By: Rafe Bartholomew
Contrasting reports on an April 15 conflict between Iraqi protesters and U.S. Marines in Mosul highlight the inconsistencies in the American media’s coverage of violence against civilians in Iraq, which often seems to accept the military’s word first and ask questions later.
What’s known for certain is that on Tuesday a crowd gathered outside Mosul’s city hall to protest a pro-U.S. speech given by the city’s new self-appointed governor Mashaan al-Juburi. A riot ensued in which U.S. soldiers defending Juburi took and returned fire and several dozen Iraqis were shot.
But the reported details of this event vary dramatically. The Boston Globe quoted a U.S. military spokesperson’s estimate that the crowd consisted of 100 to 150 people, while The Guardian (UK) said there were thousands of rioters. The number of dead Iraqis, two days later, continues to range wildly from seven (the U.S. figure) to 14 (in the foreign press).
The international media reported the story immediately as a violent suppression of the crowd by U.S. forces. Stories in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Guardian quoted Iraqi witnesses who said U.S. troops fired on the crowd (as well as at least one child on a rooftop) without compelling provocation. They also focused on the antagonistic relationship between the crowd and Juburi, who many accused of corruption. When protestors interrupted his speech with chants of “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his prophet,” Juburi replied, “You are with Saddam’s Fedayeen,” according to the Morning Herald. While these papers reported that U.S. troops were fired on first by Iraqis, they also portrayed the U.S. troops as the governor’s protectors who seem to have over-reacted.
But the U.S. press had a different story, though some are now rushing to catch up. Coverage of the conflict has been inconsistent in American dailies, many of which took the U.S. version at face value.
The New York Times, which did cover Iraqi and American sides of the story, nevertheless placed it at the bottom of its B3 page, and did not mention the U.S. relationship with Juburi until nine paragraphs into the story. Wednesday’s USA Today offered nothing more than a 67-word blurb attached to a map describing the event and The Wall Street Journal had no mention of the shooting in its front section.
Conflicting details showed up in other papers. The Washington Post emphasized the possibility that Iraqi shooters could have been militia members dressed as civilians and that the U.S. troops were returning fire at them, not “real” civilians.
The Herald-Sun of Durham, N.C., on the other hand, balanced official U.S. statements with strong coverage of the Iraqi angle, quoting three civilians who said that U.S. forces had fired on the crowd.
On Thursday, some of the papers returned to the subject, noting that several more Iraqis in the city had been killed in additional protests the day before, while continuing to focus on U.S. claims that the killings were in self-defense. Iraqi witnesses told The New York Times that the latest incident began after two Iraqi policeman fired warning shots in the air — and Marines then fired on them and others.
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