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.
Defenselink.mil, 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
I turn to another DoD site, defendamerica.mil. 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 rebuilding-iraq.net, 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
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, portaliraq.com, 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
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