Media Lens Guest Editorial
In 1984, Edward Herman and Frank Brodhead described how “demonstration elections” are “organised and staged by a foreign power primarily to pacify a restive home population, reassuring it that ongoing interventionary processes are legitimate and appreciated by their foreign objects."1
In the case of Iraq, it is of course vital that domestic audiences in the US and UK be persuaded that their governments are killing Iraqis with the support of, even on behalf of, Iraqis themselves. The possibility that Iraqis might be dying in their tens of thousands for Western power and profit must, of course, be kept so far out of sight that it is barely even thinkable.
In this morning’s ZNet commentary, Herman notes that there may be a demonstration election planned for Iraq in January:
“But meanwhile it is nominally ruled by Ayad Allawi, openly selected by US officials, but taken by the media (and Kofi Annan and the UN) as a genuine leader of Iraq. In the runup to ‘saving’ Fallujah, US military officials say that they are awaiting a go-ahead from the head-of-sovereign-Iraq, Mr. Allawi, for permission! Like the United States needed a go-ahead from [South Vietnamese] Generals Ky and Thieu to ravage their country with Agent Orange and napalm!”
The Iraqi leader’s mythical go-ahead being, again, vital in providing legitimacy for an attack on a Third World city with main battle tanks and supersonic bombers.
Today, the broadcast media announced that the long-awaited superpower assault on Fallujah - a city of 300,000 people, of whom some 30,000 are said to remain - had begun.
Remarkably, the courageous ITV News reporter, Julian Manyon, did not fall into line. On today’s 12:30 Lunchtime News, Manyon said:
“We’ve had now, this morning, the formality - some would call it, I’m afraid, the fiction - that Iyad Allawi, the prime minister of Iraq, has given the official order to commence the operation against Fallujah. Of course in reality it is an American operation.”
This is not the hymn sheet from which the media is supposed to be singing. Fortunately, the post-Hutton BBC is on hand to channel official propaganda with the power to reassure and bamboozle the viewing public. The BBC’s lunchtime news anchor, Anna Ford, opened today’s news with this solemn announcement:
“Iraq’s prime minister, Iyad Allawi, has said he has given American and Iraqi forces the authority to clear Fallujah of terrorists.”
Almost everything in this statement is false: Allawi is not the legitimate prime minister of Iraq, he is an American-installed stooge. Allawi did not give authority to US forces to attack Fallujah - +they+ are the authority in Iraq, Allawi is their mouthpiece. The US goal is not to “clear Fallujah of terrorists”; it is to crush Iraqi resistance to US control of their country.
BBC executives justify affording such high-profile coverage to Allawi’s words on the grounds that he is the Iraqi leader. If similar coverage had been proposed for the Soviet-imposed rulers of Afghanistan in the 1980s, the same BBC executives would have fallen about laughing. Might, quite simply, makes right.
On the same news programme, the BBC’s ‘embedded’ correspondent, Paul Wood, gave a report that included footage of US forces and an Iraqi commando unit storming a hospital in Fallujah. Iraqi prisoners were shown being tied up and blindfolded. Wood said:
“The insurgents here were quickly overpowered, and without a shot fired.”
On ITV, Manyon had told us 30 minutes earlier that half of these hospital “insurgents” had immediately been released. Footage followed of a speech by US marine general John Sattler to troops:
“This town’s being held hostage by mugs, thugs, murderers and intimidators. All they need is for us to give them the opportunity to break the back of that intimidation.”
The BBC’s Paul Wood added:
“Officers from this battalion are meeting now. I think, probably, following the press conference by prime minister Allawi, they will come back to tell these marines that finally the operation is on.”
Anna Ford spoke again from the studio:
“Iraq’s interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, said the rule of law will be imposed in Fallujah very soon.”
And then to a clip of Allawi’s press conference:
“We are after terrorists, we are not after anybody else. And all the Iraqi people, including people in Fallujah, they want us to go ahead and finish the terrorists, and have the rule of law prevail in Fallujah, and this is what we intend to do.”
Again and again, the impression was given that Allawi was in charge, that he was giving the orders, that he was intent on bringing ‘law and order’, rather than US control, to Iraq. You could not guess from today’s BBC lunchtime news that this is in fact a war between illegal foreign occupiers and local resistance fighters.
The impression given was that Iraqis were directing the war being waged on their own people, with Western control and goals whitewashed to invisibility. This has the effect of pacifying and disarming British public opinion, so reducing resistance, so making it easier for the West to continue killing for control and profit.
Claire Marshall then reported from Baghdad:
“He [Allawi] said that he has given his authority to the multinational and to the Iraqi forces. This does seem to be the authority which they were waiting for in order to carry out their full-scale assault, possibly into the centre of Fallujah.”
Imagine how horrified we would have been to hear crude propaganda of this kind from a Soviet journalist reviewing Red Army actions in Afghanistan. Marshall continued:
“Prime minister Iyad Allawi also suggested that the fight will go on. He said that ‘any place in Iraq which houses terrorists will now be cleaned’.”
Thus, on seven occasions, the BBC gave the impression that Allawi was the real authority in Iraq, so promoting the lethal myth that the assault on Fallujah is essentially an Iraqi operation against “terrorists” and “mugs, thugs, murderers and intimidators”, to be “cleaned” and “cleared”. There were no balancing words from commentators opposed to the US waging an illegal high-tech war against city slums.
“Basically the people who are still in the town of Fallujah are those who either have nowhere else to go, or those who are trying to protect their houses from looting, or those who want to join in the fight.”
One other category springs to mind - those who are too young, old, sick and infirm to move at all.
1. Herman and Brodhead, Demonstration Elections, South End Press, 1984, p.5