Giving Headline Billing To Military Spin

Last week, yet more innocent civilian lives were claimed by a US air attack in Iraq. How many times this tragedy has been repeated across that country is completely hidden from public view – a second, deeper tragedy.

According to Iraqi police major Khedr Hussein, 32 people were killed in the attack at Ishaqi, 90 km north of Baghdad. The local mayor, Amer Alwan, said that US aircraft bombed two homes around 1 a.m last Friday morning. Of 25 bodies pulled from the rubble so far, eight were women and six were children. (Reuters Foundation, December 8, ‘Iraqis say US raid killed 32, including 6 children’,

And yet the BBC news website chose to headline the US military’s claim that “al-Qaeda militants” had been killed in the attack. Although the counter-claims of local Iraqi officials were mentioned in passing by the BBC, they were given much less emphasis and space. We wrote to Steve Herrmann, the head of BBC’s online news service:

One of your Iraq news stories today is currently headlined, ‘Iraq “al-Qaeda militants” killed’.

And the first line is:

“The US military says it has killed 20 suspected al-Qaeda militants in a ground and air assault in central Iraq.” (December 8; 1/hi/world/middle_east/6220518.stm)

Why does your BBC news story give headline prominence to what the US military says, not what Iraqi officials say? Namely: that “at least six children and eight women were among 32 people killed in a U.S. air strike.” (Reuters Foundation, December 8, ‘Iraqis say US raid killed 32, including 6 children’, newsdesk/COL838886.htm

I look forward to your response, please. (Email, December 8, 2006)

Herrmann has not yet replied.

Al-Jazeera has since published photographs confirming that civilians, including six children, died in the attack. (‘Photos confirm US raid child deaths,’ Al-Jazeera English, December 9, 2006; NR/exeres/A7B418CB-37BD-4A69-B55C- CBDC7D932B38.htm)

Mayor Amer Alwan commented: “The Americans have done this before, but they always deny it. I want the world to know what’s happening here. This is the third crime done by Americans in this area of Ishaqi. All the casualties were innocent women and children and everything they said about them being part of al-Qaeda is a lie.” (Ibid)

It is awesome to consider, but the reality is that every corpse buried in Iraq was once a supremely precious individual to some friend or relative. Each death represents a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. After years of endlessly exposed government and military lies, when will BBC journalists find the compassion and courage to seek the truth behind this suffering?


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Write to Steve Herrmann, head of BBC news online:
Email: [email protected]

Write to Helen Boaden, head of BBC news:
Email: [email protected]

Consider submitting an official BBC complaint: