Morning Report: October 8, 2007

Iraq: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Plus: What is a "defining atrocity"?

The best police force in Iraq. Michael Totten wasn't impressed with the state of the Iraqi police force in Mashadah, but Kirkuk is another story:
“We see Iraqis smile now,” Sergeant Kitts said to me on our way out. “And seeing Iraqis smile…that’s a big deal. These people haven’t had anything to smile about for a very long time. This is where we are finally earning our money.”

“I agree,” First Sergeant Rodriguez said. “It’s a lot less volatile now, so we can actually move this place forward.”

I walked among the tidy rows of grapes, figs, dates, and olives with Lieutenant Colonel Rahman and an Iraqi interpreter named Jack.

“Now that the fighting is over,” I said, “what kind of work do you focus on?”

“Mainly on gathering intelligence on sleeper cells and support networks,” the colonel said. “It is much easier now. People here are very appreciative and cooperative with what happened and with what is happening now. If Iraqi Police officers or coalition soldiers go to people's houses they are welcomed with open arms for food and for tea. Before the people here were not allowed to even look at coalition forces or they would be murdered by Al Qaeda.”

“What do you think about the possibility of Americans withdrawing their forces?” I said. He had already said please don't leave us to Captain Dennison, but I wanted at least a little elaboration.

“That is not in the best interests of Iraq right now,” he said. “We need some more time. If they pull out there will be a real possibility of serious sectarian warfare. Anbar is secure. Only Baghdad and the surrounding area remains to be secured. As soon as that happens, the fight will be over.” He is right to suggest that most of the violence is in the Baghdad area and its surroundings. But it’s still game-on in Mosul and in parts of Diyala Province. Southern Iraq suffers a lot less violence than the center, but Shia militias still control parts of it.

“Are you optimistic?” I said.

“Yes,” he said.

“Why?” I said.

“I’ll tell you why,” he said. ...

Go to the link for the rest. And please help support citizen journalism, so consider hitting Michael's tip jar while you're there.

MSM's own words: rising Iraq casualties news, falling Iraq casualties not. Here is a shining example of why we need people like Michael Totten - because we can't trust the mainstream media to give us the straight scoop. On CNN's show "Reliable Sources", Howard Kurtz, to his credit, tried to get a straight answer to a simple question: Why aren't the media paying attention to the falling casualty rates in Iraq? Newsbusters reports Kurtz's exchange with the Washington Post's Robin Wright and CNN's Barbara Starr. Kurtz asks Wright: "Robin Wright, should that decline in Iraq casualties have gotten more media attention?" Wright's answer:
Not necessarily. The fact is we're at the beginning of a trend -- and it's not even sure that it is a trend yet. There is also an enormous dispute over how to count the numbers. There are different kinds of deaths in Iraq. ...

So the numbers themselves are tricky.

And Barbara Starr weighs in:
But that's the problem, we don't know whether it is a trend about specifically the decline in the number of U.S. troops being killed in Iraq. This is not enduring progress. This is a very positive step on that potential road to progress.

OK, so the numbers are tricky and we want to be cautious about reporting a "trend" that might just turn out to be a blip. Well and good. But what if the situation were reversed:
KURTZ: But let's say that the figures had shown that casualties were going up for U.S. soldiers and going up for Iraqi civilians. I think that would have made some front pages.

STARR: Oh, I think inevitably it would have. I mean, that's certainly -- that, by any definition, is news. Look, nobody more than a Pentagon correspondent would like to stop reporting the number of deaths, interviewing grieving families, talking to soldiers who have lost their arms and their legs in the war. But, is this really enduring progress?

We've had five years of the Pentagon telling us there is progress, there is progress. Forgive me for being skeptical, I need to see a little bit more than one month before I get too excited about all of this.

Actually, Barbara, you've had four months now to work up a little enthusiasm, but I guess those little numbers are tricky things, right? Anyway, dear reader, if you were looking for the media's "smoking gun", there it is right there. If you've got falling body counts among Americans and Iraqi civilians, well, there's "enormous dispute" over how to count those "tricky" numbers - because "there are different kinds of deaths in Iraq". But if those same tricky numbers are going up, "that, by any definition, is news".

