Covering Iraqi politics

We don't see enough of it

Throughout the war in Iraq, there has been a noticeable lack of coverage of the political angle of the fight from the perspective of the Iraqi politicians and officials who make up the government. (One could probably make the case that there hasn’t been enough coverage of Iraqis in general, but there have been a number of touching—and tragic—stories written about families and individuals who are struggling under the weight of the brutal insurgency. But access to ordinary Iraqis is tough.) With the fight in Washington over the war is at its hottest since 2003, there has been a considerable lack of in-depth political reporting about what Iraqis think about all the American-imposed benchmarks, timetables, troop increases and so forth.

After the president unveiled a “progress report” yesterday about how the Iraqi government and military are coming along (a report which Slate’s Fred Kaplan called “a sham” in a piece that reporters at all our major newspapers should take a look at), we finally see a couple papers turn to Iraqi politicians to see what they think about the whole thing. And the results ain’t pretty.

The Washington Post reported that “Iraqi politicians on Thursday struck a more pessimistic tone about Iraq than did the White House assessment, and said the deadlock between warring Sunni and Shiite factions makes major political progress unlikely in coming months,” while the Los Angeles Times relays that “Leading Shiite Muslim politicians Thursday pleaded with Washington to stop imposing deadlines for reforms meant to stabilize Iraq and expressed frustration that their country’s future was becoming a hostage of U.S. politics.”

Moving from Shiite to both Shiite and Sunni politicians, we find out that “comments by Shiite and Sunni officials reflected the deep sectarian rifts hindering reconciliation…the dueling comments, made as the White House released its assessment of the Iraqi government’s progress toward 18 important benchmarks, gave a picture of the immense difficulties Iraq faces in becoming an effective democracy.”

Not exactly what you want to read while you’re eating your Cheerios in the morning, but it’s something that I would like to see more of. Iraq, at least nominally, is a sovereign country—something that tends to get lost in the domestic duels between Congress and the White House about the best way forward. It’s pieces like these that give the American public a look behind the curtain of Iraqi politics, and which help give the American reading public a better idea of who—besides American service members—is doing what. It’s a critical part of the whole, messy puzzle of Iraq, and a part we need to see more of.

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.