Archives About Staff BagNews is dedicated to visual politics, media literacy and the analysis of news images.
November 19, 2005

Who’s Flexing The Muscle


I was interested in this cover photo in the NYT this week registering Koffi Annan’s first visit to Iraq since the invasion.  (To be specific, he touched down for a few hours.)  Mostly, I was taken by the photo’s "security-to-Koffi" ratio.  … And, the fact the guys guarding him looked like American special forces (or American contracted forces) rather than Iraqi faces.

In extracting political information and contradictions from news images, it’s important not to take anything for granted.  For example, if the Iraqi’s are allegedly gaining charge of their country, is it possible there aren’t a handful of elite homegrown soldiers available to guard (and therefore, pose with) the head of the organization of nations?  Of course, this "entourage" is likely just one more reflection of who really runs the show.

Something I always find curious is how much the MSM refers to the Iraqi
government as if it was fully autonomous. In most every story, it seems
the media goes out of its way not to pull back the curtain on American
control. That’s why this article on Friday (Torture Charges Deepen Rift Between U.S. and Iraqi Leader - link) was particularly interesting.

In mid-week, as I’m sure most are aware, American soldiers accidently
discovered that the Iraq Interior Ministry (effectively controlled by
the Shiite Badr Organization, to which the Interior Minister, Bayan
Jabr, is a member), had been running a secret torture operation in
Baghdad. The fact that the prisoners were mostly Sunni raised a
potentially disasterous situation with Parlimentary elections so near.
After a weak response from the Prime Minister, Mr. Jabr took center
stage and minimized the situation.

Notice how this section of The Times article illuminates who put a foot down:

…Mr. Jabr, speaking of the prison in an angry, sarcastic tone,
said, "There has been much exaggeration about this issue." He added,
"Nobody was beheaded or killed."

Later in the afternoon, the American Embassy issued its statement,
saying that "detainee abuse is not and will not be tolerated." In
addition, "We have made clear to the Iraqi government that there must
not be militia or sectarian control or direction of Iraqi security
forces, facilities or ministries."

If that doesn’t sound like "the last word," I don’t know how else
characterize it. (The fact the Embassy issued "its" statement — versus
"a" statement" — also had an evocative touch.)

And, just to make clear that the Prime Minister had everything
straight (especially where his assistance would be coming from), there
was also this passage:

Jim Bullock, an American Embassy spokesman, told reporters Thursday
that Mr. Jaafari had agreed to form a commission to look into every
Iraqi-run detention center in the country, and that employees of the
Justice Department and the F.B.I. would help. "We’re providing
substantial resources to support the Iraqi efforts," he said.

It doesn’t exactly say who Mr. Jaafari agreed with to form his commission, but never mind.  At least he won’t be lacking for "resources."

On second glance at the image, doesn’t it seem like the muscle serves
not just to "protect," but to enforce and stage manage the democratic

(Note: the lines across the image are
not part of the original photo. They probably are creases that showed
up as a result of transport by gym bag.)

(image: Pool Photo/Karim Sahib.  Sunday, November 13, 2005.  Baghdad. The New York Times. p. A1)

  • mad

    The security guy is one geared up mean-looking Mother. It doesn’t look like he is American military, looks more like he is a “contractor”, what used to be called a mercenary, or hired thug, or soldier of fortune.
    Why does the American Embassy spokesman indicate that employees of the Justice Department and FBI would help to investigate the Iraqi torture chambers? I thought that D. of Justice and FBI were oriented toward domestic issues, what are they doing in Iraq?
    And are they already all done investigating American torture in Guantanamo, and other scenic spots around the world?

  • Quentin

    If the DOJ and FBI are involved we might suppose that Iraq is in the process of being turned into the 52nd state. It is rich how the U.S. of A. grows and expands while professing innocence everywhere and loving care for all. Be sure: the bases have been built in Iraq and there is no turning back. The U.S. of A. is there to stay, Rep. Murtha or
    no Rep. Murtha. Is Mrs. Clinton still in the picture these days? The security guard is ghastly, a page out of Hollywood porn a la Stallone and Schwarzenegger (or however you spell that ass’s name).

  • Marysz

    Annan, wary and attentive, seems to be buttoning his suit jacket with his left hand in order to present a more dignified public image. Compared to the man on the right, musclebound and bristling with electronic devices, Annan looks slight and defenseless. The soldier on the right (if that’s what he is) glares at the photographer behind his sunglasses. What’s the phallic thing he’s doing with his hands? He could be holding a gun. He embodies the brute force behind the Iraq occupation. Behind the two men, it’s visual chaos. There are weirdly truncated faces, all of them male–women are out of the picture here. The guard looks like he could be African-American. Both he and Annan wear wedding rings and share an odd commonality–two black men far from home.

  • jt from B.C.

    Marysz, that phallic thing is:
    Cocked, locked, and ready to rock. Prepared for anything. Comes from the state of having cocked ones M-16, locked the bolt forward with a round in the chamber, and set the selector switch to “AUTO”, fully automatic, aka Rock and Roll.
    Koffi doesn’t look like he all that willing to boggy however. The beast is probably ex US special forces @ $1,000 a day for this particular assignment. Koffi looks like a man out of time and space with the “why me” expression in addition to those which you have noted.
    I’m curious about Koffi’s lapel pin what would be political appropriate for him to wear?

  • ummabdulla

    Looks like a contractor… But I have four boys who love to play soldiers, and I don’t think that even they would attach that much equipment at one time! It’s like he’s a walking magnet who just keeps attracting junk.

