Archives About Staff BagNews is dedicated to visual politics, media literacy and the analysis of news images.
March 27, 2008

Iraq Civil War – #1 (Day 2): Deathly Simple

Mahdi

There are probably few spots on this planet where the search for mono-causality is more futile than Basra.

–Reidar Visser, historiae.org

I love this.  This shot is one of the more popular, if not artistic newswire images being used right now to illustrate the eruption of fighting across southern Iraq.

What it conveys, beyond the fact that death is in the air, is how eloquently the Iraq War has been reduced to abstraction.  There are no names here, no faces, just the news (via the caption from NYT Pictures of the Day) that a Mahdi fighter from Sadr City has ended up in a box.

And how clean and simple really, just one more Mahdi evil-doer on his way to paradise.  If you read most news accounts (including the VOA piece below, citing the Pentagon spin that the outbreak is actually a good thing), you will learn that the latest trouble is quite simple, boiling down to:

Iraqi Government = good (and finally showing some cohones);

Mahdi = guilty most of the way around

So, no need bothering with the reality that the violence engulfing multiple cities involves a complex intermingling of the interests of at least four separate Shiite factions (including ISCI –formerly SCIRI; PM Maliki's Dawa party; the Mahdi; and Fadila, which is particularly entrenched in Basra) with the U.S. sandwiched in there apparently happy to be blasting away (in Baghdad, at least) at the Mahdi while the Iraqi government pushes the line that it's simply clearing the south of criminal elements.

In fact, what occurs to me now, in spite of my castigation of the image, is that the way it articulates the ambiguity is actually spot-on.  What I mean is, with various hands involved, seemingly aligned but also clustered, tied to death but unidentifiable to our eyes, it's a fair snapshot of how much we really can tell about what's going on.

The Enigmatic Second Battle of Basra (historiae.org)

Pentagon Calls Iraq Fighting Good Sign, Analysts Not Convinced (VOA)

Iraq leader gives Shiite militias in Basra three days to surrender (LAT)

Pictures of the Day, March 26 (NYT)

(Image: Alaa al-Marjani/AP.  April 25, 2008.  caption: At a funeral in Najaf, Iraq, relatives lifted the coffin of Hadi Kadim, a Mahdi Army fighter from Sadr City, Baghdad, who was killed in Tuesday's clashes. via nytimes.com)

  • http://www.jaxxattaxx.com/ black dog barking

    Plain, unadorned, anonymous. Impersonal. The far side of consumer consumption.
    This image is presented at an unusual angle, from beneath the casket, the helping hands upraised. Usually we’re looking down as the receptacle is lowered into the earth, the ultimate receptacle.
    Earth

    Earth took of earth, earth with woe,
    Earth other earth to the earth drew;
    Earth laid earth in earthen trough,
    Then had earth of earth enough.
    
  • jtfromBC

    The names and numbers of citizens slaughtered in occupied territories is of little interest to consumers in the West
    Its The Crude Dude http://www.randomhouse.ca/readmag/volume5issue1/excerpts/itsthecrude.htm (2004)
    (Basra, produces more than 70 percent of Iraq’s oil and its port exports 80 percent of its crude).
    ‘Bombers attack Basra oil pipeline’
    One of southern Iraq’s two main oil export pipelines has been severely damaged in a bomb attack, officials said today (March 27 2007) http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/mar/27/iraq
    I’m presently listening to that biggest Law Breaker GWB yelling about gettin some Law Breakers in Iraq ~ this bullshit seems unending…

  • http://ruinsofempire.blogspot.com/ Rafael

    Of course, the real reason behind these attacks is simple. Sadr is a nationalist, and opposes the occupation. And neither the U.S. or its proxies in Baghdad like that, not at all. Heaven forbid that some champion the interest of you know, the Iraqis.

  • http://home.comcast.net/~sfs73/index.html MonsieurGonzo

    ref : “violence engulfing multiple cities . . .
    . . . eerily reminiscent of the ‘Tet Offensive’ :

    General Tran Do : “In all honesty, we did not achieve our main objective, which was to spur uprisings throughout the South. Still, we inflicted heavy casualties on the Americans and their puppets, and this was a big gain for us. As for making an impact in the United States, it had not been our intention – but it turned out to be a fortunate result.

