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The accuracy of the war in Iraq's news coverage leaves a lot to be desired

By Stephen Barton - posted Wednesday, 16 April 2003

On day two of the war in Iraq, some American Marines faced "fierce" resistance, before being assisted by British Artillery about 45 minutes later.

"Ha!" said some pundits, "You said this would be quick, but people are shooting back."

Now I'm no military expert but the above doesn't quite sound like "fierce" resistance. In fact it sounds like the Americans were "advancing to contact" when they contacted the enemy. The American company commander, I imagine, would have conducted a quick reconnaissance of the enemy position and had a brief chat to his attached artillery Forward Observer. The commander would have formulated a quick attack plan, supported by the FO's fireplan and, hey presto, 45 minutes later H-Hour and the poor Iraqis receive an artillery fire mission on the head. The American Marines advance and clear the Iraqi pits - end of mission, target destroyed, what's next? Or so you would think.


What seems a pretty stock standard example of a company or battalion-level combined arms operation, becomes "fierce resistance". We shouldn't be surprised, because in this war, journalists and pundits regard the ambush of a coalition vehicle as a re-run of the Battle of the Bulge.

The ABC's Geoff Thompson asks a US Marine Artillery Sergeant "What do you imagine is happening on the other end of this artillery battery?"

The Sergeant jokes: "I see a lot of people praying."

However, Thompson observes on the US gun line "they are digging and hoping that, here, prayer won't be necessary on this night." The report cuts to footage of a Marine digging in. Thompson's implication is clear; for all the bravado things aren't going well for the Americans, they are bogged down and facing fierce resistance, so much so they are digging in.

Right, okay, Geoff. But isn't digging standard operating procedure, rather than a reflection of the progress of the war?

I must confess it's hard to share the gleeful pessimism of some journalists, largely because it is so ludicrous. After about 14 days the Coalition forces had arrived in the North, captured several towns in the South, by-passed others and were on the outskirts of the capital. They had total air supremacy. The Iraqi regime's command, control and communications infrastructure has seen better days, and civilian casualties have been kept to a minimum. At the time of writing 27 Britons and 51 Americans have been killed. Tragic but staggeringly low casualties. To put that in perspective, in 2002 the Australian Defence Force had 44 fatalities from training accidents, car accidents, cancer and natural causes.


If you were Tommy Franks would you be disappointed with the war's progress? Not me, but Brian Whitaker from The Guardian thinks he should be, as "invasion forces are making slow headway". Whitaker is clearly a 'glass half empty' kind of chap. He probably believes the 6 Day War was 5 days too long - what an absolute shower those Israelis are! The fact that Coalition, oops sorry, invasion forces, weren't handing out tea and medals after 24 hours is, for Whitaker, a terrible indictment of the planning of the war, the US in general and Donald Rumsfeld in particular. Those dumb Americans again, here comes another Vietnam. Yes, just like Afghanistan.

Journalists like Whitaker have latched onto Seymour Hersh's allegations of infighting between old Rummy and the military men. Apparently Rumsfeld, or so the story goes, didn't give the military men enough troops because he didn't account for the "fierce" resistance. All parties have denied it, so in journalist parlance it must be true. Here we have the fundamental problem with the media and this war.

There are so many armchair experts, each with access to unprecedented coverage of the war, to speculate and second-guess. An infantry company encounters some difficulty securing an objective and it makes the evening news around the world. The perception is of an army going slow, and it's a good chance for opponents of Rumsfeld in the Pentagon to take a few pot shots and score a few points, and some journalists are more than willing to assist.

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About the Author

Stephen Barton teaches politics at Edith Cowan University and has been a political staffer at both a state and federal level. The views expressed here are his own.

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