Thursday, September 21, 2006

Ware does the President get his facts?

(That headline is a bit much.) Michael Ware switched from TIME Magazine to CNN at the conclusion of the summer. He is increasingly visible on that network in regards to Iraq reporting. Perhaps this is because he is willing to place himself in very risky situations, which makes him an ideal correspondent from al Anbar. When Colonel Devlin's pessimistic analysis on that province was reported in the Washington Post, Ware was called to CNN's Late Edition. He said the report conveyed nothing new.

Here is what Ware reported from Ramadi in a late May issue of TIME (my emphasis):
The experience of the Marines in Ramadi illuminates some of the shortcomings of the U.S. strategy for defeating the insurgency. The commander has only one brigade to secure the town, even though U.S. officers say privately that at least three are needed. Among the troops, frustration is growing: many officers say that the U.S. is too lenient in its dealings with the enemy, allowing too many captured insurgents to go free, and that soldiers can do little more than act as international police. Others claim that superiors are overlooking their reports about conditions on the ground. If the U.S. and its Iraqi allies are making progress in eroding the appeal of the resistance, the men in Ramadi don't see it. Says an American officer: "This s___ ain't going anywhere."


Despite heavy losses among the insurgents--112 were killed in one week in April--they have proved resistant to the U.S.'s onslaughts. Intelligence officials increasingly refer to them as a "legitimate local resistance," but it's al-Qaeda that drives them. Long ago, al-Zarqawi's network settled in Ramadi and, in essence, hijacked the homegrown fight. Although Iraqi groups have bucked al-Zarqawi's authority periodically--most notably in last year's referendum and December election, when they opted to vote, forcing him to stand idly by--al-Qaeda maintains its grip.

U.S. efforts to woo Iraqi groups were beginning to pay dividends, as the city's tribal and insurgent leaders gave their approval for young Sunnis to join the new police force. Recruitment mostly ran at about 40 a month, though in January, 1,000 showed up to join. But al-Qaeda responded by sending a chest-vest suicide bomber into the queue of applicants, killing about 40 Iraqis, wounding 80, and killing two Americans. When the recruits returned days later, al-Zarqawi followed up with a wave of seven assassinations of tribal sheiks. "That hurt us a lot," says Gronski.

Given the ability of al-Zarqawi's men to melt into the city, Kilo Company has few options but to search for the insurgents on block-by-block foot patrols through the worst areas. It's perilous work. On one morning this month, Tasayco and Corporal Nathan Buck take their squad out to commandeer a small shopping complex, which will give cover for the rest of the platoon to push east. On the roof, Buck, his helmet emblazoned with the words DEATH DEALERS in thick letters, warns his Marines to stay alert. When Tasayco sees movement in a nearby window, Buck rises to check it out. An insurgent sniper fires at his head, cracking a round into the lip of the cement wall in front of him. "I should be dead right now," Buck says to Tasayco with a laugh.

It's not long before another round flies over their heads, this time from a little farther to the east. The sniper is moving, hunting them. Minutes pass with no more firing. But Tasayco is uneasy. The order comes over the radio to move back to base. "Be careful, we're gonna get hit," a Marine says as the men drop to the pavement. It's only 150 yards back to the Government Center, but every inch is hard won. Lance Corporal Phillip Tussey pauses on the edge of a small alley. With another Marine covering him, he makes a dash to cross the five yards of open ground. He doesn't get more than a couple of steps when a shot rings out. He's cut down mid-stride, hit in the thigh. The men around him open fire. Within seconds, insurgents start shooting from the opposite direction. A Marine tries to drag Tussey by a leg toward a humvee but gets stranded out in the open. Tasayco bolts forward and grabs the wounded man by the arm. Someone else joins him. Still firing, they shove him into the vehicle. Tasayco takes cover and looks for the shooter. "Where the hell is this guy at?" he hollers. No one answers. "C'mon, everybody, let's go. Pick it up. Get the f___ out of here, man," Tasayco shouts. All his men can do is run.
Does this sound familiar? Trouble combating the insurgency. More troops needed. "Legitimate local resistance," implying political support in the region. Al Qaeda taking command of the fight.

Ware reported this almost four months ago.

