This week on War News Radio, we take a look at funerals in wartime Iraq. We follow the members of one Iraqi family as they search for peace for a departed uncle and for themselves. Listen now to Janice Im’s report.
Then, we hear how the politics of war are playing out for Joe Lieberman and Ned Lamont in Connecticut’s Democratic senatorial primary. Listen now to Eva Barboni’s report.
And, how has the media coverage of Iraq been affected by the escalating conflict in Lebanon? We consult the experts. Listen now to Elizabeth Threlkeld’s report.
Finally, we go to Washington to find out where American tax dollars have gone in Iraq. Listen now to Amelia Templeton’s report.
These stories, plus the week’s news, from War News Radio.
Marty Goldensohn: â€œFrom Swarthmore College, this is WNR.â€
Eva Barboni: Iâ€™m Eva Barboni,
Reuben Heyman-Kantor: And Iâ€™m Reuben Heyman-Kantor.
In accordance with Islamic law, the body is laid on its side, with its face and chest facing Mecca, as if in prayer. Then the family plays one last tribute to their loved one.
Reuben Heyman-Kantor: This week on WNR: funeral rituals. We find out how Iraq, a country plagued by violence, deals with death.
Eva Barboni: Also, the politics of the war begin to play out in a senate primary.
Reuben Heyman-Kantor: Plus, war coverage fatigue: why a new war is crowding out the old one.
Eva Barboni: But first, a roundup of this week’s news.
Eva Barboni: Iraq is more likely to fall into civil war than it is to become a stable democracy. That’s according to a secret document sent to British Prime Minister Tony Blair from Britain’s former ambassador to Iraq. While U.S. and British officials have consistently highlighted progress publicly, the classified report leaked to the BBC tells a very different story.
Reuben Heyman-Kantor: In the leaked document, Britain’s former Ambassador to Baghdad William Patey casts doubt on whether “staying the course” will do any good. Warning that civil war is likely, the memo stresses that while the situation isn’t hopeless, the next six months are, quote “make or break time” in Iraq. Prime Minister Blair responded publicly by claiming that he agrees with Patey’s pessimistic assessment. All the more reason, he said, to quote “stay the course,” and prevail in the long run.
Eva Barboni: Meanwhile, General John Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command in Iraq, and General Peter Pace, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified that full scale civil war is a real possibility and that violence in Iraq has never been worse â€“ this at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Reuben Heyman-Kantor: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was at the hearing as well, and was grilled by Senator Hillary Clinton.
Well, Mr. Secretary I know you would and I know you feel strongly about it, but thereâ€™s a track record here. This is not 2002, 03, 04, 05, when you appeared before this committee and made many comments and presented many insurances which have frankly proven unfulfilled.
Senator, I donâ€™t think thatâ€™s true. I have never painted a rosy picture. I have been very measured in my words, and youâ€™d have a Dickens of a time trying to find instances when Iâ€™ve been excessively optimistic. I understand this is tough stuff.
Well, Mr. Chairman, I would like unanimous consent to submit for the record a number of the secretaryâ€™s former comments.
Reuben Heyman-Kantor: Senator Clinton.
Eva Barboni: As 37 hundred more U.S. troops were shifted to Baghdad, bombings, sectarian fighting, insurgent attacks, and kidnappings continue to plague the city.
Reuben Heyman-Kantor: On Tuesday, seventy Iraqis died in various attacks across the country. The deadliest incident occurred when a roadside bomb hit a bus carrying Iraqi soldiers 155 miles north of Baghdad, killing twenty-three.
Eva Barboni: On Monday, gunmen dressed in military uniforms kidnapped twenty-six from the Iraqi American Chamber of Commerce and a nearby cell phone company. In the brazen daylight attack, the gunmen arrived in fifteen 4-wheel drive vehicles and stormed the two buildings simultaneously.
