On Monday, September 18, Associated Press (AP) ran a story titled, "Iraqi tribes fight Insurgency." At first glance, the average reader cannot be blamed for thinking that this is a story about how tribes in Iraq have decided to take up arms against the "insurgency."
The reader certainly cannot be blamed for thinking this, because the first paragraph in the AP story reads, "Tribes in one of Iraq's most volatile provinces have joined together to fight the insurgency there, and they have called on the government and the US-led military coalition for weapons, a prominent tribal leader said Monday."
Allow me to pause here and address the use of the word "insurgent." According to Webster's Third New International Dictionary, an insurgent is "a person who rises in revolt against civil authority or an established government: [a] rebel." This of course begs the existence of a legitimately elected government that the "insurgent" rises in revolt against, which in Iraq we do not have. How is it possible to have a legitimate government in a country that was first illegally invaded and today is illegally occupied?
Yet, AP uses the word unquestioningly.
The story continues: "Tribal leaders and clerics in Ramadi, the capital of violent Anbar province, met last week and have set up a force of about 20,000 men 'ready to purge the city of these infidels,' Sheik Fassal al-Guood, a prominent tribal leader from Ramadi, told the Associated Press, referring to the insurgents. 'People are fed up with the acts of those criminals who take Islam as a cover for their crimes,' he said. 'The situation in the province is unbearable, the city is abandoned, most of the families have fled the city and all services are poor.' Al-Guood said 15 of the 18 tribes in Ramadi 'have sworn to fight those who are killing Sunnis and Shiites and they established an armed force of about 20,000 young men ready to purge the city from those infidels.'"
At this point, either the author of this AP story, or the editor, or both, rightly assume that the reader is not aware that Sheik Fassal al-Guood tried to lead the local resistance against the occupation in Ramadi, but turned against the same resistance group when its members rejected him as a leader because they considered him a corrupt thief. Nor is the reader aware that today, Sheikh Fassal al-Guood lives in the "Green Zone" and happily talks to reporters from behind the concrete blast walls, and that his power in Al-Anbar now equals exactly nothing.
I contacted author and media critic Norman Solomon and asked him what he thought of this AP story. "The holes in this story beg for questions that it does not raise, much less answer," he wrote. "For instance: What are the past, present and hoped-for financial relationships between the quoted 'tribal leader' on the one hand and the US and Iraqi governments on the other? Are there any indications that money has changed hands? Is a mercenary arrangement being set up? Is this part of the Bush administration's strategy to get more Iraqis to kill each other rather than have Iraqis killing American troops - aka 'As the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down?' Isn't there a good chance that such arrangements will actually fuel civil war in Iraq rather than douse its already horrific flames?"
He continued, "So, this AP story agreeably paraphrases an official from the US-backed Iraqi government's Defense Ministry as saying that 'Iraqi security forces had met with tribal leaders and had agreed to cooperate in combating violence.' But how will they be 'combating violence?' With massive violence, of course, although the article doesn't say so. Many sources are available to make such a point, but in this story AP availed itself of none of them."
Solomon, a nationally-syndicated columnist on media and politics who is also the founder and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, a national consortium of policy researchers and analysts, had this to say about why AP might get away with this type of "reportage" as consistently as it does: "AP is providing the kind of coverage that it and other mainstream US media outlets have provided in the past. The coverage does not seem conspicuously shoddy to most readers because it fits in with previous shoddy reportage. From all appearances, this AP article is based on statements from four sources - and each of them is in line with US government policies. There's one tribal leader from Ramadi who is seeking large quantities of material aid from the US and the Iraqi government; there are two spokespeople for that Iraqi government; and there's a general from the US military. That all four would present a similar picture of events is not surprising. But for an article to rely on only those sources is stenography for one side of the conflict - which should not be confused with journalism."
It is also important for the reader to note that, according to an August US Defense Intelligence Agency assessment, of 1,666 bombs exploded in Iraq in July, 90% were aimed at US-led forces. Along with this fact, attacks against US forces have increased dramatically in recent months, and the US military itself has admitted that less than 6% of the attacks against them are from foreign fighters (i.e., "terrorists"). Thus, at least 94% of all attacks against US forces in Iraq are from the Iraqi Resistance, as opposed to "terrorists."
