maandag, januari 31, 2005

Negotiations with insurgents?

John Simpson's report for the BBC's Panorama programme tonight gave, on the whole, a fairly accurate picture of the situation in Iraq - perhaps the best I've seen from a mainstream news outlet. The programme offered a frank look at the overstretch of US and coalition troops, caught American ambassador John Negroponte out on the issue of civilian casualties, included interviews with Fallujah civilians whose family members were killed by the bombing of their city, conceded that some critics view the attack on Fallujah as a war crime, and managed to offer - for first time as far as I know - an interview with a Ba'athist leader of the insurgency.

There were, of course, problems. Not least of which was Simpson's description of the number of civilian casualties in the Lancet report as 'widely dismissed as too high.' The passive phrasing of the sentence, in which the subject (and I mean here 'subject' in its grammatical sense, as the 'doer' of the action in a sentence) of the sentence is absent, is weasel journalism, as Simpson should know. Indeed he does, arguing as he did in his recent memoir, News from no man's land, to be wary of journalists who use passive sentence construction.

In any case, the estimates in the Lancet report have not been widely dismissed as too high. Doug Ireland, a regular Nation magazine contributor and the author of the Direland weblog, recently posted a thorough discussion of the failure of the mainstream media to cover the Lancet report numbers and debunked the debunkers of the report - in particular the Washington Post's dishonest use of an out-of-context quote from a Human Rights Watch spokesperson to cast doubt on the numbers when in reality the spokesperson himself did not have such doubts.

Others may find further issues with the programme to complain about as well. However, there were two things in particular that made this Panorama a must-see for me.

First of all, there was the inclusion of a clip from the now fairly widely circulated English-language video purporting to be from the resistance, and which name-checks the anti-war and anti-globalisation movements. The reason for its inclusion in the Panorama programme is a bit of a mystery, as there was essentially no commentary on the clip from Simpson, but this is the first time I've seen even part of this video broadcast on television, which is remarkable in itself.

Secondly,we find in one of Simpson's interviews with former acting Iraqi president, Adnan Pachachi, who is now a candidate in the current elections, that Pachachi supports bringing sections of the insurgency into the political process. Echoing this perspective was ambassador Negroponte, who said that in fact such negotiations had already taken place. Simpson also reported that Prime Minister Ayaad Allawi's people were currently in talks in Jordan with elements close to the insurgents' leadership.

At the same time, a leader from the United Iraqi Alliance - the mainly Shiite and fairly unwieldy political coalition backed by Sistani - interviewed by Simpson was adamant that not only there be no negotiations with these insurgents, but that they be crushed militarily.

Now, the Alliance is more or less opposed to the occupation and makes a distinction between the 'patriotic resistance' on the one hand and the Zarqawi-types and Ba'athists on the other. So when they say that they are opposed to negotiations with certain insurgents, they can only be meaning the Sunni Ba'athist insurgents who are opposed to Shiite majority rule. Perhaps they are worried (understandably) that it is this section of the insurgency that the Americans may be inviting back into the political process.

The frankly unsurprising revelations that the Allawi regime (and hence the Americans) are in discussions with elements within the insurgency, together with the document recently leaked to Iraqi Democrats Against the Occupation suggesting that Allawi is considering a full restoration of the Ba'ath party in Iraq and the return of leading Ba'athists to government, may just point to the sort of exit strategy the Americans are considering.