Reuben Heyman-Kantor: Eleven Iraqis were killed Wednesday when two bombs went off on a soccer field during a neighborhood match in a Shi’a community of western Baghdad. On the same day, a mortar shell exploded on another soccer field and killed three Iraqi children.
Eva Barboni: On Wednesday, the hundredth journalist died in Iraq since the start of the war, according to Reporters Without Borders. Twenty-year-old Adel Naji Al Mansouri, an Iraqi who served as the Baghdad correspondent for an Iranian TV station, was shot after being kidnapped in front of his home the day before. Two other journalists are currently missing and three are being held hostage.
Reuben Heyman-Kantor: Despite the violence, Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani says heâ€™s optimistic about the progress of Iraq’s security forces. On Wednesday, he announced that by the end of the year, he expects Iraqis to take over security duties in all of the country’s 18 provinces. To date, theyâ€™re only responsible for one.
Eva Barboni: After almost a year of scolding the Bush administration for its policy in Iraq, U.S. Representative John Murtha is now in the hot seat. The congressman is being sued for libel for his comments about the alleged murders of Iraqi civilians in Haditha. Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, who commanded the troops under suspicion in the incident, brought the suit. His lawyers say that Murthaâ€™s comments about the Marines involved in the Haditha investigation were false and malicious.
Reuben Heyman-Kantor: The inquiry continues into accusations that US soldiers murdered Iraqi civilians in Samarra last May. In a hearing held this week to determine whether there should be courts martial in the case, four U.S. soldiers testified that they received orders to, quote, “kill all military-age males,” they encountered. The case revolves around three Iraqi men, killed after a raid. Military prosecutors accused the unitâ€™s leaders of an elaborate cover up in which soldiers helped the three Iraqis escape from their handcuffs, shot them as they fled, and then faked injuries to make it look like a fight.
Eva Barboni: And, the conflict in Lebanon continues.
Reuben Heyman-Kantor: On Thursday, 100,000 Iraqis filled the streets of the Sadr City neighborhood in Baghdad. Waving Lebanese flags and holding posters of Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nassrallah, The protesters denounce d Israeli and American actions in Lebanon. Many called for Hezbollah to fire missiles at the Israeli capital Tel Aviv. The new conflict has strained relations between the Iraqi and American governments.
Eva Barboni: One inconspicuous causality of this new war: Iraq’s economy. According to the Iraqi American Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the conflict is taking a heavy toll on Iraqi exports. In just the first two weeks of the Lebanon conflict, approximately 100 trucks with Iraqi goods destined for Lebanon were stopped at the border. Lebanon is one of Iraq’s largest trading partners.
Eva Barboni: Finally, a message to Iraqi citizens this week from the Defense Ministry: we want you to attend U.S. military academies. The only requirements for this opportunity? The Iraqis must be currently enrolled in an Iraqi military college, fluent in English, and in good physical condition.
Eva Barboni: This is WNR. Iâ€™m Eva Barboni. U.S. troops in Iraq aren’t coming home yet, but most of the Army Corps of Engineers is soon to return. Amelia Templeton explains.
Amelia Templeton: Reconstruction is wrapping up. All the money will be allocated by the end of next month. And at a hearing yesterday, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, told senators that fifteen of the nearly twenty billion dollars they gave to rebuild Iraq had been spent. About eighty percent of the reconstruction projects had been completed. That all sounds like good news, but little progress has been made in key areas, according to Special Inspector Bowen. Half of the planned oil and electricity projects havenâ€™t even been started. Of one hundred and fifty health centers we planned to build, only six exist. And of those, two can receive patients.
More money will have to be invested. That means donor money, that means perhaps US funding as part of the donor plan and ultimately Iraqi funds to fix- to pay for- short falls in planning.
Amelia Templeton: Unfortunately, according to Bowenâ€™s report, the Iraqi government doesnâ€™t have that kind of money. In fact, operation and maintenance is a real problem. They donâ€™t even have enough money to keep the hospitals and electricity plants that are built up and running. Bowen hopes that the World Bank and international donors will pick up the slack. But given the current security situation, that money is not a sure thing. For War News Radio, Iâ€™m Amelia Templeton.
