Iraq in the body of the news
A war that revolutionizes the world and the way journalism is done. Reporters, now integrated in the militia, exchange arms for cameras. Explosions and gunshots enter our living rooms, and a new media age takes shape: the live era came to stay.
In the war coverage of the 21st Century, we got used to see the so distinct and recognizable blue vest of the press.
But truth is that the war scenarios haven’t always been so accessible to journalists. With the advance of technologies and the introduction of live transmissions in conflicts, there was something still lacking – something crucial to inform the public about the war perspective. To cover the war from the incorporation of journalists in the army. This way of making journalisms earned the designation of embedded journalism.
A GAME-CHANGER EVENT
Still in the 20th Century, in the 90’s, tension between the USA and Iraq was high. With the turn of the century, these pressures were far from the end. But nothing predicted the true terror that was yet to come. On September 11th of 2001, the world watched horrified to al-Qaeda’s terrorist attack to the World Trade Centre towers in New York. The image of two burning towers in a cloud of black smoke and wrecks would mark the 21st Century.
Alleging that the United States were vulnerable after the terrorist attack to the twin towers, George W. Bush turned attentions to Saddam Hussein, accusing him of supporting al-Qaeda and continuing to manufacture weapons. The priority of disarming Iraq was created. On March 17th of 2003, the president Bush declared the end of diplomacy and makes an ultimatum to Saddam to leave the country. The Iraqi leader refuses, and the situation aggravates.
On March 20th, the USA and the allied forces (that included the United Kindom, Australia and Poland) bomb Bagdad. In a true media circus, several journalists had already gone to Bagdad, waiting for the air attack to start. The begging of the war was transmitted live to the entire world.
From RTP, Carlos Fino reported the bombing in first hand to Portugal. «They are thundering over Bagdad! There are clearly missiles in the air. It is a tremendous thundering over Bagdad; however, lights are still on. Birds fly and silence».
Shortly after the beginning of the air bombing to Bagdad, George W. Bush spoke the following words: “The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder. We will meet that threat now, with our Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines, so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of fire fighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities.”
However, the news of the beginning of war spread through newspapers.
WHEN TRADITIONAL JOURNALISM IS NOT ENOUGH
However, with the break of war, new obstacles came to journalists. These were submitted to press pools, a system that groups a limited number of communication organs and journalists combine among themselves their resources in the information collection. Information are then distribute among the remaining reporters and media.
Through this system, implemented by the north-American troops since 1983, the media faced a fundamental matter. How to cover an armed conflict in which the access to information was so restrict?
It was necessary a solution that allowed a bigger freedom to journalists during the war. Thus, it was introduced a new way of journalism: embedded journalism. This practice consists in incorporating journalists to one side of the conflict, being allowed to them to accompany the troops in the combat areas.
If, in these troubled times, many question are placed about the media objectivity, even more arguments oppose to this way of making journalism.
If, on one hand, embedded journalism is necessary due to the dangers of kidnapping and assassination that journalists face with increasingly regularity in war scenarios. On the other hand, this way of making journalism produces a distorted perspective of war.
The argument is simple: journalists, by belonging to one side of the conflict, are limited to one vision of the war, more influenced by military strategy. Besides, the most important developments of a conflict are of political nature, which end up by not being present in these journalists’ reports.
The coverage made of the Iraq War through embedded journalism showed a side of the conflict not contaminated, but very «hygienic». Any piece showed people being shot and images, despite dramatic, weren’t graphic.
However, on the political side, the relationship between allies, especially between the USA and the United Kingdom, was pretty satirized in the media.
EVERYTHING SEEMS TO BE GOING ALRIGHT
During the conflict, the alliance forces found little Iraqi resistance and, on April 9th of 2003, American marines knock down Saddam Hussein’s statue at Firdos square, surrounded by enthusiastic Iraqi civilians. The New York Times quoted an anonymous Iraqi in tears: “Touch me, touch me, tell me that this is real, tell me that the nightmare is really over.”
