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 Media Files
Sunday, June 3, 2007 10:46 PM

The BBC’s Mark Urban responds to Medialens




You began you ended your last message by arguing, “you seem to have no awareness that the reality might diverge from official pronouncements”. It’s a remarkable thing to accuse an experienced journalist of. I might equally counter: do you really believe that you can come up with any perspective on coverage of the Iraq imbroglio that will not already have occured to someone who has been working intensively on it for the past five years ? We live and breath this stuff 24/7, and we often debate the issues among colleagues or in public.

Now let’s get back to the things you objected to, ie my characterisation of current US operations in Iraq and their objectives. I reached these conclusions as a result of considering a very wide variety of inputs: official statements; official news soruces such as spokesmen or briefing; unofficial contacts in the military or government – people who breach regulations, risking their careers to talk to me; a wide network of Iraqi unofficial contacts; reading the coverage of other journalists; jihadist or other Islamic websites; going my own field trips to Iraq, seeing the ‘ground reality’ on street patrols. So, if I say the current Baghdad Security Plan is aimed at dampening sectarian violence in this city, it is as a result of synthesising all of those inputs. It is not simply a matter of accepting the official version, as you mischevously characterise it. What I can tell you though, after 25 years in this business, is that the stuff you get from your unofficial contacts usually does conform with the official version. When I have found it doesn’t, don’t worry, I make the most of it – for example with my book ‘Big Boys’ Rules’.

So what about your analysis ? I don’t imagine that the fact it is put together by you sitting at home, sifting current events through a dense filter of ideology necessarily makes you wrong. I do however think that your desire to force all of the elements in a woefully complex situation into a simple proposition such as, “America’s real objective is to smother all opposition so they can pinch the oil”, to be a sorry form of fundamentalism. There have been enough revelations about the early planning (or lack of it) in books like ‘Fiasco’ or ‘State of Denial’ for us to know now that Donald Rumsfeld did not think in terms of long term occupation – indeed he directed the Joint Chiefs to plan for a drawdown within nine months of the invasion to 5,000 US troops in Iraq. As for the oil money, it flows through the Iraqi oil ministry, which somehow managed not to spend $10bn of it last year.

Anyone wanting to report these issues in a sophisticated way has to take account of views that jar with their own analysis or sources. They also have to acknowledge that countries or armies can have multiple objectives that are not necessarily mutually exclusive. This is why I acknowledged some of the other US Army missions in Iraq. It would be as simplistic for me to claim ‘they are just there to help’ as it is for you to argue ‘they are just there to smother resistance so they can take the oil’. If you want a political sub-text to the surge, perhaps concentrate on the possibility that it is designed to keep US troop levels high until the 2008 presidential election, so that the Bush camp can blame any subsequent ‘mission failure’ on the next administration. That’s what some of my sources suggest, and it’s something I’ve already reported on Newsnight.

All the best Mark

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