  • http://www.jaxxattaxx.com/ black dog barking

    George W Bush and his gentleman’s C’s graduated from Yale in May of 1968 while the Tet Offensive was still ongoing. He was scooped up by a Texas Air National Guard unit that had virtually no chance of being deployed in Southeast Asia. The details of his accomplishments with TANG are a bit hazy as are the time, place, and circumstances of his discharge. Record keeping technologies of the time were very primitive and unreliable.

  • lightkeeper

    I have stopped paying attention to Iraq. There is no reason for us to think we are getting even any semblance of the truth of what is going on there. Can you imagine if the news actually called the war an occupation? Or the resistors were called resistors – rather than terrorists? I sure can’t.

  • lytom

    How many of these hands will pick up gun?
    How many of these men will in even one small way work against the occupation?
    How many of these men support the bloody democracy exported into Iraq by bush?
    How many will give up the marches and plant IED or sniper attack occupation soldiers?
    Yet, the MSM persistently repeat the optimistic view on what is going on in Iraq.
    How long will the public hear the insane estimate on how things are?

  • cenoxo

    It looks as if they’re trying to hold Death back, to bring it back down to Earth.
    Compare to A Burial Platform – Apsaroke, Edward S. Curtis (1908).

  • http://home.comcast.net/~sfs73/index.html MonsieurGonzo

    crossref JC : “[Maliki] did extend the deadline for them to surrender heavy arms from 3 days to 10, and promised monetary rewards to those who complied.
    MG : IMHO reminiscent of U.S. General Mark Clark, after establishing a beachead at Anzio during WWII, then stalled and failed to engage the Germans…
    . . .about which, Churchill is reported to have said: “I had hoped that we were hurling a wildcat onto the shore, but all we got was a stranded whale.”
    The folly of General Petraeus simply hunkering down in defensive posture in Baghdad, not only rendering his own forces largely irrelevant in the Sunni -v- Shi’ite Civil War, but also leaving naked ‘The Prize’ that is the southern oil field and port terminal conduit of Basra ~ is now painfully obvious. Perhaps because TheSurge = the General’s “success” was measured only by the metrics of: (1) the number of insurgent / offensive attacks against his defense; and, (2) the KIA attrition rate of American forces ~ the idea of General Petraeus and the American Army serving any strategic purpose other than “reporting ‘good-news’ metrics” and “sacrificing blood and treasure to provide time for political progress” ~ that process, itself being some fantastically imagined reformation, an archaic notion of nation ‘IRAQ’…
    . . .which, incredibly in retrospect ~ would have been the de facto Iranian Shi’ite Occupation of ‘IRAQ’ sharing its power with the (now Sunni allied) American Occupation of ‘IRAQ’, as well as with the independent Kurdish peoples’ Occupation of ‘IRAQ’.
    And so there we sit, surrounded; literally driven underground, operating from bunkers within the confines of our own largely meaningless Green Zone ~ while our defender, the Shi’ite proxy militia of IRAN that is the Maliki ‘government forces’ apparent of ‘IRAQ’, hurls bags of dough over the top of the trench-wall in which we find ourselves stuck, hoping that Mr. Sadr et al belligerents can be bought off or bombed out before the folks back home realize that something has gone terribly wrong, Over There.

  • jtfromBC

    The UK forces in Basra realized the difficulty with ~ ‘The Prize’ ~ a long time ago, cut their forces in half, now 4,100 laid back soldiers watch the action on TV from the airport.
    They did lose an SAS fellow in Baghdad hunting high value bad guys a few days ago though.
    At times I imagine Bush must envy Blair’s early exit.

  • Mommybrain

    Many hands make heavy work.

  • http://www.bartcop.com bartcopfan

    What I mean is, with various hands involved, seemingly aligned but also clustered, tied to death but unidentifiable to our eyes, it’s a fair snapshot of how much we really can tell about what’s going on.
    I’m late to the party as usual, but don’t the reaching hands remind anyone else of raising the flag on Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima?

Refresh Archives

Random Notes