Eva Barboni: This is War News Radio. Iâ€™m Eva Barboni.
Reuben Heyman-Kantor: And Iâ€™m Reuben Heyman-Kantor. This Tuesday, August 8th, Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut faces a tough primary in his bid for re-election. Many observers are viewing this race as a referendum on the Iraq War.
Eva Barboni: I spoke with Jason Zengerle, senior editor of the New Republic, who has closely been following Liebermanâ€™s campaign.
I think that were it not for Liebermanâ€™s position on the war and the way he has sort of handled the war, he wouldnâ€™t be in any trouble at all probably.
Eva Barboni: Lieberman is running against millionaire cable TV executive Ned Lamont, who says he decided to join the race because of Liebermanâ€™s pro-war stance. Though the Lamont camp now claims the race is about more than just Iraq, Zengerle says thatâ€™s not really the case.
Itâ€™s a big enough issue that I donâ€™t think there is anything wrong with it being a single-issue campaign. I am a little surprised that Lamont and some of his supporters want to pretend like itâ€™s more than just the war.
Eva Barboni: Itâ€™s not Liebermanâ€™s initial vote for the Iraq War resolution that has him in trouble -plenty of other Democrats voted with him on that. Zengerle says Lieberman is in a unique position because, unlike other Democrats, he hasnâ€™t turned against the war â€“ or even seriously criticized the Bush administrationâ€™s handling of it.
And I think a lot of people, if they disagreed with him on his vote and support for the war, they wouldnâ€™t have as big of a problem with him if he would at least acknowledge that the war is not going well, which he has seemed reluctant to do.
Eva Barboni: On Comedy Centralâ€™s Colbert Report, Liebermanâ€™s opponent Ned Lamont attacked the incumbentâ€™s criticisms of those who have challenged the presidentâ€™s policies in Iraq.
But I think it was Joe Lieberman who chastised guys like a Jack Murtha who said that, staying the course is not a winning strategy, and Senator Lieberman said, you are undermining the credibility of the President. I think itâ€™s our obligation to stand up as citizens.
Eva Barboni: Forgoing the Comedy Central route, Lieberman has opted for more traditional campaign tactics. He has appeared at rallies with fellow Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd and even former President Bill Clinton. At one star-studded rally, Lieberman defended his party loyalty.
Iâ€™ve looked around the hall and it seems my opponent in the Democratic primary hasnâ€™t made it here tonight. [laughter] But I tell you if he were here, heâ€™d be a bit confused because of the company Iâ€™m keeping up on this stage. Because my opponent is peddling what Iâ€™d have to call a big lie that Iâ€™m not a real Democrat.
Eva Barboni: If he loses the primary, Lieberman plans to run in the general election as an independent candidate. However, if he goes on without the partyâ€™s support, he will likely lose the backing of Democratic all-stars like former President Clinton. If this scenario plays out, journalist Jason Zengerle doesnâ€™t think Lieberman has much of a chance.
His numbers arenâ€™t going in the right direction, and I think the psychological impact of losing the primary could be pretty devastating for him just in terms of perceptions around the state. And I wouldnâ€™t be surprised if he got some pressure from national Democrats not to run as an independent.
Eva Barboni: Whatever happens, the race will be watched closely as a measure of the publicâ€™s attitude toward the war in Iraq.
Reuben Heyman-Kantor: This is WNR. Iâ€™m Reuben Heyman-Kantor. On an average day in Iraq, 250 million US dollars are spent, one or two American soldiers are killed, and 100 or so civilians lose their lives. But with a new war now just three-weeks-old in Lebanon, Iraq isnâ€™t always the lead story. How is that decision being made in newsrooms across the world? Elizabeth Threlkeld reports.
