Independent Reporting in Iraq

For several months last year, Dahr Jamail reported directly from Iraq for, among other independent media sites, The NewStandard.  He will return to Iraq in April to continue his reporting and is currently touring and raising funds to do so.  For more information visit The NewStandard’s site.

JP: You are an independent journalist without any powerful media organization behind you. As a result, you don’t end up getting much access to occupation authorities or official sources generally. You aren’t ‘embedded’ with any military unit. You don’t have large sums of money to hire local translators and assistants. What do you offer that the swarms of journalists in Iraq who do have such access and resources don’t offer, and why?

DJ: What I offer as an independent journalist in Iraq, that the corporate media from the US do not, is that I get out on the street and talk with Iraqis. I don’t follow the rules that the CPA has set up for mainstream media journalists to follow. Overall, the corporate media in Iraq only leave their hotels to go where the military tell them it is ok to go. Then, they return to file their stories, and usually tend to just parrot what the Coalition Press Information Center (CPIC) has fed them.

On several occasions I have walked by the parking lot where all the vehicles of CNN, Fox, etc are parked in the middle of the day. I ask myself, “Why are they not out on the streets everyday? This country is spiralling out of control, and they are sitting in their hotels? Why?”

I have good translators and use them…I take the risk of going to Falluja after a bombing and talk to people about what they think about it. I go to funerals of Iraqis killed by Americans to get their side of the story. I go to hospitals and talk to the vicitims of US aggression. And when I do these things, I never see any journalists from the corporate media doing the same. What readers are getting from me is the side of the story, usually always the Iraqi side of the story, that is simply not being reported by the corporate media.

I back my stories up with the facts. When I quote someone, I give their full name and position. This is rarely even done in the corporate media stories coming out of Iraq these days. I have looked into what progress Bechtel has made in their “rebuilding” of Iraq-which is dismal, at best. Most reports I’ve seen by the corporate media on this have simply, again, parroted the PR that Bechtel has fed them.

I helped write an investigative report on what progress Bechtel has made in rebuilding the water infrastructure as written in their contract. I reported on the few things I found they had done that were positive in this report. Of course, there were only a few I found, and most of what they have done has not provided any more potable water for Iraqis. I haven’t seen any of the corporate media report on this.

The stories I run in The New Standard are fact checked multiple times by different people. The only time I don’t have someone’s name in one of my pieces that I’ve quoted is when they ask me not to include it for their safety. I believe it is the job of the media to monitor the sources of power-and in Iraq that is the military, CPA, the Bechtels and the Halliburtons.

To me, investigative journalism means that sometimes you have to take risks and get your hands dirty.

I believe that if one quarter of the people in the U.S. knew the scam that has been pulled on them in Iraq, the literal theft of billions of their tax dollars, the blood of American soldiers being shed for corporations to make money, we would have had an impeachment long ago.

While not surprising, the fact that the corporate-owned media will not report on this is an outrage.

JP: Have you had much opportunity to interact with > these ‘embeds’ or > corporate journalists?

DJ: I haven’t, other than to attend a CPIC press conference to listen to the softballs they pitch at General Kimmit and Mr. Dan Senor, Bremer’s spokesman (puppet). I rarely, if ever, run into any of them in the field because they typically only leave their hotels to go where the military tells them it is ok to go. I have also been told that some of the mainstream media are not allowed to leave their hotels past 5pm due to insurance requirements.

JP: Are these journalists really as clueless as they seem?  That is, are they trying to get things out that aren’t getting out at the editorial level, or are they censoring themselves?

DJ: Those that I have had interaction with-the response is mixed. There is certainly censorship from above-even Christiann Ammanpour with CNN stated this publicly a ways back. Most seem too afraid to go out and cover the stories directly from Iraqis. They wear flack jackets and helmets and, overall, have adopted the we vs they take with the Iraqi people, just as the US soldiers have. Many of them simply avoid leaving their hotel, when possible.

JP: What are some stories that you got that they missed?

DJ: Mostly what I described above-tortures, home raids, people suffering from the gas shortages, heavy handed tactics of the American military, what most Iraqis feel about the occupation, etc. But I personally broke a story, which no corporate media outlet would run, about secondary school students in Amiriyah, Baghdad were detained by US forces because they were having a pro-Saddam demo just after his capture. I co-wrote it with David Enders, we wrote it up AP style, sent it to countless mainstream outlets-NY times, WA post, AP, etc…and no one would run it. We got it out over the net though,-electroniciraq.net, truthout.org, etc. Most of what I cover never makes it to the mainstream.