It is time, too, that readers of mainstream news knew that any "tribal meeting" that discusses fighting "the insurgents" is currently being held secretly inside American military bases or inside the "green zone." Iraqi people who are trying to lead that operation are well known to Al-Anbar citizens. These leaders did succeed in some cases in recruiting certain groups to fight resistance fighters by paying considerable sums of money, but it was only temporary success.
A case in point would be Al-Qa'im last spring. A tribal fight occurred between local resistance fighters. Sheik Osama al-Jadaan was involved in engineering it by paying members of his tribe to take up arms against local resistance groups. Yet this conflict was settled, and when it was, al-Jadaan had to flee to the "green zone." He lived there for a short time before his work as a collaborator with occupation forces caught up with him, and he was killed in Baghdad.
Yet the AP story has this to say about al-Jadaan: "In late May, a prominent Sunni Arab tribal leader, Sheik Osama al-Jadaan, who provided fighters to help battle al-Qaeda in Anbar, was assassinated in Baghdad."
There are the usual token scraps of truth in the AP story, lending it a hue of credibility. The story quotes a US military spokesperson who goes out on a limb to say that tribal leaders in Anbar "very much want to see security brought back to that area."
Another scrap of truth came earlier in the story where Al-Guood is quoted as saying that most of the tribes of Ramadi "have sworn to fight those who are killing Sunnis and Shiites and they established an armed force of about 20,000 young men ready to purge the city from those infidels."
This is true throughout Iraq, where even the US military has documented several cases of resistance groups fighting foreign terror groups that have infiltrated Iraq's porous borders in order to carry out attacks against Iraqi civilians.
The most disconcerting portion of this AP story, however, is the melding of the word "insurgent" with the word "terrorist." Clearly there is a flippancy, and I believe a malicious intent in this misuse. I have witnessed this melding repeated in AP stories from Iraq in which "insurgent" replaces "terrorist."
We can see the melding in a recent AP story, which states: "Attacks against US troops have increased following a call earlier this month from al-Qaeda in Iraq's leader to target American forces, the top US military spokesman said Wednesday."
Another example of this melding is in an AP story from September 17th about Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi citizen of Fallujah who has been held by the US military without charges for five months. Part of the story reads, "The military said Hussein was captured with two insurgents, including Hamid Hamad Motib, an alleged leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq."
Regarding the reference to al-Qaeda (read "terrorism"), Solomon had this to say: "The word 'terrorism' is clearly a pejorative. And it's an unwritten rule of US media coverage that the 'terrorism' label can only be used, or quoted with credence being given to the sources, if 'terrorism' applies to murderous violence opposed by the US government - in contrast to murderous violence inflicted or otherwise supported by the US government, in which case that violence is routinely presumed to be positive."
It is a melding that has the power to change minds.
A melding that may have prompted Orwell to say, "... language can also corrupt thought."
It is important to note that the board of directors of AP is composed of 22 newspaper and media executives that include the CEOs and presidents of ABC, McClatchy, Hearst, Tribune and the Washington Post. Two of the directors are members of very conservative policy councils that include the Hoover Institute. The Hoover Institute is a Republican policy research center that has been referred to as "Bush's brain trust." Its fellows include Condoleezza Rice and Newt Gingrich, a Distinguished Visiting Fellow, along with George Shultz.
Douglas McCorkindale, also on the board of directors at AP, is on the board of Lockheed Martin, the world's largest defense contract company. One does not require crystals to see that the board of AP displays a clear tilt toward right-wing conservative views, and comprises representatives of a huge corporate media network of the largest publishers in the US.
It is not difficult to demolish the myth of the liberal media and its prominent arms like AP. Political language ... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. - George Orwell
Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist who has reported for the Guardian, the Independent, and the Sunday Herald. He now writes regularly for Inter Press Service and Truthout. He maintains a web site at dahrjamailiraq.com.