Student protests in Iran. Jerusalem Post: 'An estimated 100 students staged a rare demonstration Monday against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, calling him a "dictator," which prompted scuffles with hardline students at Teheran University. Ahmadinejad, who was giving a speech to a select group at the university to mark the beginning of the academic year, ignored the chants of "death to the dictator" and continued with his speech on the merits of science and the pitfalls of Western-style democracy, witnesses said.' AFP: 'Riot police barred the group of about 100 chanting students from leaving the Tehran University campus, where Ahmadinejad was giving a speech marking the start of the new academic year, a witness told AFP. "Ahmadinejad is Pinochet! Iran will not become Chile," the students shouted, the witness said. The demonstrators at Tehran University, Iran's top academic institution, were calling for the release of students detained since May for publishing writings considered insulting to Islam, the semi-official Fars news agency reported. ... Monday's protest came just two weeks after Ahmadinejad addressed New York's prestigious Columbia University during a highly controversial visit to the United States for the UN General Assembly. "Why only Columbia? We have questions too," read banners brandished by the students at Tehran University.' Swissinfo: 'Liberal-minded students and academics have criticised the president for clamping down on dissent on Iranian campuses, although the president and his government insist they support free speech and welcome constructive opposition. ... One of the pro-reform students said those allowed inside to listen were handpicked because they supported the president. "We were not invited," said the student, asking not to be named.' HT: The Spirit of Man.

Commentary. I don't think you could ask for a clearer demonstration of the media's agenda than the one afforded by the words of Robin Wright and Barbara Starr. But just to help round out the picture - and because we don't want the good folks at the New York Times to feel left out - here's Gateway Pundit's roundup of the NYT - in its own words - reporting on the "defining atrocity" of Haditha.
The New York Times
May 26, 2006:

A military investigation into the deaths of two dozen Iraqis last November is expected to find that a small number of marines in western Iraq carried out extensive, unprovoked killings of civilians, Congressional, military and Pentagon officials said Thursday...

That evidence, described by Congressional, Pentagon and military officials briefed on the inquiry, suggested to one Congressional official that the killings were "methodical in nature."
The New York Times
June 4, 2006:

The apparent cold-blooded killing last November of 24 Iraqi civilians by United States marines at Haditha will be hard to dispose of with another Washington damage control operation. The Iraqi government has made clear that it will not sit still for one, and neither should the American people. This affair cannot simply be dismissed as the spontaneous cruelty of a few bad men. ...

The New York Times
October 6, 2007:

Last year, when accounts of the killing of 24 Iraqis in Haditha by a group of marines came to light, it seemed that the Iraq war had produced its defining atrocity, just as the conflict in Vietnam had spawned the My Lai massacre a generation ago.

But on Thursday, a senior military investigator recommended dropping murder charges against the ranking enlisted marine accused in the 2005 killings, just as he had done earlier in the cases of two other marines charged in the case. The recommendation may well have ended prosecutors’ chances of winning any murder convictions in the killings of the apparently unarmed men, women and children.

Go to Gateway Pundit for the whole thing.

Now, how do you define "defining atrocity"? Neo-Neocon takes a look at the My Lai connection - or lack of one:
My Lai was the template. A bona fide atrocity (see this for the complete My Lai story), it not only made the name of journalist Seymour Hersh and won him his coveted Pulitzer, but it profoundly shocked the American public and helped turn them against the Vietnam War.

And ever since the Iraq War began, the media has been searching for its My Lai. Abu Ghraib was an attempt to find one, but although it garnered enormous publicity and shamed the military, it wasn’t a good enough parallel. No one was killed, for example. A comparison of My Lai to Abu Ghraib illustrates the old Marxian adage the history repeats itself the first time as tragedy and the second as farce.

And so the media had to keep looking. They thought they had found what they were looking for in Haditha. ...

And so ... on to Haditha:
Time correspondent Tim McGirk broke the story in March of 2006, having received information and a videotape from Iraqi sources. However:

McGirk received his video “evidence” and contacts from two known Iraqi insurgent operatives already under observation by Marine Corps counter intelligence teams. One of the Iraqi witnesses McGirk relied on had just been released from almost six months captivity for insurgent activities and the other witness was considered a useful intelligence tool by Marines listening to him talk on his cell phone. McGirk never interviewed the Marines…

Go to the link for the rest. Neo concludes:
Before My Lai it was considered inconceivable that American soldiers could commit such atrocities. The pendulum then swung so far in the other direction that now it is considered inevitable that they will do so. So reporters have abandoned the healthy skepticism they require in order to ferret out the truth. Instead, all they feel they need to do is find the atrocity stories, write about them, and then sit back and garner their own Pulitzers.

Fortunately, this time I don’t think there’ll be a Pulitzer in it for Tim McGirk.