Sunday, January 30

What Color Glasses?

NEWSWEEK MEDIA LEAD SHEET/February 7, 2005 Issue (on newsstands Monday, January 31).:
'The Insurgents. Who They Are--And Why the Elections Won't Stop Them' (p. 20). Baghdad Bureau Chief Rod Nordland, Baghdad Correspondent Babak Dehghanpisheh and Middle East Regional Editor Christopher Dickey examine the insurgency in Iraq, its tribal and political roots and look at its current strength. Interviews with guerrilla veterans of the Iraqi war, tribal leaders and Baathists as well as American, Coalition and Iraqi officials make it clear this is not one insurgency, but many. The report reveals that Saddam had put aside millions of dollars and enormous weapons caches to support a guerrilla war. Also, an interrogator of a would-be suicide bomber tells Newsweek the bomber claimed that Iraqi police had caught terrorist Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi in Fallujah last October, but despite a $25 million award-and perhaps not knowing who they had-they let him go.

Babak Dehghanpisheh? Sounds like a character in Gilgamesh--he was Utnapishtim's barber.

The "lead sheet" is the advance PR they do ahead of the newsstand date so that network factototums can know what Fareed Zakaria has got to say this week, with those perfect teeth of his.

Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria writes that no matter how the voting turns out in Iraq, the prospects for genuine democracy are grim. Unless there is a major change in course, Iraq is on track to become another corrupt, oil-rich quasi-democracy, like Russia and Nigeria.

Hey, but it's OUR quasi-democracy! Quite a different story, this forthcoming issue, than the weeper reels of old Iraqi men crawling to the polling places on their bloody stumps, weeping in gratitude, that was being played in heavy rotation on the infotainment channels today for Condi Rice to do her saccharine spiel over.

Only one of the many reporters I heard talking to the anchor today mentioned that her observations should be taken with a grain of salt because you still can't even get around Baghdad if you value your life, much less the rest of the country. One other did mention that reports from outside the Green Zone were based on reports from "stringers." No shots of the platoon of Army Rangers off-camera taking bets on whether the blow-dry crowd was going to catch a mortar shell or not, or dinars changing hands in exchange for a thumbs-up for the camera's sake.

The rest of the time, Kurds dancing in the streets were pretty much treated like a scientific sample of everybody dancing in the streets.

Good thing for the White House that print is no longer a relevant medium. And Medal of Freedom honoree Jerry Bremer is outraged ... OUTRAGED ... at an audit suggesting he presided over a kleptocracy.

Here's today's editorial from Az-Zaman, the Baghdad paper that recently started publishing in English:

How many Iraqis will cast their votes is currently the most important issue for U.S., British and Iraqi politicians and military commanders inside and outside the country. But unfortunately that is not the question of so much interest for many Iraqis. Ordinary Iraqis interviewed by Azzaman correspondents have other worries to care about, namely soaring prices, power and fuel shortages, lack of security and mistrust in the whole system. When asked whether they would go to polls on Sunday, many Iraqis retorted by asking if the authorities intended to compensate them for the food items they did not get as part of their rations for the past few months. Others would simply say if the authorities had any intention of placing a lid on the spiraling rates particularly of essential commodities like sugar, legumes, rice, tea vegetables and fruits. Prices have recently risen to levels unseen since the early 1990s when the country was reeling under U.N. trade sanctions which until 1996 prevented it from exporting any amount oil, the sole hard currency earner. Of the hundreds of Iraqis interviewed by Azzaman, only a few showed an interest in the elections. Their main concern was security and prices. ?I am sixty years old and it is the first time in my life that a kilogram of tomatoes is being sold at 1,000 dinars,? said Jaafar Hussein. Tomatoes, a stable of almost every kitchen in Iraq, have soared recently from 500 dinars per kilogram to 1,000. Lettuce, which used to be the cheapest of vegetables at this time of the year, is currently sold for 750 dinars a kilogram. Many Iraqis said most of those standing for the elections on Sunday are the same personalities that descended on the country with the U.S.-led invasion of March 2003. If the nearly past two years are taken as a measure, only a handful of the hundreds of lists and factions and thousands of candidates would have any appeal to Iraqi electorate. ?We are in a much worse condition than the time of the former regime. There is less electricity, less fuel, prices are dearer. And above all there is no security,? said Sami Mohammed. Gas cylinders, which cost 250 dinars in the 1990s, fetch 10,000 dinars currently. Without cylinders Most Iraqis will not be able to cook. Kerosene, used in both cooking and heating, is hard to obtain and if available is sold at rocketing rates which only a few can afford in the country. A liter of kerosene, worth half a dinar in the 1900s, is now sold for 500 dinars if buyers are lucky to find the product. Transport fees as a result have soared making it hard for Iraqis to travel between and inside cities. Voicing resentment of current conditions was not restricted to a particular region and unrelated to the present insurgency which international media usually associates with Muslim Sunnis. Azzaman reporters? main concern was to gauge whether ordinary Iraqis were happy with their current conditions and if they had any faith in the elections. ?Instead of urging us to vote they (the authorities) should think of a way to add the missing food items to the rations,? said Leith Uraibi. ?We have received no lentils, no sugar, no rice and no legumes for several months,? he said. Prices of the items that went missing from the monthly food rations have skyrocketed in the open market. A kilogram of sugar has climbed to 1,000 dinars from 500 and lentils to 1,000 from 380.

I believe these guys a lot more than I do Wolf Blitzer kissing Condi's ass. I've been reading them in Arabic since they got started.


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