Thursday, June 9, 2016

Arango on the Outskirts of Falluja: NYT's Reporting on Conflict in Iraq and Turkey

Tim Arango is one of The New York Times' better reporters. He is stationed in Turkey but he has been reporting out of Baghdad for some time. Reporting on Iraq NYT staff have to follow certain guidelines that are identical to USG talking points. First, Iraq is a sectarian mess mostly due to the corruption of Shiite leadership and the malign, Snidley Whiplashesque influence of Iran. The recrudescence of Al Qaeda in Iraq in the form of ISIS is blamed on former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki (onetime U.S. favorite). Almost no mention is made of the Wahhabi jihadis of Islamic State and their sectarianism and where it comes from. Next, as Iraqi forces, both Iranian-led militias and U.S.-led regular army and special forces, take back territory from ISIS there is a great deal of attention paid to the plight of civilians (compared with, say, Yemen).

Tim Arango in his story the other day, "Iraqis Who Flee Fighting in Falluja Find Hardship and Hunger," adheres to the guidelines in the first two-thirds of his dispatch from the outskirts of Falluja. But the able reporters find a way to subvert the standard narrative, and Arango delivers: the Iranian-led Shiite militias are conducting themselves professionally with no targeting of the civilian Sunni population fleeing the war zone, and any sectarianism appears to be fomented by Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies:
Shiite militias have played a prominent role in the offensive to retake Falluja after nearly three years of Islamic State rule. But because of that, the battle is playing out amid persistent worries that the campaign could intensify the sectarian tensions that are tearing the country apart. [A good distillation of the official U.S. position.]
The Sunni extremist fighters for the Islamic State have warned civilians that the Shiite militias would slaughter them in revenge attacks whenever possible. The news media in Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries have framed the battle in crass sectarian terms, warning that Iran’s militias were intent on killing Sunnis. [Not at all dissimilar from NYT's reporting.]
But for the most part, civilians who have fled the areas around Falluja have said they had tired of the grim life under the Islamic State and had been treated well by the militias and Iraqi soldiers.
“We were surprised that they treated us so well,” said a man at a camp who was in his 50s and gave his name as Abu Muhammad, standing on Sunday outside his tent. “Daesh had told us the Shiites wanted revenge and would kill us.” 
Instead, he said, he was given cookies and orange juice.
For evidence of ruthless state-sponsored terrorism which news consumers hear almost nothing about, Arango needs to travel back to his old turf, Turkey, where president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is waging a scorched-earth campaign against the Kurdish population of the country's southeast.

Erdoğan's Kurdish war fulfills all the guidelines of NYT's Iraq reporting, but the Gray Lady gives the Turkish government a pass for the most part. I say for the most part because Ceylan Yeginsu did have an informative piece yesterday, "Bomb in Istanbul Kills 11 Near Tourist District":
Violence has surged in the country’s predominately Kurdish southeast in recent months, after Turkey undertook a major military operation to eradicate militants from their strongholds in the region.
The Turkish authorities have imposed round-the-clock curfews across several southeastern cities and pounded Kurdish militant targets with tanks and artillery, and they claim to have killed almost 5,000 militants. In the process, they have reduced many Kurdish cities to rubble.
Critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan say he deliberately short-circuited the peace process with the Kurds last year to stir nationalist sentiments after his ruling Justice and Development Party fared poorly in a first round of parliamentary elections. Premeditated or not, the tactic worked, as the party went on to win in a landslide in November, prompting the president to say the country had voted for stability.
Despite that victory, violence sharply escalated and the P.K.K.’s youth branches, fighting for self-rule, began carrying out increasingly sophisticated attacks in urban areas.
Last month, lawmakers from Mr. Erdogan’s governing party pushed through a contentious amendment to the Turkish Constitution that would strip lawmakers’ immunity. Analysts say the move will lead to the ouster of Kurdish politicians, many of whom could face terrorism charges. Kurdish politicians have warned that their exclusion from Parliament could aggravate tensions in the southeast.
Erdoğan's Turkey has been rewarded by the E.U., under Merkel's leadership, for its help in keeping refugees away from European shores.

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