JP: Can you comment, from your first-hand experience, on some of the debates that are going on in the mainstream right now? Do you have any ideas about who was behind the bombings of the Shia mosques?

DJ: Most Iraqis believe the CIA are behind these. That the US military in Iraq, along with the CIA, prefer a divided Iraq, even if it means civil war, because that would be easier for them to manage and control. That a unified Iraq is the last thing they want. This seems quite credible to me. There are, of course, other possibilities. Al-Quaeda, or other foreign terrorist groups could certainly be behind them-terrorist groups who have come to Iraq to battle the Americans.

JP: Who was behind the looting last year, immediately after the war ended?

DJ: Impossible to say for sure. But several Iraqis (some of them my friends who witnessed this), as well as a few independent journalists, like Robert Fisk, reported that there were buses of men driven to specific buildings to loot and destroy. Oftentimes these buses were allowed through US military checkpoints, unfettered. Who these men were, exactly, is only rumor; but many of my friends feel they were paid by the Americans…like via contractors such as Bechtel.

JP: How are different political and ethnic groups responding to the occupation?

DJ: The only group who I ever found that supported the occupation were Kurdish. Everyone else was vehemently opposed to it. Even Shia were opposed to it, and stated that they were worse off now than they were even under Saddam! The Kurds, even with their lukewarm support, admitted that they believed the US were there simply for the oil, but they should be given a little more time to try to get things sorted out…but not more than a few years, then they should leave Iraq.

Across the board, everyone I spoke with hated the IGC, and wanted to smash it. Everyone wants their own elections. But overall, like the aforementioned, folks are against having a foreign military in their country, no matter what the reason. Most folks now are asking why they are still there-if this ‘war’ wasn’t about oil, then why are they still in Iraq since Saddam is gone, and they have proven there are no wmd’s?

JP: What do you think of media ‘objectivity’ and ‘neutrality’? In reporting on Iraq, mainstream journalists, particularly American ones, seem torn between their nationalism on the one hand, and this idea of ‘objectivity’ and ‘balance’ on the other. In the end, nationalism usually wins. Do you see yourself as bringing more objectivity — or, if not objectivity, then fairness and balance? Or do you have a different agenda?

DJ: I think it is impossible for a human being to be 100% objective. Each of us sees the world in our own unique way. We choose what we look at and what we ignore. As a journalist, this must be taken into account.

Nevertheless, I feel it is my job to report on every side of the story. Although rare, when I do find something they have done that is right, I’ll report that. I believe the invasion of Iraq was based on lies told by the Bush Administration…but I also feel it would be dishonest of me not to report on something positive that the US presence in Iraq has accomplished.

But let me give you an example of the disparity I run into everyday in Iraq. I reported on an attack against a US patrol in Khaldiya, an area not too far from Ramadi. A patrol was hit by an Improvised Explosive Device. The US military reported three soldiers were killed, and one Iraqi civilian died at the scene. This was, of course, parroted by most of the corporate media. I went there the day after the attack and every witness I spoke with, including an Iraqi Policeman, reported over 3 US casualites. I then went to the hospital in Ramadi where all of the Iraqi casualities were taken, and learned that three bodies had been brought to the hospital, then three of the wounded had died as well.

Am I biased for telling both sides of the story here? I feel like I’m being a good journalist by reporting both what the US military states, as well as what the Iraqis have to say about the same event. And this is simply not being done by the corporate media in Iraq.

If I would say I have a bias in my reporting, it is this: I think it is paramount to report on the cost of the occupation of Iraq. By cost I primarily mean the human cost. The toll on both Iraqis and US soldiers. The toll that is not being reported by the mainstream media in the US.

This bloody, brutal occupation, like the invasion, is shattering peoples lives. We truly live in a global village today, in that which occurs in Iraq will eventually directly effect us in the US-US acts of aggression in Iraq over the years are causing entire generations of Iraqis to be vehemently anti-US governmnet. How will this play out? One way or another, this is going to effect all of us, even though we live half way around the world.

As much as I want to show this, and as much as I want the occupation to end, I would never distort the facts or misreport something due to my own beliefs. If I was willing to do that, then I have no right to call myself a journalist.

See some of Dahr Jamail’s reporting at the NewStandard site.  A zine, with photos and many stories, is also available there.

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