Newspapers Brief

Much Ado About Nothing, How The Western Press Got The Story Of The U.S. Troop Withdrawal From Iraq Wrong Again
17/10/2011 19:10
by Joel Wing*

When it comes to reporting on whether the United States will ultimately withdraw its forces from Iraq on December 31, 2011, the western media is forming a bad habit of getting the story wrong. At the beginning of October, the press ran headlines that Iraq’s political parties had met, and agreed to allow U.S. trainers to stay into 2012. This overlooked the fact that this decision had already been made in August, and the real point of the conference was to work out the differences between the lists that remained from the March 2010 parliamentary elections. The Associated Press just made another bad report, when it claimed that the White House had given up on keeping combat troops in Iraq. Again, this ignored the previous discussions between the two sides that had agreed to only keep trainers within Iraq. This inconsistent coverage is giving the Western public a distorted view of what’s going on within the country.

On October 15, the Associated Press claimed that the White House had given up on its hope to keep troops in Iraq past 2011. It said that the U.S. had been pushing for several thousand soldiers to stay past the withdrawal deadline, but that Baghdad’s refusal to offer them immunity had sunk those plans. The article then went on to say that talks about allowing trainers to stay was still on going. Overall, this was a non-story. The administration had already given up on the idea of keeping thousands of its forces in Iraq. Fox News noted that back in September. That was in response to the Iraqis, who had only agreed upon a small training force the month before. That led American officials to refute the Associated Press the next day. All the discussions between Washington and Baghdad are currently focused upon the immunity issue, with the latter providing some possible loopholes for the Americans to use to get around it. Those include keeping trainers under NATO, which already has a small assistance force in the country, or placing them under the Office of Security Cooperation that works under the State Department. The Iraqis are unwilling to provide legal protection to the U.S. troops because of past abuses like Abu Ghraib and the Blackwater incident when private security forces killed several civilians, but they are apparently looking for compromises that the U.S. can live with. All the Iraqi parties, with the exception of the Sadrists have said that Iraq’s security forces still need assistance with intelligence, air defense, border control, logistics, and the new advanced equipment they are purchasing such as jet fighters, tanks, and artillery. At the same time, they want whatever force that stays to be on their own terms, and not be dictated to them by the Americans.

The problem with all these reports is that they are giving confusing messages about what is going on in Iraq. The Associated Press story was included in a wide variety of media sources, and gave the impression that all U.S. forces would be out by the end of the year. This is unlikely to happen, as both Washington and Baghdad want trainers to stay. When the new year starts, and soldiers are still in Iraq, some in the States will ask what happened. Not only that, but the Iraqi perspective on the matter is rarely noted. Besides the Iraqis insistence on not giving the U.S. immunity, their needs are hardly reported. The fact that Iraq’s military is almost completely incapable of defending the country from foreign threats is the driving force behind their desire to keep some trainers past 2011. Current Iraqi plans, don’t have the security forces ready for that task until 2020, and even that might be too optimistic. In a region with yearly shelling and air strikes by Turkey and Iran, insurgents infiltrating from Syria, and Iran providing lethal support to Special Groups, a strong and competent military are a necessity to deter these countries from continuing their interference in a weak Iraq. Reporters need to do a better job exploring Baghdad’s perspective, and reporting on Iraq in general.

*With an MA in International Relations, Joel Wing has been researching and writing about Iraq since 2002. His acclaimed blog, Musings on Iraq, is currently listed by the New York Times and the World Politics Review. In addition, Mr. Wing’s work has been cited by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Guardian and the Washington Independent.


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Newspapers Brief
Much Ado About Nothing, How The Western Press Got The Story Of The U.S. Troop Withdrawal From Iraq Wrong Again