Letters from the Front Lines: The Media and Iraq

Guest Commentary

Editor’s Note: The following correspondence was sent to Dr. Paul Kengor–the executive director of the CVV–by Lt George Kipp, Baqubah, Iraq.

Sir, it has come to my attention, but not to my surprise, that recent incidents that occurred in my Battalion AO (area of operation) have been horribly misreported by The New York Time and FOXNews.com.

In a New York Times article title, “Lack of Armor Proves Deadly for Iraqi Army,” by Michael Moss, he purposely or unknowingly, skews the facts and stories to make it seem as if the Iraqi Army in our AO is not fully equipped. I will admit that they do not have the up-armored vehicles as we do, but every IA (Iraqi Army) Company in our AO has been fully equipped with body armor, and helmets. The article goes on to say:

Some Iraqis are still wearing ragged and much older models, or none at all. At a checkpoint near Baqubah where seven soldiers had been killed in late August, Bassan Mohamad, 26, stood guard without wearing a bulletproof vest. He said he shared his vest with the soldier across the road. ‘My friend has it, there,’ he said, pointing. ‘There is not enough gear.’

The fact is though, that most of the Iraqi soldiers choose not to wear the equipment because it gets too hot, not because of supply issues. If Michael Moss had taken the time to actually investigate the validity of the Iraqi soldier’s story he would have discovered the truth.

Moss’s article should be emphasizing the point of the lack of training that most of the Iraqi Army has as a key issue for the number of IA and IP (Iraqi Police) killed or wounded. It is very true that there is much training that needs to be accomplished by the IA and IP, but they have been pushed out to the front of the fight because of increasing pressure from those who want the coalition out of Iraq. The US exit strategy is dependent on a fighting force that can protect its own people, and that takes time. All US soldiers receive 10 weeks of basic training, and then proceed on to advanced individual training (AIT) that can last from 3 months to a year deepening on the job. Infantry soldiers, on the other hand, combine their AIT and Basic training into a 16-week course. US officers all have college degrees and 6 months of officer basic courses. Iraqi soldiers receive 2 weeks of training. The fact remains that to build an effective fighting force takes more than a few years. Even building on what Saddam had left doesn’t provide much; we walked over the Iraqi Army because of their lack of training and leadership. Saddam would lock up any Iraqi Army officer if they disagreed with his vision, even if the officer’s criticism was warranted.        

The Iraqi military doesn’t have the infrastructure of schools to adequately train and educate their Army. They need coalition forces to protect them. It doesn’t help the situation that, in the US, there are countless numbers of individuals pushing for the withdrawal of US troops. This course of action would be unwise and lead to further instability in the region. The high number of US casualties is the driving force behind the war protesters argument; they believe that it is time for the needless US deaths to end. The concern for US soldiers is admirable, but the ability to disregard the deaths of the Iraqi Army, Iraqi Police and civilians that would occur if we left is astonishing.

In another example of what limited training produces Moss writes that:

In late August, for example, attackers sprayed a checkpoint with bullets, then lured Iraqi guards down a road, killing them with hidden bombs as the guards pursued in their truck. In another incident called the boat bombing, five Iraqi soldiers were killed when insurgents detonated an inflatable raft packed with explosives and parked alongside the road.

Both of these incidents did occur, but not because of lack of equipment and armored vehicles as the writer might argue. The simple truth, for both incidents, was lack of following proper military procedure that would have, in most cases, limited or completely negated any of the deaths. The “boat bomb” as I have only heard Moss call it, and the other attack, were effective because of the predictability of the IA soldier’s actions. This is even the cause for many US casualties. Good military leaders are able to adequately discern and adapt to the changing battlefield and understand the need for unpredictability. The IA has great morale and are not afraid, but they lack the basic leadership and training needed to survive.

The IA does lack much of the equipment that the Coalition Forces possess. It would be simple if this were the sole problem for the ills of the Iraqi Army. But to make readers believe that the simple addition of such equipment to the battlefield would solve most of the problems and deaths of the IA is misleading. The equipment is only as good as the soldier who maintains the equipment and fully understands its capabilities. If an IA soldier has body armor, but doesn’t wear it, it does him no good. Those who are not in the military or who have never studied the military would be unprepared to understand what the IA needs more of. To the militarily uneducated eye, the IA’s problem is equipment, but for those who understand what makes an army they could see what the IA lacks, is leadership and training. The lack of equipment, would allow the US an easy way out of Iraq, if we could just give them what they need, American forces could easily leave Iraq. It’s more complicated than that, and to give the Iraqi people the stability they need to grow will take much longer than most want.

