March 27, 2008

Iraq Civil War – #1 (Day 2): Deathly Simple


There are probably few spots on this planet where the search for mono-causality is more futile than Basra.

–Reidar Visser,

I love this.  This shot is one of the more popular, if not artistic newswire images being used right now to illustrate the eruption of fighting across southern Iraq.

What it conveys, beyond the fact that death is in the air, is how eloquently the Iraq War has been reduced to abstraction.  There are no names here, no faces, just the news (via the caption from NYT Pictures of the Day) that a Mahdi fighter from Sadr City has ended up in a box.

And how clean and simple really, just one more Mahdi evil-doer on his way to paradise.  If you read most news accounts (including the VOA piece below, citing the Pentagon spin that the outbreak is actually a good thing), you will learn that the latest trouble is quite simple, boiling down to:

Iraqi Government = good (and finally showing some cohones);

Mahdi = guilty most of the way around

So, no need bothering with the reality that the violence engulfing multiple cities involves a complex intermingling of the interests of at least four separate Shiite factions (including ISCI –formerly SCIRI; PM Maliki's Dawa party; the Mahdi; and Fadila, which is particularly entrenched in Basra) with the U.S. sandwiched in there apparently happy to be blasting away (in Baghdad, at least) at the Mahdi while the Iraqi government pushes the line that it's simply clearing the south of criminal elements.

In fact, what occurs to me now, in spite of my castigation of the image, is that the way it articulates the ambiguity is actually spot-on.  What I mean is, with various hands involved, seemingly aligned but also clustered, tied to death but unidentifiable to our eyes, it's a fair snapshot of how much we really can tell about what's going on.

The Enigmatic Second Battle of Basra (

Pentagon Calls Iraq Fighting Good Sign, Analysts Not Convinced (VOA)

Iraq leader gives Shiite militias in Basra three days to surrender (LAT)

Pictures of the Day, March 26 (NYT)

(Image: Alaa al-Marjani/AP.  April 25, 2008.  caption: At a funeral in Najaf, Iraq, relatives lifted the coffin of Hadi Kadim, a Mahdi Army fighter from Sadr City, Baghdad, who was killed in Tuesday's clashes. via

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Michael Shaw
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