Blogging with Bush

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By: Greg Mitchell

This is how far he, and his argument for continuing the slaughter in Iraq, have fallen: President Bush today was reduced to quoting two anonymous bloggers from Baghdad.

He cited them as evidence that his surge/escalation is working. One problem: their posts were written weeks ago, and re-published in the Wall Street Journal on March 7.

So the bloggers weren’t even talking about current conditions in Baghdad. That left it to Rajiv Chandrasekaran, former Baghdad bureau chief of The Washington Post — and author of the heralded 2006 book “Imperial Life in the Emerald City” — who appeared on MSNBC’s “Countdown” tonight to debunk this idea of a newly-safe Baghdad. “I talk to Iraqis all the time,” he said.

He revealed that there had been steady insurgent mortar shots falling in the supposedly safe “Green Zone” all week, at least two Americans had died there in recent days, and U.S. Embassy staff had been instructed, in a switch, to wear their protective armor and helmets outside at all times. He also disclosed that the embassy’s pool, scene of much partying in the recent past, has now been declared off-limits. All of this and more appears in a Post “Green Zone” article on Thursday.

To back up his point that pulling out of Iraq would be a disaster, President Bush had said on Wednesday, “They have bloggers in Baghdad, just like we’ve got here,” in a speech to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Well, it’s good to know he is keeping his eye on “the internets.”

Then he quoted two of the bloggers: “Displaced families are returning home, marketplaces are seeing more activity, stores that were long shuttered are now reopening. We feel safer about moving in the city now. Our people want to see this effort succeed.”

Only hours later did the White House reveal that the bloggers were brothers, Mohammed and Omar Fadhil, and these supposedly little-known average Joes had met Bush in the Oval Office in 2004. They are dentists and write an English-language blog from Baghdad called, also available via Pajamas Media.

The White House admitted that Bush had plundered the lines from an op-ed that the brothers wrote for The Wall Street Journal way back on March 5. The White House couldn’t even get the date right, as it turned out it actually appeared on March 7.

Howard Kurtz interviewed the brothers more than two years ago during their visit to the U.S. and quoted Mohammed Fadhil in a Dec. 20, 2004 column: “Now we want to say in a loud and clear voice that we welcome American troops and consider this a liberation, not an occupation.” Fadhil added: “People outside Iraq are more worried than the Iraqis themselves.”

Kurtz pointed out: “In true Internet fashion, they are already having a war of words with other bloggers who see them as American tools.”

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino defended the president quoting bloggers as just one more way to prove that positive things are happening in Iraq. “What the president was doing was taking an opportunity to talk about what one person’s expression is,” she said.

Asked about it again, she said, “I think that maybe somebody found it compelling, the President wanted to include it in his speech….Blogs are new for all of us, and I know that you all look at them, because then you call me and ask me what we think about the blogs.”

This all came on a day when Sen. John McCain has had to back off from his repeated statements on TV in the past 24 hours declaring that it was now safe to walk around many sections of Baghdad without worry. When reporters and other on the ground in Baghdad quickly disputed this, McCain backed down and denied saying it; unfortunately his words were caught on tape at several venues.

Then, on Thursday, the worst wave of killings hit Iraq in weeks, leaving more than 150 dead — including at least 70 in “surge-protected” Baghdad.

Myself, I put more stock in bloggers who post their views on the Inside Iraq site launched not long ago by McClatchy Newspapers. It’s been so popular and powerful that it will be the first roll out in McClatchy’s new content deal with Yahoo announced just today. The bloggers are Iraqi staffers or correspondents for McClatchy (their full names are hidden).

Here are two postings much more recent than the Fadhil brothers’ quotes cited by the president today.

March 24, from correspondent Sahar

The loss of state-supplied electricity has made private generators a necessity. Every 50-100 homes are supplied with power from a generator, situated ?around the corner? or ?down the road? from where you live. The noise generated by these machines has contaminated our very lives. (Not to mention the smoke and fumes that are killing us).

They supply us with a little power for six hours only, the rest of the day we have to switch on our own tiny house generators, which are just as noisy and smelly. (Those of us that can afford them)

The noise from explosions and fighting and cocky nobodies shooting live ammunition into the air to satisfy their sick inner hunger for power is just the cream topping on the cake.

How to sleep properly? How to work properly? How to study?? How to rest, think and achieve?

This war is cultivating a very resilient strain here in Iraq. Should we be thankful?

March 18 by Sahar

Every time I tell myself that my next blog will be a pleasant story of days of old, I am confronted with a different story that needs to be told.

A friend of mine called me to tell me the bad news. Her brother had been kidnapped, and the ransom set at $100,000. For any Iraqi, such an amount spells disaster.

Selling all they could sell, the whole extended family pitched in to save the poor man. They told the abductors that they couldn?t manage more than 20,000. Surprisingly, the criminals said ?OK, have a woman bring the money to ?..?. After leading her on a merry dance, a boy of sixteen or seventeen approached her, took the money and said, ?We will contact you?. And that was the last they saw of them.

Two weeks later, their women combing the hospitals and then the morgues, had found no trace of Hani.

They were told to speak to the contractor. ?The one who is in charge of burying all the unidentified bodies we get.?

So they asked around, and were directed to an ordinary looking man, who was not at all surprised to hear of their dilemma. ?Yes, I?m in charge of burying the bodies that are not claimed. There is no room for all these bodies in the morgues. You must identify him first, and I will direct you to his grave.?

?How can we identify our brother???

?Don?t worry, I?m well set up!? He walks towards a really posh car, opens the door, takes out the latest laptop, and sets it on the bonnet. ?I have here photos of all the bodies I bury. Each one is given a number that is engraved on the headstone of his grave in Nejef. Browse.?

True enough, Iyman said, her sister started looking through hundreds of photographs, of the head and shoulders of people killed in the streets, without their folks knowing about them; but didn?t find her brother?s photo.

?Try Abu Haider, or any of the others.? The contractor advised. ?They are just as conscientious as I am.?

[Later] ?We found his picture! We have his number! His face was all bruised and there was a hole drilled in his forehead! Oh, Sahar! He died in pain! His hands were tied above his head!?

They went to the wilderness that was being used as burial ground, on the outskirts of the city of Nejef. But there was no trace of Hani?s grave. They inspected each and every grave, each and every headstone for his number. But it was not there. They looked in all the graveyards, not just this one, but the number was not to be found.

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