Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Of The New/Old Iraqi Police, Non-Sadrist Militias, And Other Busted Media Myths

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, the other young leftist Iraqi reporting for the Guardian, wrote in his latest 'Tigris Tales' about the new police that is just indistinguishable from the old Baathist police - i.e.:

...The police/security agencies are feeling power coming back through their fingertips, and most of the people in these services were policemen in the good old days of the father of all democracies. It will take more than a three-week crash course in human rights to rehabilitate a Saddam-trained police force.

Three months ago - that is, before the handover - I and another journalist were sitting in the office of a senior police officer in charge of the anti-kidnapping department, when he got a phone call. Heard from my end, it went like this:

Officer: "You can't give me the suspect for 24 hours and expect me to get a confession."

Caller: "..."

Officer: "Ya habibi, put him in my custody for three days and I will show you the how electricity can work."

At the time this conversation took place, that officer's building was still guarded by three American APCs and Humvees; Italian forensic experts were going in and out of his office.

So what has happened since the handover on June 30? Nothing much, just a reinstallation of the 5,000-year-old tradition of human rights in this part of the world.

In Najaf police station, mid-August: cries of pain and thuds of people getting the shit beaten out of them were coming out of the hall where detainees from the anti-government Mahdi army were kept. A policeman carrying a thick electricity cable went running into the hall after being told that new suspects had just arrived. "I will smash your camera if you go close to that door," he shouted at me...

...then he goes on to re-tell the story of how journalists in Najaf were first harrassed, then abducted, then shot at.

But Western mass media and neocon bloggers ignore all this and still speak about 'restoring law and order' and idolise the police (New Media Myth #1)... they also forget to talk about other militias beyond the Mahdi Army (NMM #2), and other Shi'a groups with much stronger and more dependant relations with Iran than the Sadrists, whom they try to source to Iran (NMM #3). So it is interesting that Ghaith mentions his latest encounters with members of the Badr Corps, the militia of SCIRI:

When everyone during the Najaf crisis was talking about the importance of ending the uprising of Moqtada and his group, and disarming the militias, uniformed militiamen with nicely trimmed beards and brand new SUVs carried on patrolling the streets - just that these guys, trained in a neighbouring country with a great record on Islamic human rights since late 70s, Iran - are affiliated with parties participating in the new Iraqi government.

(He doesn't actually name SCIRI and Badr Corps, but being trained in Iran - the Badr Corps even fought on Iran's side in the Iraq-Iran war, while its leaders the al-Hakims were in exile in Iran - is a giveaway.)

Meanwhile, Los Angeles Times laudably got to reporting that US casualties since the "Handover" rose, rather than fell (NMM #4) - they even managed to check figures for themselves and not go along with the rest that now spread the myth that the Sunni insurgency supposedly went silent during the Najaf conflict (NMM #5):

Although attention in recent weeks has focused on Najaf, where U.S. forces battled Shiite Muslim militiamen, most of the deadly confrontations for American troops in newly independent Iraq have occurred in the Baghdad area and the so-called Sunni Triangle to the north and west...

...In August so far, 63 U.S. troops have died [already rose to 66 as I write this], and 54 died in July, .. In June, 42 American troops died... the three weeks of intermittent combat in Najaf .. killed at least 10 U.S. troops.

However, they still permeate another new myth (NMM #6):

...the Najaf battles didn't spark fierce uprisings in other areas of the country — as happened during the fighting in Fallouja and elsewhere in April...

This is patently untrue, fierce uprisings swept all the Shi'a South, including Basra; as the NYT article analysing how the Najaf battle emerged, which I quoted often here, put it:

...One result was a domino effect, with the fighting in Najaf soon replicated in more than half a dozen cities and towns across southern Iraq that are Mahdi Army strongholds, including the Baghdad slum of Sadr City, Diwaniya, Kut, Al Hayy, Nasiriya, Amara and Basra.


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