Transcendental Bloviation

Politics, Space, Japan

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Najaf in the headlines - not

Najaf was not on the front page of today's International Herald Tribune. How can this be? As I write, American forces are still pounding the surrounding areas of the shrine, and Ayatollah Sistani and his entourage crawl under British armed guard through traffic jams on the road from Basra to Najaf, traffic jams he himself created when he called upon followers to descend on the city.

I really did inspect the IHT's front page, but ... no Najaf. Even in that under-the-fold capsule summary Update section of the IHT, all they felt like reporting was President Arroyo of the Phillipines pronouncing her government "already in the midst of a fiscal crisis." She said it only sometime this week, not yesterday, and the article cites analysts as saying she was only "stating the obvious." Non-news is news, and Najaf is not?

The Tokyo edition of the IHT contains the Asahi Shinbun, and there is no Najaf on that sub-front page either. The latest Iraq news from that journalistic quarter is about the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) encampment in Iraq and its supposed lack of security. Hot news flash: on August 23nd (three days ago, guys!) "[s]everal explosions [were] heard near the GSDF camp." I guess the Dutch troops protecting the Japanese troops are falling down on the job. And I guess any Iraqi soldier who might shoot at another Iraqi to protect Dutch troops who are protecting Japanese troops is ... blasting away in the vicinity of the Imam Ali shrine.

There is news on Najaf, however. Go to Google News and you'll find it. Google's lead story might be 22 hours old - during which the Allawi government has probably announced twice that rooting Mahdi fighters out of the mosque compound was only "hours away" - but click on that link that says "umpteen thousand related" and you'll get your Najaf news bits hot off the e-presses, sorted latest-first. I've been clicking on that link almost every hour.

And that's how I ran across Georgie Anne Geyer's interesting thinkpiece. Half update, half media analysis, she urges her readers to check inside the paper, if they don't see Najaf on the front page. "It is almost as if no one notices anymore," she sighs, leading off the article. Americans are mainly tuning into the churning wake of campaign spin stirred up by those pesky Swift Boat Veterans, rehashing Vietnam during Iraq's fateful moment.

Geyer may not like my brand of politics, but she outdoes me (somehow) in her (admittedly clever) use of (mostly parenthetical) equivocations.
It seems that about every other hour, the Iraqi government (if it really is one) issues another warning to the Mahdi militias (if they do not really constitute some kind of army) inside the great Imam Ali Mosque to leave the shrine, or else ... We Americans, who are doing most of the fighting around the most holy shrine in Shiite Islam (which has destroyed virtually all of the blocks around it), continue to insist that this battle is under the Iraqi government (if there really is one).
My kinda gal, that Georgie.

She could be right about Kerry vs. Swifties being such a big distraction. Then you had the greywashing of Rummy on Abu Ghraib by a panel headed by James Schlesinger. Big news of a sort, but still just news about old news. Today's not exactly a slow news day. Najaf could be getting lost in the mix. But I have another theory.

Allawi kicked out Al-Jazeera out of Iraq not so long ago, and ordered ALL press out of Najaf. There were even reports of journalists getting shot at by the police in Najaf, though I don't know how whether to credit them. The point is this: reporting news from Najaf became a crime. As I check hourly, I've noticed a funny thing: Reuters and other wire services dribble out only two or three paragraphs on this subject, with only one or two actual new facts to report.

So maybe one of the reasons we're not getting much about Najaf, much less front page stories, is that much that's newsworthy is not getting written down, and what little is getting inked isn't currently getting out. As well, what does get out usually sounds old even if it's new, because the situation has spiraled through several almost-indistinguishable states reported at some remove from actual events.

"Fierce fighting reported."
"Ceasefire being negotiated."
"Agreement almost at hand."
"Negotiations fall through."
"Fierce fighting reported."

Maybe Americans would rather rehash Vietnam right now than check in on a story that sounds like Vietnam. And maybe 40 years from now, we'll be having presidential elections about some issue that's almost indistinguishable. About who took what kind of enemy fire (if any) in support of an Iraqi government (if Iraq really had one). About how deep and serious the wounds were (if they weren't in fact self-inflicted rather than from some Mahdi Army teenager's IED). About what kinds of medals they got for those wounds (and whether they threw those medals away in protest of the Iraq War or not). About why some commanding officers wrote glowing official reports of an American GI in his twenties, fighting in Najaf even as I write this, only to reverse themselves two generations later when that GI is running for president, on the basis of memories that couldn't have become any sharper in the meantime.

If, two generations from now, some such sorry repetition comes to pass, remember: you heard it hear first. Me, I hope I'll be pushing up daisies. Who'd want to live through this again?


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