Despite the resistance of some isolated groups of Saddam supporters, the north-American troops were able to conquer several cities in Iraq. On May 1st, the president Bush announced the end of major combat operations in the countries, aboard of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. A banner with the words “Mission Accomplished” would mark this famous victory speech.
However, the situation in Iraq was everything but ideal. Street violence rose from day to day, especially against the new Iraqi government and against the ally troops that occupied the territory. In 2004, north-American death toll was around 1,000. In 2007, the number already surpassed the 3,000.
The images that arrived divided the opinion of the north-Americans about the new embedded journalism. The majority supported this new way of covering events, another part of the American public opinion worried, especially, the embedded journalism would give too much information to the enemy.
On July 3rd, 2003, George W. Bush answered the question of a journalist about the eventual support of France, Germany or Russia. “There are some who feel like the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, bring them on.”
Despite the favorable opinion of many European leaders, the general consensus in Europe and in the Middle East defined against the war in Iraq.
The public opinion against the war started to form on a large-scale. Don Rumsfeld, secretary of Defence, argued, in April of 2003, that the population received war information «in slices». In fact, coverage was much focused on the combat, and it was characterized by live transmissions and unedited pieces, rich in details.
Once again, the war’s strategic focus that embedded journalism shows is put at stake. To what point is legitimate to inform the public about an armed conflict without unveiling the troops’ entire military strategy? And, according to the rising number of deaths, the USA seemed to be losing the war.
On the journalists’ side, however, this new form of journalism constituted itself as a revolution and as an added-value in the war media coverage. It wasn’t the first time that reporters had access to the battlefield, but it was the first time that it was possible to speak to them and see them, live.
It was reported a new perspective on the life at the battlefront, in never before seen type of highly technological coverage. The fascination added as the public discovered the ready to eat meals, the holes in the sand to sleep in and the life inside the tanks.
THE CONFLICT DEEPENS
On the 13th of December, 2003, Paul Bremer, administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq spoke the famous words: “Ladies and gentlemen, we got him”. Saddam Hussein was captured.
The media frenzy as instantaneous. Besides the growing number of cover, the first images of the former Iraqi leader as prisoner, as well as his medical exam, are disclosed..
On October 18th, Osama Bin Laden, the big orchestrator of the attack to World Trade Centre, sends a video aimed to the Iraqi people that is disclosed by Al Jazeera. The world’s most wanted man was still on the loose.
“Any government set up by America will be a puppet and traitorous regime (…) Moreover, they have had a budget deficit for the third consecutive year. This year, the deficit reached a record peak of more than US $4.5 billion. Praise to Allah.”
In March of 2004, about 180 Shiites are murdered in a suicidal attack to sanctuaries in Bagdad and in Karbala. The religious leaders accuse the American troops of allowing the fulfilment of the massacre.
As the situation aggravated in Iraq and American losses increased, there were still no traces of nuclear weapons. The American public opinion started to criticize the Bush administration.
The images and news of American soldiers mistreating Iraqis in the Abu Ghraib prison came to contribute for this change in the public opinion. All around the world protests were heard against the behaviour of the American troops in Iraq. The initial idea of liberating Iraq, which triggered the war, started to vanish.
Meanwhile, the North-American government creates an investigation commission to analyse the attacks of September 11th. On June of 2004, the commission concluded that there were no proofs that would corroborate the relationship between Saddam’s government and al-Qaeda. One of the main reasons for the USA to start a war with Iraq had fallen and ceased to be valid.
Quickly, the USA’s failure in finding destruction weapons in Iraq, as well as the decision of going to war, start to lead the political debates in the USA.
On September 16th, The New York Times reports that the National Council of the USA Secret Services sent a pessimistic report to George W. Bush, warning for the possibility of a civil war in Iraq. The media started to launch doubts into an increasingly tenser environment.
