November 7, 2005

Pentagon Pictures, Tall Afar Tales

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Something bothering me lately is the recent practice by the LA Times to accompany news stories from Iraq with photos taken by the American military. The top image appeared in the October 31st edition of the LAT.  Shot by an Army photographer, It depicts a substantial offensive by American troops to gain control of that city.  (So, is this supposed to play up or play down our firepower?)

The second shot appeared yesterday, also in the LAT.  That image was taken by a Marine.  Artful, isn’t it?  The scene of this shot is the town of Qaim, a staging area for airstrikes on Husaybah, near the Syrian border.

Because the news from Iraq has been mostly relegated to the back pages, I don’t think most people grasp the intensity of the current hostilities.  What’s taking place in towns near the Syrian border is an offensive on the same scale as the Falloujah campaign.  According to yesterday’s LAT, U.S. warplanes were dropping 500 pound bombs, and a force of about 2,500 American and 1,000 Iraqi soldiers had invaded the town of Husaybah, which has a population of 30,000.

Frankly though, it’s getting a little tiresome to read party line scenariosabout dramatic actions (punishing counteroffensive) undertaken just before some supposedly corner-turning event (December parliamentary elections) filled with overwhelming expectations (battle convinces population insurgency is futile and they opt for political participation; American troops begin withdrawal).

Making it all the more strange, these news accounts will alsoinclude grimly honest items, too, like this comment from Colonel Stephen W. Davis of the Second Marine Division who described this most recent fight by saying: “We don’t do a lot of hearts and minds out here because it’s irrelevant.”

From what I understand, there aren’t a lot of journalists on hand.  The NYT has some presence in Husaybah, as does CNN.  With the exception of a paper like the NYT, however, which can afford to hire stringers or underwrite photojournalists, it seems that the military has been all too willing to fill in the visual shortfall.

(Corrected for accuracy: 11/8/05 11:12 pm PST)

(image 1: Pfc. James Wilt/U.S. Army. Tall Afar, Iraq.  October 31, 2005. Los Angeles Times. Story Link. p. A3.  image 2: Jason E. Becksted/U.S. Marine Corps.  November 6, 2005.  Qaim. Los Angeles Times.  p. A9.)

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Michael Shaw
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