valor" - part V

Here is a portion of his latest dispatch from the front lines of Iraq:
(there are also a lot of pictures from Basra on Michael's web site)

"......By the time I arrived on my latest trip to Basra on 26 September, the “Honor Agreement” was holding fast. So much so that in September—when the mainstream media was consistently reporting that the place was “in chaos”—the violence in Basra had actually fallen off the screen. Mortar and rocket attacks still occurred, but infrequently and with no military relevance. There was a brief attack at the Basra Airport on 8 October during which I had to lie flat for just a few minutes, and a few other minor attacks where I had to lie down, but this is in sharp contrast to the attacks earlier this year where it was common to lie flat more than a half-dozen times per day, every day......MY"

The News has consistently reported Basra as a city in chaos, with a strong al Qaeda safe haven. The News has convinced people that the al Qaeda Concurred the British troops, and that the Brits are in full retreat.

The reality is the Brits changed strategy. They focused on training the new Iraqi police and Army units. But most important is they worked with the local population, and listened to the needs and wishes of the people of Basra.

The Brits have not fled, they moved. The Brits moved because they were in a place know locally as "Basra Palace". I have read about some of the very aggressive and at times large scale attacks that would come from any direction. But instead of being a target in the center of the city they negotiated settlements with local leaders. they moved to an area that was agreed upon by local government, etc. The Brits are seen as the mediators that can settle disputes between local forces.

Michael mentioned: "Basra was a veritable Hatfield-and-McCoy situation; dysfunctionally functioning."

This is an interesting an insightful observation. Basra like any town has long unsettled disputes. I have read many stories of local disputes that resulted in attacks between old local enemies. Often I have read stories of locals that try to get coalition forces to attack a rival tribe or group of people. I have seen disputes over a goat several times. Also brides who changed their minds or had been forced into marrage. These are disputes we can not resolve. The Iraqis have been and will be the ones who settle their internal disputes.

I have a little saying I have learned from my many travels:

"People who live in cities think that people who live in the outskirts are hicks or backwards, people who live in the outskirts think people who live in cities would have to be nuts to live in such a chaotic unconnected environment. This is true for all nations."

It is something that has always fascinated me. I was lucky enough to travel A LOT every since I was a toddler. That little saying is of course a generalization. I don't think it is a true view for all people in either position. But when you get to the heart of those populations, weather it be city or outskirt, it is clear that the community revolves around leaders who do firmly believe their way of life is better.

The fact is Basra is not some outskirt city in London or New York, Basra is Basra. The best thing our military and political strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan is doin now, is to work with the people, not try and change them.

Violence is down 70% in Basra. Al Qaeda is seen as the Devil, the Brits are respected by the locals, and the News is still reporting that al Qaeda is rising?

Does anyone actually believe the Media anymore?

Let’s take a look at the problem. Our news was once first hand from reporters in the field. All the major News papers after WW2 had always had personnel year round in the Middle East. Television would get their news from the newspapers and independent sources grew as TV grew. Then the internet came along one day. Well that was when it started to change. Also large publishers which were once independent family owned entities became corporate giants. Gone was the day of the newspaper man. last I heard around early 2007 was only one major newpapper still had a full time presence in the middle east. Yet I believe it was only one reporter at times (especially in the hot summers - which is also the time when the enemy is most active). The fact is most of today’s so called "News" comes from what are referred to in the industry as "stringers".

OK I just looked up Iraqi stringers and found a article titled "Myths of Iraq"

here is a portion of the Article by By Ralph Peters

"The dangerous nature of journalism in Iraq has created a new phenomenon, the all-powerful local stringer. Unwilling to stray too far from secure facilities and their bodyguards, reporters rely heavily on Iraqi assistance in gathering news. And Iraqi stringers, some of whom have their own political agendas, long ago figured out that Americans prefer bad news to good news. The Iraqi leg-men earn blood money for unbalanced, often-hysterical claims, while the Journalism 101 rule of seeking confirmation from a second source has been discarded in the pathetic race for headlines......"

Terrorist have been waging a Propaganda War and the News is making money off it. Let's change that...