“But for the President to accuse the press and others for being pessimistic, which he does commonly in his speeches isn't that disingenuous when there's reports from NIA which paint these sort of scenarios?”. The question came from a journalist and was aimed to Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary.
In the second anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein, on April of 2005, thousands of Iraqis gathered in a peaceful protest asking the retreat of the American troops and the liberation of Iraqi prisoners.
MMonths later, the north-American government started to give in to the pressure and contradicting itself. On June 27th, 2005, Donald Rumsfeld gave in interview to Fox News, admitting that the USA wouldn’t win the war. “We're not going to win against the insurgency. The Iraqi people are going to win against the insurgency. That insurgency could go on for any number of years...five, six, eight, 10, 12 years.”
From this point, the apparatus sustained by the Government would fall. On December 14th of 2005, the president Bush admits the USA failure in Iraq. “It is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. As President, I'm responsible for the decision to go into Iraq — and I'm also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities.”
On the 7th of June, 2006, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, campaign leader of the Iraqi insurgence al-Qaeda, is murdered in an air attack led by Iraqi and American forces.
Zarqaqi was greatly responsible for part of the violence felt during the war, and tried to divide Sunnis and Shias to extend the conflict.
On September of 2006, The New York Times discloses the details of a secret report of the USA secret service, which guaranteed that “the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse.”
Meanwhile, the matter about embedded journalism would come to surface again. When CNN transmits a piece where it shows a group of rebels opening fire over north-American troops, the television network is accused of disseminating propaganda against the enemy.
With an increasingly darker scenario for the USA, on November of 2006, the secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld resigns.
In the following month, Saddam is executed. A video recorded by a cell phone is disclosed and reached the media. The execution causes a lot of controversy. In part, due to the disclosure of the video, and also due to the execution date: an important Muslim holiday celebrated by the Sunnis. A rushed and violent death of Saddam Hussein makes him an Arab martyr for many in the Middle East.
Shortly after a month of the announcement of Iraq’s study group having revealed that the situation in the country is «serious and deteriorating», George W. Bush announces changes in the government’s military strategy. “America will change our strategy to help the Iraqis carry out their campaign to put down sectarian violence and bring security to the people of Baghdad. (…) So I've committed more than 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq.”
And quickly Bush’s new plan filled the headline of the north-American headlines.
On May of 2007, George W Bush vetoes, for the second time in his mandate as president, the Congress’s legislation establishing the retreat of American troops from Iraq until October 1st. A poll made by CNN reveals that 54% of the Americans were against the veto, and a week later, 144 Iraqi legislators sign a petition asking for a deadline for the retreat of American troops from Iraq.
On June 2007, the Iraqi minister of the Interior declares that the number of bodies found in Bagdad rose from 441 in April to 726 in May. However, the American militaries changed their alliances, suppling weapons to some Sunni Arab groups that fought against American troops.
On June 26th, CNN announces that more than 70% of the Americans state being against the war, besides 38% of the Republicans whom opposed to the conflict.
On September 11th, 2007, the General David Petraeus reports the progress of the new military strategy in Iraq. When asked by the Committee of the Armed Services of the Senate if the war in Iraq was making America safer, the general answers: “I don't know, actually”. Days later, the president Bush announces a reduction of troops in Iraq until July 2008.
In 2008, a presidential campaign approached. Hillary Clinton, New York senator, stated in a democratic debate in South Carolina that she would bring home the American troops within 60 days. The senator John Edwards attacks Clinton and Barack Obama, then the senator for Illinois. Obama answers: “I want to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in.”
Meanwhile, the situation in Iraq continue to intensify. On February 7th of 2008, American and Iraqi forces disclose images of children being trained and armed by al-Qaeda. On that same day, Angelina Jolie, as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nation’s High Commissariat for Refugees, visits the country, where about 4.2 million residents fled from their homes.