Here is the harsh analysis Ware had in response to George W. Bush's appearance on CNN, from the transcript for Paula Zahn Now -- hosted by Soledad O'Brien:
You heard what the president had to say, which is, essentially, the good news that out there is not getting reported. Have you found that to be true on the ground where you have been?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, look, really, nothing could be further from the truth.

I mean, the fact that, when President Bush talks about those living on the ground, and he cites General Casey and Ambassador Khalilzad, I mean, these are men who could not be more divorced from the Iraqi reality. They very much live within a bubble, be it physically within the Green Zone or be it within the bubble of heavy U.S. protection.

And this is true even for their advisers and for the commanders and the American soldiers. I mean, they never take the uniform off. The Iraqi people can never talk to them unless through a filter.

It's very different than living amongst them. And when people say not enough good news stories are being told, you ask an Iraqi family what it is that they're experiencing when their street -- the bodies of their neighbors are showing up on their streets. Their kids can't go to school, for fear of crossing sectarian lines. And the kidnapping and killings are just going on around them -- Soledad.
When I first read Ware's reporting in May, I was stunned. It was noticeably more pessimistic than the reporting of other sources. Since then, I have paid close attention to his reporting. There is no questioning his guts, as this Frontline interview shows (questions emphasized):
... There was a point in September 2004 where this quietly growing presence of Zarqawi's fighters [in the Haifa Street area of Baghdad] peaked, and Zarqawi's organization had supplanted the local Baathists' authority in Haifa Street. ...

... One of the Baathists came to me and said, "The takeover is complete," basically. So suddenly Zarqawi's flags -- black banners with the golden orb in the center -- were fluttering and waving from the buildings and trees that lined this major thoroughfare. This was a declaration of ownership, of arrival, of defiance. So I needed to verify this and record it, and that's when I went down there, and I was grabbed by Zarqawi's people.

They pulled you out of a car and put a gun at the back of your head and were going to pull the trigger.

Yeah. And they have live grenades, and they pulled the pins, and they were holding them to me, and they had me under one of those banners, and they were in the throes of getting ready to execute me. They were preparing to execute me. ...

What was happening in your head at the time?

I thought that it was over. I had a lot of dealings with Zarqawi's organization directly. There was no room for any doubt in my mind. I know what happens to foreigners once they're in the hands of Zarqawi's people, and some of the men there, by their accents, were clearly identified as Syrian, not Iraqi. I felt, personally, that I was at the opening of a tunnel.

But it was a very senior Baathist commander who comes from one of the main strains of the Baathists, who eventually said, "Do you really want to start this war between us over this?" And this heated debate went on for -- whilst it was only perhaps 10 or 15 minutes, to me it felt like a lifetime. My life was in the balance.

[It was] very heated. There was screaming in faces, and I could watch the crowd of low-level foot soldiers who were there from either side. I could see them sway from one side to the other, and it wasn't until the very end that through gritted teeth, after saying, "You bring a Westerner here, and you expect us to let him leave alive?," that the Zarqawi people, gritting their teeth, said: "Fine, you can have him. Take him. Get out." And I got out that way.

That was very hard to recover from. Nonetheless, the point remains, [that] day you saw the subsuming of a local indigenous Iraqi fight, with very different agendas, by a foreign-inspired, foreign-led, foreign-funded global holy war. Now later, again, that was reversed, and right before the January 30, 2005, election in Iraq, the nationalist insurgents had reclaimed power in that area. ...
The president remains firm that there is no civil war in Iraq (semantics, but a valid point on his part) and that elections and army training are key indicators of progress. They most certainly are positives. But, those positives are awash in a sea of violence.

Stay tuned to Michael Ware's reporting in the coming months.


Blogger zen said...

I've caught some of Ware's reporting. The realness of the situation that he conveys and lays flatly on the line is impressive, if not also tragic. He appears as a beacon of reality in a world of spin.
The portions you cite where he plainly explains the contridictions between what the president would have us believe and the true conditions on the ground are night and day. How much longer can the false PR front sustain before it fully collapses? Is it really necessary, or even possible, to create an alternate reality through these words? It's the Tinkerbell theory, that if we just clap loud enough things will be ok.

9:50 PM  

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