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Being there

Posted by Richard Friday, February 06, 2009

Picking up on the news two days ago that Maliki had enjoyed a sweeping victory in the Iraqi provincial elections in Basra, The Times is now on the case, reporting that, "Nouri al-Maliki coalition scores landslide victory in Iraq elections". Says the paper:

Final results are not due out for several weeks but should show little change with 90 percent of the ballots already counted. Mr al-Maliki, the undisputed winner despite not running himself, appears to be reaping the benefits of successful operations to combat Shia militias in Baghdad and the south. Many voters praised him for restoring a sense of order to the streets after years of sectarian bloodshed.
The piece continues, with a comment from Hasan al-Kurdi, 37, a civil servant and part-time barber (interesting combination). He is one of the many voters who "ticked the box" of the Prime Minister's coalition and he now says: "The people want Mr al-Maliki because he achieved something that nobody else has, which is security". He adds: "In addition salaries have improved, which pleases us public servants."

Such comments, says The Times, "are in stark contrast to the scathing remarks the Prime Minister received when he launched the surprise offensive in Basra last March. The Charge of the Knights was dismissed initially as an overambitious farce." But, we are told, "The gamble paid off, however, the militias backed down and Mr al-Maliki returned to Baghdad with his head held high and a new resolve to get tough."

Now, I wonder who initially dismissed Charge of the Knights as an "overambitious farce". Well, step forward Mr James Hider of … er … The Times. And it wasn't just initially either. On 1 April, after the operation had been running five days, the newspaper offered the headline: "Nouri al-Maliki humiliated as gamble to crush Shia militias fail", over a story written by the said Mr Hider in Sadr City. Thus did he inform us:

At the Sadr Office in the centre of the massive slum in northeast Baghdad, home to 2.5 million impoverished Shias, the receptionists greeted visitors with sweets to mark their victory over Nouri al-Maliki, the increasingly isolated Iraqi Prime Minister, who directed the assault on Shia rogue militias in Basra, the lawless southern oil city. "This is for victory over Maliki," one said with a grin. "The fighting ended on our terms."

Certainly Mr al-Maliki's huge gamble appeared to have failed yesterday. Having vowed to crush Shia militias with a 30,000-strong force in Basra, he ended up suing for peace with the people he had described as "worse than al-Qaeda". Al-Mahdi Army kept its weapons and turf.
Now, of course, with the distance of time, The Times is able to draw a discrete veil over its earlier report, but how typical of the MSM that, even when it got it totally wrong, it can't admit to it.

This was one of those events where the media, almost without exception, called it wrong, prompting me to write at the time:

The extraordinary negativity of the western media is really quite stunning and, used as we are to the loathsome habits of the MSM, the level of distortion being offered probably sets new levels of venality.
Now the full story is emerging, the media still does not really understand what happened, and I doubt it ever will. But the story adds an interesting footnote to my co-editor's earlier piece, on being there. Mr Hider was in Sadr City at the time – the heartland of the Sadr movement, nearly 300 miles from Basra. Yet it was there he gained his information about Maliki's "humiliation". That is rather like being in Berlin on 7 June 1944 and asking Goebbels about the Normandy invasion.

"Being there," I guess, doesn't always pay dividends. I suppose it depends where "there" is.

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