Tuesday, September 21, 2004
Quagmire Myths

If a reporter were objective, they would examine the assumptions and biases on which their written testimony is based, perhaps with a wish to inform their audience. However, the BBC is devoted to delivering an unspoken picture of 'quagmire' in Basra, even if this depends upon a scattered collection of 'facts', 'events' and off the record attributions.

This is not an argument for or against the description of Basra as a 'quagmire'. The article on the BBC website is unconvincing reportage that wears its agenda on its sleeve.

British officers characterise the August fighting as merely a "spike" in the violence. Some spike. Last month, British troops fired 100,000 rounds of ammunition in southern Iraq.

The article also refers to other figures on attacks in Amara: 400 direct mortar hits on the base, and 853 other forms of attack (presumably including the mortars). Without a comparison, it is not possible for a questioning reader to accept how large an increase this spike consisted of. Yet, was this a powerful force besieging the British soldiers and endangering their lives?

Since the shrines were not touched, it's thought that only 400 hard-core gunmen joined the fight against the multi-national forces in Basra.

Morale is high and the stockpiles of the Al-Sadr militia in Basra have been confiscated, removing the short-term threat. Paul Wood, BBC Middle East Correspondent, can only conjure up the threat of a general Shi'a uprising by citing the unwillingness of trained Iraqi policemen to attack their co-religionists, and maintaining a neutral stance.

When you are reduced to quoting an unknown source for a view that corroborates the main thrust of your article, one should ask how any of the conclusions can be supported:

I met, though, one of the senior civilian political advisers to the military command, an astute and experienced Whitehall figure. Every time he came to Basra things seemed a "step change worse" he said. The best thing to happen, he went on, would be for a new Islamic government to be elected in January, which would ask multi-national forces to leave. He was not being facetious.

Part of the BBC's remit, paid for an inequitable poll tax, is to inform us in an objective and balanced manner of current developments in South Iraq. This remit has not been met, if it has to rely on unattributable sources. Didn't we have enough of this with Gilligan? Standards are still as bad as ever.


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