Interview: Machine Man
Unions: Testing Times
Bad Boss: Freespirit Haunts Internet
Unions: Badge of Honour
National Focus: Noel's World
Economics: Safe Refuge
International: Global Abuse
History: The Honeypot
Review: Death And The Barbarians
Poetry: Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
The Mouse That Roars
Justice For Victims Denied
Message from America
Before the dust had settled, Major General Jasim Muhammad Saleh, a former officer in Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard, was replaced by Muhammad Latif, a former military intelligence officer who also worked for Saddam Hussein, as leader of a new Iraqi brigade hoping to stabilize the situation in Falluja.
One day after a May Day front page New York Times photo showing Maj. Gen. Saleh shaking hands with Col. John Toolson of the First Marines, he came under heavy fire from General Richard Myers, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. In appearances on three Sunday morning talk shows, Gen. Myers claimed that Maj. Gen. Saleh had not been properly vetted and would soon be replaced by "another general they're looking at."
Saleh's ouster may also have something to do with his early pronouncement that there are no foreign fighters in Falluja, an assertion patently contradicting the current U.S. position.
It appears that the new Falluja Brigade leader will be Muhammad Latif, who has "a history of standing up to Saddam Hussein," Reuters reported. Although the popular Saleh told Reuters that he "will have nothing to do with the Falluja Brigade," a U.S. military official claimed the Maj. Gen. will still be in the mix, helping to lead one of the three battalions of the brigade.
Meanwhile, the officer chosen by the U.S. to command Iraq's new army, General Amer Bakr al-Hashimi, may have refused to join Hussein's Ba'ath party but he recently acknowledged he felt "proud" to have served under the former Iraqi dictator.
The Bush Administration's policy in Iraq is now a cocktail of contradictory images and messages groping for an exit strategy: The front page photo of Maj. Gen. Saleh with Col. Toolson in the Times followed by his rapid-fire removal; L. Paul Bremer's turnabout on de-Ba'athification and his current willingness to work with former Ba'ath Party members; the ridiculously inadequate vetting process.
A year ago, President Bush was in the catbird's seat: Dressed in full Top Gun gear, the president made his now infamous landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln, the battleship parked in waters just off the coast of San Diego. Against the backdrop of a titanic banner reading "Mission Accomplished," Bush declared that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended."
Team Bush expected that image would be a ticket to ride to re-election. Viewed repeatedly in pro-Bush television advertisements "Mission Accomplished" was intended to be imprinted in the minds of the American public as the height of presidential triumph; a fitting foreshadowing of November 2004. Despite the deaths of hundreds of U.S. troops and the wounding of thousands since "Mission Accomplished" rendering the ad campaign moot, that image may yet serve an electoral function -- as a symbol of presidential hubris and a reminder of the gross miscalculations the Bush Administration made running the occupation.
All wars produce provocative and searing images, but late-twentieth century and early-twenty-first century wars generate them instantaneously. The authenticity of some of these images, such as the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, often do not stand up to scrutiny. Other images accurately reflect the horrific realities of the death and destruction: The infamous "highway of death" photos that came out of the first Iraq war and the butchered and burnt pieces of bodies of four murdered American civilian security men in Falluja will forever be etched in our minds.
The battle for the hearts and minds of the American public and the people in Iraq is being shaped in large part by video and photographic images. And as the occupation of Iraq continues to implode, Team Bush and its surrogates continue to try and aggressively manage the message.
But media dust-ups are breaking out all over as the administration tries to stem what political commentator Mark Shields recently called the "melting away" of public support for the war. The intensity of the brouhaha over whether ABC's Nightline should show pictures of the U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq caused Sinclair Communications, a company friendly to the Bush Administration, to refuse to air the program on several of its ABC affiliates.
At the beginning of "The Fallen," Nightline host, Ted Koppel, said: "This was never intended to be about us and, for all the controversy that's swirling around this program, tonight is just going to be about the men and women who have died in Iraq since the war began a year ago last March."
After reading the names, Koppel stated that "the reading tonight of those 721 names was neither intended to provoke opposition to the war, nor was it meant as an endorsement... Some of you doubt that. You are convinced that I am opposed to the war. I'm not. But that's beside the point. I am opposed to sustaining the illusion that war can be waged by the sacrifice of a few without burdening the rest of us in any way. I oppose the notion that to be at war is to forfeit the right to question, criticize or debate our leaders' policies. Or, for that matter, the policies of those who would like to become our leaders."
Another recent media ruckus in the homeland was ignited by the unauthorized taking and publication of pictures of flag-draped coffins of dead U.S. soldiers airlifted out of Iraq. The story about the pictures not only made the cable news networks, but the pictures themselves commandeered coveted space on the front pages of newspapers across the country.
Recent photos of Iraqi prisoners naked and stacked in piles and being sexually humiliated in Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad at the hands of U.S. soldiers has put the Administration's media machine on the defensive.
First aired on CBS' 60 Minutes II, the photos have been shown on the United Arab Emirates-based Al-Arabiya and the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television networks and newspapers throughout the region have featured them on their front pages.
"Images of smiling U.S. military police humiliating Iraqi prisoners appeared in newspapers around the Middle East -- angering Arabs who condemned the United States as a champion of rights only for Americans," the Associated Press reported. Egypt's Akhbar el-Yom newspaper ran the photos with the banner headline 'The Scandal.' Another paper, Al-Wafd, ran the photos beneath the headline, 'The Shame!'
These photos come on the heels of Middle East network news coverage of the hundreds of dead Iraqi civilians -- many of them women and children -- killed during the U.S.'s ill-advised collective punishment strategy heaped on the people of Fallujah.
After all this time in Iraq, the U.S. is still operating on the fly and grasping for a plan. Try this Rumsfeldian tautology: Whatever has been tried hasn't worked and whatever hasn't been tried hasn't worked, therefore the U.S. might as well give something old (Saddam's army) a try to see if it won't work as well.
Paradoxically, the U.S. may have finally done something that many in Iraq could cheer -- pulling its troops back from Falluja. While the administration's latest partnership is in its nascent stages, it would be worthwhile knowing who comes up with these desperate improvisations. For more please see the Bill Berkowitz archive.
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.
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