Jewish World Review June 25, 2003 / 25 Sivan, 5763

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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Bad news is the only news: An journalist's eyewitness report


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | A producer for National Public Radio, who learned that I had recently returned from Iraq, called to inquire if I would be interested in taking part in a special program NPR was planning on Iraq. But it soon became clear a formal invitation would not be extended. I wasn't telling her what she wanted to hear.

Q. Aren't the Americans encountering more opposition than they expected?

A. No. Most of the Iraqis we encountered either were friendly to Americans, or indifferent to our presence. I saw only a small piece of the elephant. But the other embedded reporters with whom I've talked had similar experiences.

Q. Doesn't the guerrilla war that's going on now pose a serious threat to our troops?

A. No. The death of each soldier is a tragedy. It's easy to ambush a soldier at a sentry post or to fire an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) at a convoy. But these sniping incidents represent neither widespread public antagonism, nor a serious military threat. If we had a soldier killed each day for a year - and I don't think we will - that would amount to less than four tenths of one percent of the forces we have in Iraq. That's militarily inconsequential.

Few news organizations are as biased as NPR. But most tend to emphasize bad news, on the flimsiest of evidence. An example is the brouhaha over the alleged looting of antiquities from the Iraqi National Museum, which has since been shown to be a fraud.

Swift victories are by their nature incomplete. When U.S. forces entered Germany in WWII, most of the diehard Nazis had already died hard. But most of the Iraqi forces were neither killed nor captured. They just melted away. Some who deserted in order to preserve their lives continue to bear animus to the United States. It is not surprising that a few would continue the struggle.

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Most of the incidents have taken place in the so-called "Sunni Triangle." It extends from the northwest suburbs of Baghdad - where those who benefited most from Saddam Hussein's regime live - west about 50 miles to the cities of Fallujah and Habaniyah and Ar Ramadi, northeast to Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, then southeast through Samarra back to Baghdad.

Sunni Muslim Arabs constitute about 20 percent of the population of Iraq. Sunnis have been running Iraq ever since it was created. If Iraq becomes a democracy, they won't be running things anymore. It is understandable that many Sunnis would resent this. But the weight of anecdotal evidence suggests that a majority of Sunnis are not hostile to the American presence - albeit a much smaller majority than for other ethnic and religious groups.

"Residents have displayed little hostility toward the formidable American force during it's daytime patrols," wrote the New York Times' Michael Gordon from Fallujah. "The troops have even been cheered by schoolchildren...Iraqi officials say they attacks are being carried out by what they call outsiders who slip into Fallujah at night."

The key to understanding how things are going in Iraq is to pay attention to where "news" is not being made. You rarely hear of trouble in Basra, Kirkuk or Mosul, Iraq's second, third and fourth largest cities; in Sadr City, the huge Shi'ia Muslim neighborhood in Baghdad, or in the Shi'ia holy cities of Karbala and Najaf. You hear nothing at all from the Kurdish areas, as sizable a proportion of the population as the Sunni Arabs, because the Kurds are overwhelmingly pro-American.

The Iraqi Institute of Strategic Studies recently conducted the first scientific poll in Baghdad in decades. In it, 73 percent of Baghdadis criticized the U.S. Army for failing to provide adequate security. But only 17 percent said they wanted the Americans to leave now. Nearly two thirds said they want U.S. troops to stay until Iraq is "safe and secure."

It is doubtful that in any other Arab land there would be so much support for a major American presence of indefinite duration. And this is a country we have bombed, invaded, and now occupy. We have problems in Iraq, but fewer of them than some would have you believe.

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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Jack Kelly