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March 25, 2007

You Can’t Can Can’t Go Home Again


With the Administration trying to squeeze every ounce of propaganda out of “the surge,” why the help?

The article, “Reclaiming Homes, Iraqis Find Peril Still at Door,” in Friday’s NYT, gives the impression the so-called surge is allowing Iraqi’s displaced by sectarian violence to return to their homes in Baghdad.  Based on the headline and the first nine paragraphs, you would surely believe the momentum is shifting, if slowly, back toward a more civil, pluralistic society.

Not till you get that far, however, does U.S. military and Iraqi government wishful thinking end, and descriptive facts begin. 

It’s from that point you realize the preceding information was based, “on the ground,” one the example of a single returnee. What we’re then informed is that:

“Rumors have circulated for weeks that some people who returned have been killed by resurgent militants…”

“(T)he government’s figure of 2,000 [people returned home] is open to question.”

“What is certain … is that nearly all displaced families have decided to remain where they are until conditions improve….”

If the text does a U-turn, however, the situation — as presented visually — is clear from the beginning.

In the case of Sabiha Jassim, and her children, Salah, 9, and Noor, 11, above, living in a mosque in the Shiite neighborhood of Baladiyat since they abandoned their house, they don’t appear to be going anywhere.  And if you review the seven photo slide show, three of which focus on the Jassim family, there is no indication — at least where live people are concerned — that anybody has gotten close to their original home.

… On the other hand, it’s possible the story is based on such limited data, there is no way to know if people are going home or not.  This is clearly a problem with the pictures, as well, based solely on two families, one extended.  And if that’s the case, then on what basis can we form any conclusions at all?

(image: Max Becherer/Polaris, for The New York Times. Baghdad. March 22, 2007.

  • Mona

    The first picture in the slide show with the graffiti – that graffiti is not written by an Arab – there is not one correct word. It is “pigeon Arabic” if such a term exists. It is very difficult to make spelling mistakes if you are a native speaker of Arabic. It indicates that you don’t know the word. In this case, the person does not know the language!

  • ummabdulla

    Yeah, that graffiti seems to be written by someone who doesn’t know Arabic. Not an Arab who can’t spell correctly, because Arabic is phonetic and it’s hard to see how someone who speaks Arabic could write it this way. It’s not just the spelling… It really makes no sense. I showed it to my 11-year-old son and asked him what it said, and he pointed out all the mistakes and said, “Who wrote this? They don’t know how to write.” Even I wouldn’t make those mistakes, and I’m no expert. So I wonder who did write it…

  • ummabdulla

    The one conclusion that can be drawn from this photo is that the people are Shia; just a quick glance at the pictures and writings makes that clear. The article says, though, that this is an abandoned Sunni mosque. Having Shia families living in an abandoned Sunni mosque, and having it adorned with these pictures… that certainly doesn’t show any progress in having people move back to their homes, whether it’s these Shia families living in the mosque or the Sunni families who must have once worshipped there.
    Even if 2000 people have returned, the numbers for displaced people are said to be more than a million.
    This is what they write about one man who moved back: “He has stopped driving his bus. Instead, he is supporting his family on an army pension, sleeping by day and, by night, standing guard on his rooftop with a Kalashnikov…for security reasons he did not want a foreign journalist to visit him at home.”
    It doesn’t sound too promising. And the ones who identify themselves as Sunnis are using names that are typically Shia (Abu Ali and Abu Hassan); they could really be their names, as Sunnis do use those names, too, but I wonder, since many Iraqis have gotten ID cards with different names to protect themselves.

  • tina

    2,000 out of more than a million isn’t that many, even for a media desperate for good news.
    Where’s the husband/father of the family? Dead? Disappeared?
    Since the country has regressed so desperately, it’s certain the mother won’t be able to support them.

  • Mad_nVT

    Mainstream media provides us with “limited data” as BagMan writes. And sometimes it is false data. US Government also provides us with limited data, and sometimes false data.
    It creates a ripe time for the Internet to provide us with better “data.” But when anonymous or semi-anonymous individuals are providing the information, how can one be sure of the source or the quality of the information.
    So, while we are supposedly entering the “information age”, it turns out that our information ain’t so great.

  • ummabdulla

    This explains why some of the graffiti seems to be written by non-Arabic speakers. Translators with the U.S. Army are tasked with writing graffiti to try to stir up trouble (although why they want to make MORE trouble is beyond me). With the shortage of Arabic speakers, presumably they use some translators who aren’t that proficient, at least in written Arabic.
    Tagging Iraq: Samarra’s graffiti war by Joseph Krauss
    Wed May 9, 11:56 AM ET
    SAMARRA, Iraq (AFP) – On a dark street in the restive Iraqi town of Samarra a young man masked with a bandana and a baseball cap looks over his shoulder before pulling out an aerosol can and spray-painting across a wall.
    A US army officer standing behind him squints at the flowing Arabic script, then turns to a reporter travelling with his platoon.
    “What does that say?” he asks.
    The young vandal is an army translator whom the soldiers call Matthew — publishing his real name would put him in danger.
    Matthew is charged with sowing seeds of strife between the town’s two main insurgent groups, Al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic Army of Iraq…

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