  • R.Dickson

    Sorry to bust everyones bubble.
    The Annan’s security are Fijian.
    Not American.
    Quite a few former Fijian soldiers work for private security firms in Iraq-just as Fiji always seems to hire itself out for peacekeeping duties for the UN.
    Probably felt like old home week for some of the security.

  • R. Dickson

    Sorry for the triple post. Had no indication my first post took.
    Here you go Fiji provides security to UN.

  • fotonique
  • momly

    Quadaffy or however the hell his name is spelled looks to be surrounded by teenagers. Love the blue suits!
    Maybe the King of Morocco should have offered some reward to people to actually go see the movie.

  • gleex

    You all who said the French special forces in their blue jumpers and merit badges looked mean…I say no again. Take a look at that soldier, damn he looks scary. (btw I have no problem with the French, I just did not think they look mean or scary)
    The pic is great. Diplomat and the Gun. The soldier is out front and holds a gun. The Diplomat in the back holding his tie and suit coat. Of course the image and the players are a bit out of synch since Annan is not using the soldiers for anything other than personal protection for his vist, or that is to say he was not the one who decided to go in. The image composition might ring a bit truer to that analysis if the 5 deferments Dick, or I’m gonna stay the course by leaving the National Guard a year early Bush where the man with the tie.

  • gleex

    I meant to say the pictures of the French anti-riot guard did not look mean, not that all French do not look mean, or would want to look mean. (from post above)

  • jt from B.C.

    fotonoique, enjoyed your exhibit of “bullet catchers”, Kofi’s Fijian remains my first choice for a PMC poster boy. (IN Iraq, for leaders and hourly short stay visitors there can never be enough PMC’s “packing the heat” as a number of your pics suggest)
    Kaddafi is my second choice, with the colorful and dramatic use of his military as protectors. Using the military in a different manner of protection I think of GWB in his ‘Commander In Chief’ role safely yakking in front of military audiences, but ‘Mission Accomplished’ remains my favorite stunt in projecting a sense of muscle and power. The other body guard pics I found rather, drab and grey do PMC’s get much buisness from Established Countries to protect their leaders.? How individual countries vary in protecting leaders or guests is an interesting subject as your photographs depict

  • ummabdulla

    Qaddafi’s trademark female bodyguards are very photogenic… and they must be pretty effective, since he’s survived a number of assassination attempts.

  • readytoblowagasket

    Wow, what a pair. The more I study this photo, the more its weirdness comes into focus (or perhaps, the more my weirdness comes into focus) — I see a portrait of the ineffectual poet and the comic book warrior. Annan’s weak-thumbed jacket-buttoning gesture reveals a fastidiousness and tentativeness that are completely useless in Iraq. Equally fastidious is his body guard (what is UP with that guy’s LOOK?) — a gay man’s fantasy cross between GI Joe and a Fijian firewalker come to life. Are we in Iraq, the land of the blinding desert dust? How is it that neither man has a speck of it on them? How are they so immaculately clean? A lapel pin and a perfectly rolled sleeve. To my eye, neither one has anything to do with Iraq.

  • fotonique

    JTFBC said:

    How individual countries vary in protecting leaders or guests is an interesting subject…

    And perhaps no country manages it as thoroughly as the United States. Images from President Bush’s Inaugural Parade (from the Capitol to the White House), January 20, 2005:

  • jt from B.C.

    fotonique, thanks for showing the on site ‘protection bubble’ I assume there have been pretrial runs, welded manhole covers, fenched in demonstrator areas, dogs and virtually every type of detection devices employed, the presence of helicopters, aerial surveillance, snipers and many other unseen ‘protectors’. Are there any other national leaders that are afforded such protection. I read about the security demands for his London visit which were not fully met thus limiting his travel. His security costs are undoubtedly highly classified but what might a budget for one year look like ? care to hazard a guess ? What leaders might fall in 2 & 3 positions ?

  • momly

    Why does any president walk down Pennsylvania Avenue after the inauguration anymore?
    The only one to do it with any type of symbolic meaning was Carter who really was the Everyman President, for a while anyway. Everybody else is simply a poser.

  • ummabdulla

    Fotonique, thanks for those links. It’s hard to imagine just how out of touch the U.S. President must be these days – especially when he alreaday has no desire to meet ordinary people. Remember when his father was President and was so fascinated with the newfangled gadget he saw at a supermarket: the barcode reader?

  • ummabdulla

    readytoblowagasket (gotta love that name!), the sand/dust is at its worst during a sandstorm, but otherwise it’s not so bad. And being in the city is different from being out in the desert. They might have sand all over their shoes, though.

  • jt from B.C.

    readytoblowagasket, this is ‘Welcome to Baghdad Airport’, your poet as all VP’s land and depart in total darkness, his aircraft having “corkscrewed” on descent to avoid pot shots from “deadenders”. That’s a wake up face he’s wearing not a “why me” as I earlier surmised. Why you ask is the firewalker wearing shades (at night) part of the standard kit for ‘cool’. Ex Indy drivers or wantabees under contract will chauffeur Koffi to the Green Zone as he experiences another ride of his life. Fully awake and dustless he will survive the highway of death, manoeuvring through mazes of concrete slabs, to reach the bunkers of freedom in a liberated city. I suspect he will be greeted with formality, politeness, curiosity, suspicion and indifference. John Bolton would second that.

  • readytoblowagasket

    Maybe Annan has that funny look on his face because he gets motion sickness. Or maybe he’s thinking, “Why the hell did I ever want this job? I thought I would just have to worry about the HIV/AIDS pandemic. This job SUCKS!”
    Meanwhile, his companion is thinking, “I RULE in these shades!”

Refresh Archives

Random Notes