November 19, 2005

Who's Flexing The Muscle


I was interested in this cover photo in the NYT this week registering Koffi Annan’s first visit to Iraq since the invasion.  (To be specific, he touched down for a few hours.)  Mostly, I was taken by the photo’s "security-to-Koffi" ratio.  … And, the fact the guys guarding him looked like American special forces (or American contracted forces) rather than Iraqi faces.

In extracting political information and contradictions from news images, it’s important not to take anything for granted.  For example, if the Iraqi’s are allegedly gaining charge of their country, is it possible there aren’t a handful of elite homegrown soldiers available to guard (and therefore, pose with) the head of the organization of nations?  Of course, this "entourage" is likely just one more reflection of who really runs the show.

Something I always find curious is how much the MSM refers to the Iraqi
government as if it was fully autonomous. In most every story, it seems
the media goes out of its way not to pull back the curtain on American
control. That’s why this article on Friday (Torture Charges Deepen Rift Between U.S. and Iraqi Leader – link) was particularly interesting.

In mid-week, as I’m sure most are aware, American soldiers accidently
discovered that the Iraq Interior Ministry (effectively controlled by
the Shiite Badr Organization, to which the Interior Minister, Bayan
Jabr, is a member), had been running a secret torture operation in
Baghdad. The fact that the prisoners were mostly Sunni raised a
potentially disasterous situation with Parlimentary elections so near.
After a weak response from the Prime Minister, Mr. Jabr took center
stage and minimized the situation.

Notice how this section of The Times article illuminates who put a foot down:

…Mr. Jabr, speaking of the prison in an angry, sarcastic tone,
said, "There has been much exaggeration about this issue." He added,
"Nobody was beheaded or killed."

Later in the afternoon, the American Embassy issued its statement,
saying that "detainee abuse is not and will not be tolerated." In
addition, "We have made clear to the Iraqi government that there must
not be militia or sectarian control or direction of Iraqi security
forces, facilities or ministries."

If that doesn’t sound like "the last word," I don’t know how else
characterize it. (The fact the Embassy issued "its" statement — versus
"a" statement" — also had an evocative touch.)

And, just to make clear that the Prime Minister had everything
straight (especially where his assistance would be coming from), there
was also this passage:

Jim Bullock, an American Embassy spokesman, told reporters Thursday
that Mr. Jaafari had agreed to form a commission to look into every
Iraqi-run detention center in the country, and that employees of the
Justice Department and the F.B.I. would help. "We’re providing
substantial resources to support the Iraqi efforts," he said.

It doesn’t exactly say who Mr. Jaafari agreed with to form his commission, but never mind.  At least he won’t be lacking for "resources."

On second glance at the image, doesn’t it seem like the muscle serves
not just to "protect," but to enforce and stage manage the democratic

(Note: the lines across the image are
not part of the original photo. They probably are creases that showed
up as a result of transport by gym bag.)

(image: Pool Photo/Karim Sahib.  Sunday, November 13, 2005.  Baghdad. The New York Times. p. A1)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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