In support of our recent Media Alert, ’Burying The Insurgency In Iraq,’ (August 17, 2006) we sent the following email to BBC online news editor Steve Herrmann:
The New York Times reports today that, of the 1,666 bombs that exploded in Iraq in July, 70 per cent were directed against the American-led military force. Twenty per cent targeted Iraqi security forces, up from 9 per cent in 2005. And 10 per cent of the blasts struck civilians, twice the rate from last year.
Does this not starkly contradict your own August 15 assertion:
“The sectarian violence has come to overshadow all other kinds.”? (Wooldridge, ‘Iraq’s spiralling sectarian strife,’ August 15, 2006; http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/world/middle_east/4795987.stm)
The NY Times also cites a senior Defense Department official:
“The insurgency has gotten worse by almost all measures, with insurgent attacks at historically high levels. The insurgency has more public support and is demonstrably more capable in numbers of people active and in its ability to direct violence than at any point in time.” (Michael R. Gordon, Mark Mazzetti and Thom Shanker, ‘Insurgent bombs directed at G.I.’s increase in Iraq,’ New York Times, August 17, 2006)
While the number of Americans killed in action per month has declined slightly – to 38 killed in action in July, from 42 in January, in part reflecting improvements in armour and other defences – the number of Americans wounded has soared, to 518 in July from 287 in January.
And yet your August 15 reference to the insurgency was limited to these few words:
“Meanwhile the Sunni-led insurgency that erupted after the ousting of Saddam Hussein continues despite a reconciliation initiative launched by Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.”
Why did you not report the sharp increase and historically high levels of insurgent attacks against US-led forces?
We received this reply from Steve Herrmann on August 18:
The article by Mike Wooldridge which you refer to is part of a series we are currently running which focuses specifically on the increasingly sectarian nature of much of the violence in Iraq.
Our role is to report clearly and consistently on all areas of the complex situation and conflict in Iraq.
We are not downplaying the scale of insurgent attacks against coalition forces or indeed against Iraqi troops, officials or civilians. We continue regularly to report on these.
We did not report the recent New York Times account of figures on insurgent attacks because they are attributed to unnamed officials and the conclusions drawn from them are also unattributed.
In our own coverage, as well as reporting regularly on individual insurgent attacks and resulting casualties we have continued to provide facts, figures and background on the violence. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/5052138.stm
We have made the point that insurgent attacks have become a feature of daily life in parts of Iraq and that the level of violence in the last few months has exceeded the previous peaks ahead of national elections in January 2005 and the referendum on the constitution in October 2005. We have also reported the assessment by US officials in late 2005 that, although about 80% of insurgent attacks are targeted against coalition forces, the Iraqi population suffers about 80% of all casualties.
Our reporting has included detailed background on all the armed groups active in Iraq, including the insurgents. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4268904.stm
The point in our article about sectarian violence overshadowing other kinds referred to Baghdad and certain other towns and cities in this region of the country and was made in the context of the earlier and later references to Baghdad in the article.
As our article stated, the insurgency does indeed continue, but it is a fact that in parts of Iraq, including Baghdad, sectarian killings have become a major and growing concern for a great many Iraqi people and are claiming a large number of lives.
We do not accept that by devoting attention to this we are in some way justifying the US or UK position on Iraq or “endorsing American propaganda”.
Editor, BBC News website
We have responded (August 21):
Many thanks, we appreciate your reply. You write:
“The article by Mike Wooldridge which you refer to is part of a series we are currently running which focuses specifically on the increasingly sectarian nature of much of the violence in Iraq.
“Our role is to report clearly and consistently on all areas of the complex situation and conflict in Iraq.”
Part of a series covering these issues or not, the fact remains that Wooldridge’s comment, “The sectarian violence has come to overshadow all other kinds,” was not just wrong, it was a reversal of the truth. Insurgent attacks on US-led forces massively overshadow sectarian violence, which does not in fact constitute “much of the violence in Iraq“ as you claim. BBC journalists consistently promote the impression that the insurgency has ebbed away to be replaced by sectarian violence. Who would guess from BBC reporting that 90% of the car bombs in Iraq target US-led forces and Iraqi government forces rather than civilians? This is just not the impression you give.
“We did not report the recent New York Times account of figures on insurgent attacks because they are attributed to unnamed officials and the conclusions drawn from them are also unattributed.”
This is one of the more shocking responses we have received from a senior editor. We sent you important, detailed and credible information relating to a major escalation in violence in Iraq. Your comment shows that you did not trouble to look into the matter or even read the original article. If you had, you would have realised your error. The New York Times reported:
“’The insurgency has gotten worse by almost all measures, with insurgent attacks at historically high levels,’ said a senior Defense Department official who agreed to discuss the issue only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for attribution. ‘The insurgency has more public support and is demonstrably more capable in numbers of people active and in its ability to direct violence than at any point in time.’
“A separate, classified report by the Defense Intelligence Agency, dated Aug. 3, details worsening security conditions inside the country and describes how Iraq risks sliding toward civil war, according to several officials who have read the document or who have received a briefing on its contents.
“The nine-page D.I.A. study, titled ‘Iraq Update,’ compiles the most recent empirical data on the number of attacks, bombings, murders and other violent acts, as well as diagrams of the groups carrying out insurgent and sectarian attacks, the officials said.
“The report’s contents are being widely discussed among Pentagon officials, military commanders and, in particular, on Capitol Hill…”
As you can see, the figures on insurgent attacks we cited are not “attributed to unnamed officials”, they are attributed to a nine-page, August 3, Defense Intelligence Agency report “being widely discussed among Pentagon officials, military commanders and, in particular, on Capitol Hill”. It is astonishing that the BBC did not assign someone to so much as read the article in question, much less to look into this issue with some seriousness. You have once again reaffirmed a consistent impression given – that the suffering of the people of Iraq is of no great concern to the BBC.
David Edwards and David Cromwell
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 BBC online news editor Steve Herrmann
Email: [email protected]
Write to Mike Wooldridge
Email: [email protected]
Write to director of BBC News, Helen Boaden
Email: [email protected]