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SNAFU in Iraq: Situation Normal, All Fancied Up
Published on Wednesday, October 20, 2004 by
SNAFU in Iraq: Situation Normal, All Fancied Up
by Robert Neuwirth
I finally figured it out. I know why President Bush thinks things are rosy in Iraq. It must be because he ignores independent newspaper and television reports and instead turns for his news to articles published by the Defense Department and the Agency for International Development and other entities involved in the work of the Coalition of the Willing.

It’s 7 am on October 15th. I boot up my computer and make my way to the government’s web sites to see what’s been happening in Iraq., the U.S. Department of Defense’s news web site, crows about the transformation of the U.S. military, saluting a readjustment of American might that will "increase U.S. military capability with fewer forces." Another article notes that Iraqi Intervention Forces have seized two vehicles carrying 17 artillery shells, 78 mortars, and 108 anti-tank mines.

I turn to another DoD site, Here, I read about the "fastest gun in the west," a Marine Corps battery battering Falujah. I learn about the overwhelming success of the Army’s GPS mapping system in aiding the occupation. And I read about grateful children welcoming U.S. soldiers into Samarra.

Finally, I click into, a web site maintained by the Project and Contracting Office, the U.S.-sponsored entity that oversees reconstruction efforts in Iraq. Here, I learn that, despite crippling security concerns, American "efforts to improve the quality of life for millions of Iraqis" are "on schedule, on scope and on budget."

Of course, today’s news also includes the shocking story that terrorists penetrated Baghdad’s ‘green zone’—the high security area where the U.S. is based, along with most foreigners and reporters—and detonated bombs that killed five people, including three Americans. That story is on the military’s web sites, too, but it is not the lead item on any of these sites.

It’s like this all the time. Bombs blow up. Terrorists attack police stations. Reconstruction agencies scale back or even pull out. But these corners of the world wide web remain unrelentingly optimistic.

On October 9th, car bombs killed 11 Iraqis, but the military web sites featured a dispatch from an Army Corps of Engineers writer noting that the Iraqi Ministry of Transportation has started rehabilitation work on three train stations in Mosul, Baghdad and Basra. An engineer working on the project said that the work would upgrade track safety and the quality of the rolling stock.

On October 7th, insurgents fired rockets at a hotel in downtown Baghdad, but the web sites were full of good news about Iraqi rebuilding: "The pace of reconstruction projects is picking up," the Armed Forces Press Service crowed in an article titled "Reconstruction Funds Flow Into Iraq, Projects Move Forward."

On September 21st, the same day a Turkish company pulled out of Iraq to prevent abducted employees from being beheaded,, a site promoting business in Iraq, made no mention of the kidnappings, instead reporting that "new pipes buried deep in the walls and floors of the revamped Iraqi airport will soon feed the building with enough clean water for the nearly 4,000 Iraqi laborers that will staff the airport and the thousands of travelers that will soon re-fill the once teaming terminal." [spelling incorrect in original] And the Agency for International Development reported on a new $20 million contract with BearingPoint, a firm based in Virginia, that will "create an environment that promotes private sector-led growth through housing finance reforms and commercial law and institutional reforms," and "increase the capacity of the Iraqi Electricity Industry by helping the industry adopt international best practices and move towards becoming a more commercially [viable] entity and away from State subsidies."

On September 14th, the U.S. admitted that it was diverting money from reconstruction to security, but, among other stories, the web sites reported this important news: "With more than half a million new jobs created, new industries and new factories, Iraq has experienced a rapid increase in electricity demand. The increase in demand is a good sign of a thriving economy emerging from three decades of isolation."

If he gets his news from these sites, it’s easy to see why the President might believe that freedom is on the march in Iraq, and privatization, too.

Still, there is some bad news lurking around these web pages—but you have to click on the optimistic headline and read a few paragraphs of the story to get to it. Here’s one nugget, from a dispatch datelined "CAMP AL TAHREER, Baghdad, Oct. 14, 2004," noting that, despite the highly-touted weapons buy-back, Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army has not been giving up its weapons.

"The only people that are turning in weapons so far are the people of Sadr City, not the militia," Brigadier General Jeffrey Hammond told the reporter, Sgt. 1st Class Tony Sailer of the 122nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment. The general explained, "I will only know that we are going in the right direction in the next few days when I see thousands of RPGs (rocket propelled grenade launchers), thousands of bombs, and bomb-making materials being turned in."

The headline for this dispatch: "Weapons Turn-in Only a Start." Here, in the ‘grass is always green zone’ of the Internet, the news from Iraq is indeed a fantasy world of spin.

Robert Neuwirth, a journalist, is the author of Shadow Cities, a book on the squatter communities of the developing world, to be published in December by Routledge.


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