Elizabeth Threlkeld: Andrew Tyndall is the publisher of the Tyndall Report, a publication that monitors the nightly newscasts of the three major networks. He says the drop in Iraq coverage over the last month isn’t just a blip on the radar, but rather a part of a larger trend.
If you take the total coverage of Iraq in the year 2003, 2004, 2005, there’s been a gradual and continual decline in the amount of coverage from year to year. The total amount of Iraq coverage in 2003 was 4000 minutes on all three networks combined, roughly speaking in round figures, from 4000 minutes in 2003 to 3000 in 2004, to 2000 in 2005, and so far in 2006 that pace of decline has continued.
Elizabeth Threlkeld: While American television coverage of the Iraq war had been dropping before the conflict in Lebanon broke out, carnage in Iraq was still dominating Arab media outlets. Not anymore. With Israel and Hizbollah exchanging missile attacks, Arab satellite networks have been covering Lebanon virtually 24/7. Abdu Rahim Fuqara, Washington bureau chief for the Arabic language station Al Jazeera, says that Iraq has fallen off the screens in part because of competition.
Abdu Rahim Fuqara:
The emotional attachment that people feel towards Lebanon and towards the people of Lebanon in other parts of the Arab world is really driving this media frenzy to cover what’s going on in Lebanon. And I think it’s when you get to a situation when you have many different stations competing for viewer ship in the region, I think any station in the region will think twice before beginning to pull away from a story like Lebanon because there are always other stations that will be able to jump in and take the place of that particular media outlet so everyone is focused on it, and no media outlet is willing or able to pull away from it to cover other stuff because that’s where viewer ship seems to lie.
Elizabeth Threlkeld: Because of the war in Lebanon, the American TV networks are also broadcasting fewer stories from Iraq. But Susan Chira says that drop off hasn’t spread to the New York Times. Chira is the Times’ foreign editor. She says the paper hasn’t shifted any resources from the Iraqi theater to Lebanon.
We have pulled no one from Iraq, we didn’t reduce our staff there, we threw more people into the Mideast. We keep in Iraq at any given time 4 to 5 reporters at any given time on a rotating basis. We have borrowed 2 reporters who were on vacation from the Iraq reporting, who were on their break, and asked them to go to Lebanon but we didn’t draw down our current deployment in Iraq.
Elizabeth Threlkeld: Chira says the New York Times has kept that number of reporters in Iraq since the end of major combat operations back in May 2003. But the Los Angeles Times has reduced its staff. In 2003, they had 4 or 5 correspondents there. Now there are generally just 2 or 3, according to the paper’s foreign editor, Marjorie Miller. But Miller says Lebanon has not diverted coverage from Iraq. In fact, she argues, it is Iraq, Lebanon, and Fidel Castro which is driving every other foreign story out of the paper.
I think right now Lebanon is getting more attention because it’s a newer quickly evolving situation whereas Iraq is the continuos drumbeat, in a sense, so it has that newsy aspect to it that Iraq doesn’t necessarily have, but it’s not driving Iraq out of the paper.
Elizabeth Threlkeld: Brent Cunningham, the managing editor of the Columbia Journalism Review agrees.
I would argue that there is something in the news about Iraq every single day, and for three years now, it has been the dominant international story in this country and I predict that within a few weeks, assuming a cease fire is negotiated in Lebanon, it will resume that place, and it will move on and it will be day after day after day the huge international story. I think it’s fairly hard to argue that Iraq is being short changed.
Elizabeth Threlkeld: Brent Cunningham may be right. On Wednesday August 3rd, three weeks into the war in Lebanon, the Los Angeles Times ran two international stories on the top of the front page. One was datelined Baghdad. For War News Radio, I’m Lizzie Threlkeld.
Reuben Heyman-Kantor: [Station Break 1] Youâ€™re listening to WNR from Swarthmore College. Visit us online to listen to archived shows, learn more about the program, or subscribe to our podcast. Thatâ€™s at warnewsradio [dot] org.