And the media machine continued to be well-oiled. Press covers questioning the government and the entire war spread, making the Iraq war the most newsworthy conflict ever.
In September of 2008, American forces make some progress and occupy the province of Anbar, handling the region’s safety control to the Iraqi police. However, General David Petraeus refuses to call the move a victory: “This is not the sort of struggle where you take a hill, plant the flag and go home to a victory parade.”
On October of 2008, American troops attack a building at Iraq’s boarder with Syria, killing 8 people. Syria alleges that the death were civilians, while American militaries defend that they all were military, including an al-Qaeda leader in Iraq.
However, thousands of people gather in a protest against the American attack in Damascus. The western media report that the people protesting are part of an event rehearsed by the Syrian government.
THE END IN THE HORIZON
On November of 2008, Barack Obama wins the elections. The new president fulfils the promise of ending with the war in Iraq, and it is agreement with the Iraqi government that American troops can stay until December 31st, the deadline of the United Nations mandate. It was also agreed that, from 2009, American troops had to retreat until 2011.
On the same month, it was launched, in New York and other American cities, a fake New York Times newspaper, with a catchy cover informing that the war had ended. The initiative was developed by a movie producer, three employees of the Times and an art teacher.
On December 14th, 2008, in his last visit to Bagdad, George Bush becomes an easy target of the Iraqi journalists, who throws him his shoes – a gesture considered very disrespectful in the Middle East – shouting “This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!”
On February 27th, 2009, Barack Obama announces his retreat plan of American troops in Iraq. “What we will not do is let the pursuit of the perfect stand in the way of achievable goals. We cannot rid Iraq of all who oppose America or sympathize with our adversaries. We cannot police Iraq's streets until they are completely safe, nor stay until Iraq's union is perfected...”
The retreat of American troops extends for 19 months, and not 16 months, as Obama had announced. Besides, the president avoids saying the USA won the war in Iraq, only underlining that he doesn’t want to think about the past.
BUT THE VIOLENCE CONTINUES
However, the violence in Bagdad continues to happen. On March of 2009, rebels fulfil a suicide bombing, killing more than 60 people.
On April 7th, Obama makes a surprise visit to the American troops in Iraq. The president tells journalists that, while he thinks of a solution for Afghanistan, doesn’t want Americans to forget was it still to be done in Iraq.
In June of 2009, American troops start to retreat from Iraq. Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime-minister, celebrates the event, declaring the National Sovereignty Day. But the Americans’ retreat wouldn’t be an easy process. Several confrontations happen in all Iraq, ending with disastrous consequences. The Iraqi government increases its efforts to fight the rebels, launching several anti-terror operations.
In the end of December of 2009, Iraqi legislators find an agreement that allows that fulfilment of elections in the beginning of 2010. American military, who timed their exit with the elections, received the news with relief.
In March of 2010, election in Iraq happen, giving the victory to then prime-minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. The elections were considered an historical mark in the retreat plan of American troops in Iraq.
However, problems didn’t stop here.In October of 2010, Wikileaks published online about 400,000 secret documents of the American army. The documents didn’t change the general opinion that the public had about the war, but revealed that civilian losses were higher than the number publicly disclosed, and the American forces ignored the resource to torture by the Iraqi security forces.
In July of 2011, the American military announced that Iraq and the USA were in negotiations to keep several thousands of American troops after the 31st if December. However, both parts weren’t able to reach an agreement, and in October Barack Obama reveals that the 39,000 soldiers yet in Iraqi territory would leave the country until the end of the year.
The American army formally declared the end of the mission in a Iraq in a ceremony in Bagdad on December 15th.
The war in Iraq would come to be the big conflict of the 21st Century. By happening in an era characterized by technology, the conflict would come to be known as the “journalistic coverage war”, and would make known reporters and cameramen.
The «press» bulletproof vest would mark a confrontation and the journalistic world. The need to better inform the public spoke louder.