Iraq: Media Dead Zone

with Salam Talib

In Iraq, the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars is accusing the US military of carrying out a massacre during a pre-dawn raid in a small village Northeast of Baghdad. The Association said the raid, which was carried out on Monday in Muqtadadiya, left five dead including an elderly man, a young man, and a forty-day-old baby.

The association’s spokesman, Mothana al-Dhari:

“What happened is that the American forces raided the house of Sheik Riyad al-Tiyah before sunrise. They didn’t find the Sheik, but they found his brother and his family. They were sleeping on the roof, escaping from the heat up the Summer. [The US military] killed two brothers. Her name was Tabarak and she was 40 days old. … They also killed two of the neighbors that looked from their roof next door to see what was happening in their neighbor’s house and the Americans shot them and killed both of them.”

The Pentagon has a different version of Monday’s events. In a press release datelined Baghdad, the Multinational Forces Iraq said the raid targeted a safe-house inhabited by people with ties to terrorist finances and foreign fighters.

“As Coalition forces assaulted the target, they were immediately engaged by terrorist forces,” the statement read. “In the ensuing firefight, two terrorists were killed … Coalition forces found blasting caps, improvised explosive device materials, and multiple ammunition rack systems and weapons on the objective.”

The military admitted one child was killed, but did not take responsibility for the death.

As with most cases, it’s difficult to tell which side is telling the truth in this story. The security situation around Baghdad is so dangerous; no reporters have been able to visit the area to investigate.

Sarmad Abdul-Karem is the Director of Iraq4All News, which posted the Sunni Association’s allegations on its website.

“Everything you see in the news is mostly propoganda,” he conceded. “There is a lot of hiding information and a lot of censorship. We can’t keep up!”

Abdul-Karem said his office receives up to 150 reports a day of killings carried out by all sides. For the most part, he “just got tired and we stopped publishing them,” he said.

Censorship seems to be on the rise in Iraq. Two years ago, the Iraqi government banned al-Jazeera, the largest and most popular Arabic satellite news channel and yesterday the Iraqi Cabinet banned its main competitor – Dubai-based al-Arabiya for allegedly stoking the flames of sectarian conflict.

In addition, Joel Campagna of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said “Working reporters have repeatedly been detained at the hands of the US military and Iraqi security forces. There are also efforts by local authorities to use the courts to punish outspoken independent journalists. There was a case just last week where two reporters were jailed for 10 years for allegedly insulting a former governor.”

In such an environment, Mothana al-Dhari of the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars is concerned important humanitarian stories are being ignored.

“It can be difficult getting to the places where incidents occur,” he said. “That makes journalists comfortable taking quotes from the occupation forces. But there are so many (massacres by US forces) and you can believe from these incidents that it’s a pattern of action of the occupation. It’s not just an accident.”