Eva Barboni: This is WNR. Iâ€™m Eva Barboni. Everyday, hundreds of bodies pour into the Baghdad Morgue. Many are victims of bombings and kidnappings, victims of circumstance. Often, the only comfort for the families left behind by this violence is in giving their loved ones a proper burial, one faithful to Islamic traditions. Janice Im takes a look at these practices in a country where death is increasingly becoming a part of life.
Janice Im: In May, Anas lost his uncle, Ali, to a heart attack, and to the Baghdad streets. His uncle fell ill at midnight during curfew hours. The family called the police for help, they said:
Sorry, I canâ€™t come â€˜cause in this time no one can go outside. My uncle say what, you are the police why you canâ€™t come? The policeman tell him we come maybe we will be attacked.
Janice Im: By the time Ali got to a hospital several hours later, it was too late. But the grief-stricken family had no time to mourn. Ali was young, only forty when he died. They had to take the body to the Baghdad morgue for an autopsy. For Anas, it was a difficult trip:
You canâ€™t imagine that. I ask the doctor there, how many people do you get everyday? He tell me there are more than 200, 300 killed daily.
Janice Im: And the morgue was only the first step. Anas and his family still had many things to do before Ali could rest in peace.
At the first we bring him to his house, and put him in the middle of the hall. Then his wife and his sister and his brother try to cry on it and then say goodbye to him. After that we lift him from the earth and put it again, three times.
Janice Im: A ritual. Afterwards, Anas and his family put the body in a coffin for good and set it atop a hearse bound for Najaf, one of the holiest cities of Shiâ€™a Islam, and a popular burial site. But before the actual burial could take place, they had to arrange for a ceremonial washing to purify their uncleâ€™s body for the afterlife. Ahmad Afzali, religious coordinator of the Islamic Burial funeral service in New York, describes such a typical washing:
The main thing is the washing you canâ€™t hurt them, you cant pinch them, the water has to be warm, has to be just right, has to be scented, have some fragrance in it. The face the head, the hand, after that the whole body gets washed. Takes about an hour.
Janice Im: During the hour-long ceremony, the washer-man reads some passages from the Koran, and most importantly, gives the deceased some last minute reminders. Again, Aliâ€™s nephew, Anas:
The washer, when he wash the dead man, actually he tell him to remember who is his God, who is his prophet, who is his book.
Janice Im: To Muslims, the answers to these questions â€“who is god, who is the prophet, what is the holy book- are crucial in the afterlife. If a person is judged worthy by the two angels that visit, and also by God on the Day of Judgment, that person will have a better chance of gaining eternal paradise.
When somebody dies, it is not the end it is actually the beginning and Islam just like Jews or Christianity is emphasized on their resurrection. There are two angels, ones called Munkeer and one is called Nakeer. They come in and start the questioning process. The first question they ask you is, who is your lord, what do you believe in, what is your faith, and what is the prophet that you follow, which prophet, and also what book do you follow. And if this person lived their life on this world based on those golden principles, god willing they should have no trouble answering those questions. The soul leaves to the world between here and hereafter, we call it balsak, they stay there, just be there, hang out there, â€˜til the Day of Judgment is pronounced.
Janice Im: After the ritual questioning during the cleansing of the body, a last goodbye for the family. Anasâ€™ uncle, Ali, is shrouded in a clean, white cloth, with only his face exposed to his grieving loved ones. Together, they carried the body to the shrine of Imam Ali, a seventh-century leader and saint.
We lift him on our arms, actually 6 or 8 people try to carry him on his arm, and when we walk we always say â€œla [Arabic].â€ This means â€œthe God is the greatest andâ€¦ no God, just Allah.â€
Janice Im: At the shrine, an Imam once again prepares the uncle for the questions he will be asked by the angels and Anas and his whole family pray as the body is lowered into a tomb. In accordance with Islamic law, the body is laid on its side, with the face and chest facing Alqueba, Mecca, as if in prayer. Then the family pays one last tribute to their loved one.
