32 NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2009 Independent World report
sually, I begin my explanationof why and how I made mydocumentary,
with my ﬁrst trip to Iraq as an
in 2004. Occasionally, when Ihave an especially enthusiastic audience,I start earlier, in 2002, when I left my jobas a CNN correspondent. But beginning sofar back feels like indulging in nostalgia.Given the dire situation in Iraq today, the
generally superﬁcial and timid coverage
in the corporate media, and the apparentlack attention and concern among NorthAmericans – and many Europeans – thisis no time for nostalgia. So I will start inthe present.There are an estimated two millionIraqi refugees, the majority of them livingin Syria and Jordan. “Iraqi authoritiesestimate that an additional 2.7 millionpeople have been internally displaced,most of them since the US-led invasion of 2003,” says the United Nations AssistanceMission for Iraq. These numbers have not
changed signiﬁcantly in years.
The UN’s Inter-Agency Informationand Analysis Unit reports that Iraq’sfood prices doubled between 2004 and2008. That is a greater increase than theshockingly high global rate, seventy-three percent. The rise in food prices“has contributed to the increase in theIraqi poverty rate,” IAU says. “Only half the Iraqi population have access to safewater regularly... Fifty percent of Iraq’suntreated wastewater is discharged intorivers and canals... The current numberof available school buildings is 15,815,
of which ﬁfty percent require major
rehabilitation efforts... Almost one-thirdof the 1,809 public health centres arereported to have
due to lackof maintenance, lack of supplies, reducedor unskilled health workers.”On the political front, Iraqisthemselves are working toward creatinga post-occupation system of governance,sometimes in concert, often at cross-purposes along sectarian lines. Violencehas decreased – though sporadic and
horriﬁc bombings happen periodically
– but the tension, discord, mistrust, andanger that caused it remain.The United States has roughly 128,000troops in Iraq. There are more than126,000 civilian contract employeesworking for US agencies. More than 13,000of these are private security contractors –
in plain English.“Let me say this as plainly as I can: ByAugust 31, 2010, our combat mission inIraq will end,” US President Barack Obamatold the world in February. Attached tothis promise was a little bit of not-so-
ﬁne print: 50,000 troops will remain for
at least another year. Moreover, sucha drawdown may cause the US to relymore heavily on mercenary forces –some of whom have been implicated invarious crimes and abuses during the USoccupation – to protect its interests andpersonnel. The remaining US troops andmercenaries will undoubtedly be calledon to provide protection for the nextphase of the US invasion.According to the Financial
Times, senior ofﬁcials from the Bush
administration who played a role in theoccupation are now leading a commercialcharge into Iraq. Zalmay Khalilzad, formerUS ambassador to Iraq, has formed acompany to advise corporations planningto do business in Iraq. Jay Garner, theformer US army general who served as the
ﬁrst US pro consul in Iraq, is an adviser to
Vast Exploration, a Canadian oil companydoing business in Kurdistan.This is the situation in November2009, nearly seven years after the USinvaded Iraq. Our attention has migratedto Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 2004,Iraq, not Afghanistan, was the war, theone that garnered public attention.I wanted to cover it. I thought
reporting from Iraq would be difﬁcult,
possibly dangerous, but that it wouldbe relatively straightforward – observe,document, publish.My reasons for going were mixed. Idid not believe the Bush administration’scase for war.
coverage by themainstream media, including myformer employer CNN, was little morethan cheerleading for the invasion andoccupation. I could do better job, I toldmyself. Also, I felt responsible to witnessand report on actions taken by mygovernment, ostensibly in my name. But,I had other reasons that I did not mentionaloud. Ever.
While covering the US military as aphotojournalist in the 1990s, I discoveredthat I had a surprisingly large reservoir of repressed machismo inside me. As muchas I mistrusted state power and was oftencritical of US’ use of military force, I was
Full disclosure: A reporter’s journey toward truth
A documentary on embedded journalism in Iraq.
By Brian Palmer
Iraqi women speak to US Marine lieutenant:
Photoby Brian Palmer.