Un-embedded reporters from Baghdad: Keep up peace pressure

Independent journalists in Iraq are providing coverage of the war’s human cost, challenging the Bush administration’s motives for war, and examining the Iraqi and Arab people’s response to invasion.

Jeremy Scahill exited Baghdad on the second to last flight before the U.S. bombing began March 20. He was reporting there for seven of the last twelve months on “Democracy Now!,” Free Speech Radio News and www.IraqJournal.org. In an interview with the World, Scahill said, “I met many Iraqis over the last five years who’ve taken great heart in hearing that so many have taken to the streets [in peace protests]. It’s one of the few things that gives ordinary [Iraqi] people hope – that the world has not forgotten about them.”

Independent journalist May Ying Welsh was still managing to report from Baghdad as of this printing. Welsh called in to “Democracy Now!” on April 1, describing days of intensive round-the-clock U.S. bombing. Welsh saw a crowded marketplace in a poor neighborhood in far western Baghdad hours after a U.S. bomb blast killed at least 50 civilians. “When we arrived on the scene, people were still crying and wailing in the streets inconsolably. Iraqis are really starting to feel under attack. Anyone here who might have thought that the U.S. forces were here for their liberation, these people are having a change of heart. People are being affected everywhere in Iraq and that is creating anger and resistance.”

Bombing of Iraqi infrastructure meant that Pacifica Radio reporter Jerry Quickley could not extend his Iraq visa. In an interview with the World, Quickley recounted his harrowing drive from Baghdad to Amman. “The U.S., by destroying the infrastructure along this 600 km road made it impossible for the Iraqi people to escape Baghdad. There were bombed out bridges, all the gas stations had been bombed, there were bombed out cars, buses. There were dead bodies in the road, immolated corpses inside the vehicles, rotting carcasses of camels in the road. One of the petrol stations was rebombed while we were standing there trying to find petrol, an incident I was exceedingly fortunate to have survived.”

Despite deportation, two weeks of giving independent coverage was enough to show Quickley that the Pentagon’s embedded journalist system, in which reporters travel with a military unit, is “a public obscenity” because of what is left out of many broadcasts. “The absence of truth is a lie,” he continued. “They don’t tell you details about the Iraqis killed. You don’t see that the people of Iraq ... regardless of whether they support Saddam Hussein, do not support American occupation and frankly don’t want American troops’ lives to be wasted either in this power grab. The massive collusion between mainstream media and the U.S. government contributes to ... the fundamental miscalculation by the administration of the Iraqi people and has ignored the only real road to resolution in Iraq – a peaceful, negotiated and diplomatic one.”

Scahill urges the continued growth of independent news coverage. “Media activists are creating a whole new sphere of influence in the world, where we can go up against the major liars of our time. As activists, as journalists, as people concerned about this country, we have to build every possible institution we can to oppose this dirty filthy war that Bush and his cabal are waging on the world.”

Scahill points to collaboration and internet tools as enabling independent media organizing to emerge worldwide “on a scale we’ve never seen in any previous war – independent media centers, ... publications like yours, and other smaller publications, ... shows like ‘Democracy Now!,’ networks like Pacifica, every cable access station that is beginning to wake up and smell the political coffee. All of this is something the U.S. government has never had to face before. Even the official press in many other western countries shows dissent to the official U.S. line that is quite unprecedented.”

The author can be reached at noelnoel@igc.org. In coming weeks, the World will continue to provide views from independent media’s first-hand coverage of Iraq.



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