We ask our God to be mercy on him and care about him.
Janice Im: Then all the men take some earth and throw it on the coffin. After the burial, a final ritual. Anasâ€™ family returns to Baghdad to hold a wake. Itâ€™s no draw out affair. Islam discourages long mourning periods for the dead because the afterlife is an extension of this life. And, for another reason:
Islamic law allows only three days to mourn, after that get on with your life, you know? You can never put a time limit of grief on someone who loses a loved one, but Islamic law say that you donâ€™t want the grief of something to overtake your own personal life.
Janice Im: Families in Iraq usually want as many people as possible to come to a wake to pay their respects. But today, itâ€™s dangerous, Anas says. Guests must risk their lives to honor the dead. Only 500 will come to a wake.
But before the occupation of Iraq, 2003, the reception maybe reach up to 10,000.
Janice Im: During the small wake for Ali, Anasâ€™s friends and family eat dinner, drink coffee, and say a special prayer, the Alfateha, for the uncle. Apparently, it never hurts to put in some extra effort:
Actually give the man some push to heaven. Push the dead man toward heaven.
Janice Im: It has been two months since his uncleâ€™s death, yet the loss still looms over Anasâ€™s life. He would like to visit the grave, but says it is nearly impossible because of all the killings along the roads. But this same violence has helped Anas find and unlikely peace with his uncleâ€™s death.
Really we happy that our uncle die in this way. I mean he maybe die by bomb, maybe he die by gun of someone. But he die in his house. This is really, really good for him and good for us.
Janice Im: Anas says itâ€™s hard to recognize some of the dead men in Baghdad. Some are burned, some are decapitated, or dismembered. Maybe I shouldnâ€™t say this, says Anas:
Anas: I think it is good for him and good for us that he died in his house, and he is in one piece at all.
Janice Im: For War News Radio, Iâ€™m Janice Im.
Eva Barboni: A final note: Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan has called President Bush a lot of names, but this week, a new one: neighbor. Gearing up for another round of protests later this month, Sheehan recently acquired 5 acres of land in Crawford, Texas, near the President’s ranch.
Reuben Heyman-Kantor: Sheehan had a fellow war protester, Vietnam veteran Gerry Fonseca, buy the land for her in order to avoid local opposition. In her newsletter, Sheehan writes, quote â€œWe decided to buy the property to use until George’s resignation or impeachment, which we all hope is soon for the sake of the world.â€ No word yet as to whether the Bushes will be sending a fruit basket.
Music Outro 27:15
Eva Barboni: That’s our show for this week.
Reuben Heyman-Kantor: Next week on War News Radio, we take an in depth look at tribalism in Iraq. A touchy subject, but one that canâ€™t be avoided. In some parts of Iraq, tribes are calling the shots.
People live together, they are extremely bonded together. The individuality as it exists in the West doesnâ€™t exist in these societies. You as a person do not exist. You exist as a member of a family, and this family is a member of the tribe, and this family of the tribe will take care of you. And thatâ€™s how things move.
Reuben Heyman-Kantor: The power, influence, and significance of Iraqi tribes, next week on War News Radio
Eva Barboni: WNR is a production of Swarthmore College.
Reuben Heyman-Kantor: Find us online at warnewsradio [dot] org. There you’ll also find instructions on how to subscribe to our podcast to get WNR on your computer every week.
Eva Barboni: Special thanks this week to David Gelber.
Reuben Heyman-Kantor: Our behind-the-scenes crew includes Wren Elhai, Alex Marlowe Ginsberg, Duncan Gromko, Marge Murphy, Laura Pacifici, Nelson Pavlosky, Karen Rustad, Sarah Whites-Koditschek, Hansi Lo Wang, and Marty Goldensohn. I’m Reuben Heyman-Kantor.
Eva Barboni: And Iâ€™m Eva Barboni. Until next time, thanks for listening.