In another article, posted on FOXNews.com, the story is almost completely inaccurate. The article starts:

Shiite militiamen loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr clashed Thursday with Sunni militants in fighting that killed at least 15 people.

 

The Shiite-Sunni fighting occurred after al-Sadr’s Madhi Army militia raided a house in Nahrawan, 15 miles southeast of Baghdad, to free a fellow militiaman kidnapped by Sunni militants, said Amer al-Husseini, an aide to al-Sadr.
The Mahdi Army freed the hostage and captured two militants during the raid, but was ambushed on its way out of Nahrawan, al-Husseini said.
Police Maj. Falah al-Mohammadawi said the 15 deaths included 14 Madhi Army members and a policeman. He said 14 people were wounded, two policemen and the rest either militia members or civilians. No insurgent casualties were reported.

 

The article leads one to believe that this incident was caused by tension among hard-line elements in Iraq’s rival religious and ethnic communities. In actuality, it was a case of Anti Iraqi Forces (AIF) attacking security forces. The incident in question did not occur in Nahrawan, it was several kilometers to the north in a small Sunni town. The Shiites involved were members of the Ministry of Defense’s sanctioned Madhi Army, which could be compared to our National Guard who were on patrol in the area. They came under attack from what we have determined was an AIF cell within the village who had been suspected of kidnapping and killing truck drivers in the area. The Madhi Army called for police backup from Nahrwan and proceeded to kill most of the attackers, although one police officer was killed. There were no hostages involved at all, and the report of no insurgent casualties is wrong; there were many.         

Amer Al-Husseini, an aide to al-Sadr and the Nahrawan police chief are the only individuals quoted in the piece, but our unit was never contacted for our view of the incident. Our platoons have been patrolling Nahrawan for over eight months and understand the history and climate of much of the surrounding area. To those on the outside, this might seem like a clash between two religious sects, but for those who take the time to investigate and find the facts, it was not. So, in a rush to push this story into the headlines, the author, who is unnamed, paints an incredibly misleading picture that many will take as the truth.

Another example of poor journalism and misleading the public is the case of former Marine Staff Sgt. Jimmy Massey, who told horrific stories of the atrocities his unit committed during the beginning of the war in Iraq. He had countless stories of US Marines killing children and civilians with reckless abandonment. The Associated Press (AP) wrote three stories on Massey and his allegations. Interestingly enough, they NEVER checked to see if his stories were true. The articles catapulted Massey into the media spotlight and his story was retold in Vanity Fair and USA Today. Eventually though, some reporters began to notice that Massey’s facts and stories were changing from interview to interview and speech to speech, he couldn’t keep his story straight. Eventually, it was proved that Massey was lying. But this didn’t happen until after his book Kill Kill Kill, was published, he marched with Cindy Sheehan ,and spoke at such universities as Cornell and Syracuse. John Stokes, a spokesman for the AP, said he could not explain why the AP would run a story without seeking a response from the Marine Corp. or why they didn’t speak with their own reporter, Ravi Nessman, who was embedded with the unit when these acts supposedly occurred.

The problem with the media, in my opinion, is that the media is centrally located in Baghdad, and reporters only venture out to the country side for a few weeks at a time–hopping from FOB to FOB and never getting a clear picture of what they are seeing. It is arrogant to assume that you can write intelligently on an area, people or unit and spend such little time with them. Unlike the initial buildup and invasion into Iraq the reporters are not embedded with a single unit for a long period of time. They move very frequently to where they want or are allowed to go. The majority of the world media seems willingly to take the worst stories as true, without any facts and not the more frequent positive stories. Our commander actually threw a reporter off our FOB (We did provide him security to another FOB.) because of his belief that it was our job to take him around anywhere he wanted to go and wanted to use us as a taxi service to IED sites. Until the media moves out of the Baghdad and yet again embeds themselves with military units and also take the time to check the facts, it is my fear they will continue to get many stories wrong.

With articles like these poured into local papers, I can only image the inaccurate view most Americans and the world must have of the situation in Iraq. I can only report the incorrect stories that are printed about my AO, because this is the area I know; but I can infer that the media is getting it wrong in many more AOs other than mine. The situation in Iraq is far from perfect. There is a good deal of work that still needs to be accomplished, but when the media produces so many faulty stories, the US populace and politicians are making uninformed decisions in regard to the future of this county. One can only hope that the average American is not completely buying into the stories shown to them on the evening news and on the Internet. If they are, I can only image how much longer and how much harder it will be for the military to accomplish their mission.
Lt George Kipp
Baqubah, Iraq



Editor’s Note: The following correspondence was sent to Dr. Paul Kengor–the executive director of the CVV–by Lt George Kipp, Baqubah, Iraq.