Thursday, April 10
Out of Spin
Lloyd Grove with Anne Schroeder, Washington Post.com, April 10, 2003; Page C03
All over Washington, public relations professionals are distraught at the sudden disappearance from television screens of Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf.
"Many of us turned to his daily briefings just as people in this town look forward to their morning Starbucks," said veteran Democratic operative Dale Leibach, a principal in Prism Public Affairs and a man with an antic sense of humor. "We need to bring him over here to practice his amazing public relations skills. He has taken our profession, such as it is, to a level that is as inexplicable as it is humbling. I would hire him in a nanosecond."
In recent days, Sahhaf has dazzled professional spinmeisters here with his irrepressible optimism -- "The infidels are committing suicide by the hundreds on the gates of Baghdad" -- and his uncanny gift for the mot juste, at one point referring to the United States, Great Britain and their supporters as a "gang of bloodsucking bastards."
Some of Sahhaf's greatest hits:
• "There is no presence of American infidels in the city of Baghdad."
• "We butchered the force present at the airport."
• "Iraqi fighters in Umm Qasr are giving the hordes of American and British mercenaries the taste of definite death."
• Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is "a criminal dog." Rumsfeld and President Bush "only deserve to be hit with shoes."
• "After we finish defeating all of those animals we will disclose that with facts and figures."
Leibach, a veteran of the Jimmy Carter White House and the offices of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and former senator Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.), told us: "There was great concern on Monday when we heard that his office was bombed. In all my years in this business, ... ... I have never seen anyone handle himself with such 'skill' as he demonstrated during his press briefing yesterday -- with his Ministry of Information building literally on fire, causing him to move his news conference to the sidewalk, and with the flames visible behind him, saying with a straight face that they had 'the infidels' on the run, that the Iraqis are winning this war. They just don't teach you that in college. This is a PR guy who may give new meaning to 'knowing how to take a bullet' for a client. Literally." [...]
Much work left to be done
The DailyKos, April 10, 2003
Despite yesterday's rejoicing at the fall of Baghdad, the reality in the ground is far more volatile than those sipping the bubbly would have you believe.
It's true -- events on the ground have sped up in recent days thanks to relentless US bombings, overwhelming firepower on the ground, and inept Iraqi tactics (seriously, whose brilliant idea was it to deploy the Republican Guard outside of Baghdad?).
But, it's also true that the US hasn't defeated the Iraqis in battle. Most have melted away into the populace. Have they laid down their weapons, are are they bidding their time, ready to wage guerilla war?
Given that US forces still face "pockets of resistance" (in other words, guerilla ambushes), it seems clear there is still much left to clean up. Capturing Baghdad's downtown is a strong psychological blow to the enemy, but it's not the end of the war.
And none of Iraqs major cities are secure -- with irregulars continuing their guerilla resistance and civilians looting under the disinterested gaze of US and British forces.
In Basra: "Local people are a bit surprised. They see the outward appearance of British control.
"But a lot of local people are wondering 'why are they still fighting Iraqis on the outskirts if we've got the tanks in the centre of the city, why is the security situation not better than it is?'"
Why? Because parking tanks in the center of a city doesn't do anything to control the territory outside of that tank's gun range. And Brits and Americans are earning further emnity for ignoring the looting going on under their noses:
Angry doctors in Basra's main teaching hospital - itself targeted by looters until soldiers arrived - told the BBC they had only about two weeks of medicine left.
And the electricity supply was only intermittent, they said.
One doctor, Muayad Jumah Lefta, was angry with the UK forces for failing to provide security. Many of his patients had been victims of the disorder rather than the fighting, he said.
"We're getting patients who were hurt in the looting, stabbed by their neighbours, hit by bullets in squabbles between members of the Baath Party and their rivals... The British are responsible for this."
In all fairness, US and UK forces are really in a no-win situation.
If they tried to intervene they could be forced to fire on civilians. If they don't, well, we see that doesn't earn them any friends either.