Biased coverage in Iraq

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If you trust most media accounts fed to American viewers and readers, Iraq is an unmitigated disaster. There is no security throughout the country, and armed insurgents are springing up, sown like dragon’s teeth by the offensive of the U.S. military forces. The scheduled elections are highly uncertain. Indeed, 100,000 Iraqis have been killed by U.S. forces. Iraqis have never had it so bad. It is a drumbeat with echoes of the way the American media reported the Vietnam War.

Those who have the opportunity to hear the accounts of Americans serving in Iraq often come away with a completely different impression. Many readers of this newspaper who have relatives and friends serving in Iraq know that they hear differently from them. This point was recently brought up by Ambassador Edward Rowney in a Council on Foreign Relations discussion with former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brezinski, who is an ardent critic of the war. Mr. Brezinski’s response was to dismiss first-hand accounts as mere anecdotal evidence.

Yet even in the mainstream media, differing views do seep in. Consider a recent column by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, a paper that has consistently reported the bad news from Iraq. This is what Mr. Friedman wrote from Iraq. “Readers ask me when I will throw in the towel on Iraq.” Impressed with the spirit and the commitment of the troops on the ground, Mr. Friedman writes, “I will be guided by the U.S. Army and Marine grunts on the ground. They see Iraq close up. Most of those you talk to are so uncynical — so convinced that we are doing good and doing right, even though they are unsure it will work.” And the fact is that despite the unrelenting drumbeat of bad news, there is much good to be told as well, only you don’t hear it as much. Agreement has so far been reached with Iraq’s Russian and European debtors to forgive $33 billion of Iraq’s debt, about a quarter of the total. Some 45,000 Iraqi police and 48,000 Iraqi army and National Guard troops have now been trained. $5 billion in U.S. aid alone has been disbursed, and oil revenue, which flows into Iraqi accounts via a U.S. government trust, reached $1.9 billion in October.

A weekly update of reconstruction projects in Iraq can be located on the Web site of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Much of this good work you will never find reported, precisely because no news is good news for much of the U.S. media. And the foreign media is even worse.

Admittedly the security situation is dire, but look at these figures. In October, the number of Iraqis killed was 775 from acts of war and murder; American troops suffered 63 casualties and 691 wounded. These are too high, but at a time of a major military offensive against insurgents, those numbers are not gigantic.

Or how about the constantly cited figure of 100,000 Iraqis killed by Americans since the war began, a statistic that is thrown about with total and irresponsible abandon by opponents of the war. That number, which should be disputed at every turn by those who care about the truth of what is going on in Iraq was derived from a controversial study by the British journal of medicine the Lancet. It is five to six times higher than the highest estimates from other sources of all Iraqi deaths, be they military or civilian. The Lancet study relied on reporting of deaths self-reported by 998 families from clusters of 33 households throughout Iraq, a very limited sample from which to generalize.

As the Financial Times reported on Nov. 19, even the Lancet study’s authors are now having second thoughts. Iraq’s Health Ministry estimates by comparison that all told, 3,853 Iraqis have been killed and 155,167 wounded.

The fact is that 40 percent of Iraqis say their country is better and 65 percent are optimistic about the future. Iraqis are intending to vote in the upcoming elections to the tune of 85 percent, and 45 percent currently support Prime Minster Iyad Allawi. Many are unhappy with the U.S. troops presence there, but at least 35 percent want the United States to stay.

We still have a rocky road ahead, beyond doubt, but these figures do not add up to a picture of unmitigated failure being painted by critics of the Bush administration.

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