WHEN THE IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL announced the appointment of British educated neurologist and anti-Saddam dissident Iyad Allawi as Iraq's new Interim Prime Minister on May 28, you would think that many Iraqis would have approved of the choice, or at least seen Allawi's selection as a sign that the U.S. led occupation was at last starting to wind down.
But that's not how Iraqis saw it, at least according to Michael Georgy, a Baghdad reporter of the British owned Reuters, a 153-year-old institution that bills itself as the world's largest multimedia news agency. In a "man on the street" piece, Georgy couldn't find a single Iraqi who had a good thing to say about Allawi, or, for that matter, the United States. "Iraq is the same as under Saddam Hussein," said one hotel manager whom Georgy reports "refused to give his name." "I reject him," declared Hassan Ali, a policeman.
Just a few days earlier, President Bush outlined his commitment to a free Iraq and an end to the occupation in an address seen in both the U.S. and Iraq. The Iraqis, this time according to Reuters' Alastair MacDonald, didn't like that, either. "Bush is a scorpion. He is a liar," opined policeman Ayman Haidar. Again, no one could be found to say a good word about anything the Coalition does.
Nor is this detestation of all things American a recent development in Reuters' reporting. Indeed, from the start of the war, Reuters' quotes make it very clear that virtually everyone in this country of 25 million, with its contending ethnic groups and its history of enduring one of the twentieth century's most savage dictatorships, is united in at least one respect - they all hate Bush and America. No matter whom Reuters talks to, be they Sunnis, Shiites, or Kurds, male or female, they are all mad as hell, and they are not going to take it any more. Collectively, they are the "Angry Iraqi."
THE ANGRY IRAQI first made his appearance at the start of the war, as Coalition troops raced through Umm Qasr on their way to Baghdad. While reporters from other organizations saw crowds giving Coalition troops the thumbs up and people tearing Saddam posters off the wall, Reuters found the Angry Iraqi. "We don't want Americans here," said one Hussein to Reuters correspondent Rosalind Russell. Another defiantly pulled a picture of the dictator out of his waistband. "Saddam is our leader. Saddam is good." Did anyone favor liberation? Clearly, if anyone did, Russell couldn't find them. On the same day--March 23, 2003--up the road in Shiite Safwan, Reuters' Michael Georgy had a real scoop. A few days into the war, Iraqis already had decided that the occupation was a failure. "I swear it was better when Saddam was here," claimed one Jamal Kathim, whose "angry friends" all nodded in agreement. "The Americans and British said this was going to be a liberation but it is an occupation," said one Majid, who, at age 15, was clearly a good source for sophisticated geopolitical analysis.
ONCE COALITION FORCES had taken Baghdad, to the seeming jubilation of at least some, Reuters' Angry Iraqi was unimpressed. Following the looting of the Iraqi National Museum, an event that would later turn out to be far less serious than initially reported and mostly an inside job, Reuters quickly determined who was responsible. The looters? Certainly not, at least according to Tareq Abdulrazak, whom Reuters identified as a "scientist." "The Americans watched this happen. It is not enough to destroy our buildings, our people? Now our history, too?"
By April 23, some three weeks into the occupation, the Angry Iraqi was back at it, declaring that it was time for the Coalition to shove off. Reuters' Rosalind Russell, in a rare admission, reported that most Iraqis were glad to be rid of Saddam. But now it was time for us to leave. Americans are "stupid people," claimed a medical student. "They are treating us badly." Americans go home!" chanted a demonstration of the "National Front of Intellectuals," who was mad at the arrest of their leader, which they described as "a brutal, terrorist act." Why was their leader arrested? Just what is this "National Front" and what is their agenda? Reporter Russell showed little curiosity about that, just as Reuters reporters are uniformly uninterested in the truth of reports of American atrocities and abuses. In story after story, the most outrageous anti-Coalition charges are voiced. Time after time, there are no follow up questions, and claims are never checked out. If someone says he's been abused, to Reuters is must be so.
THUS IT HAS GONE. In late April 2004 when some Iraqis were killed by what any objective review would seem to have been a terrorist assault on an arms dump, the Angry Iraqi, according to Reuters' Georgy, knew who to blame. "First we had Saddam and then we were given Bush," says one woman. "What have we done to deserve this?" "Those Americans did this," said another.
Nor does the Angry Iraqi attribute any of the problems their country has experienced since the liberation to terrorists or Baathists, at least according to Reuters. In fact--and Michael Georgy should get a Pulitzer for yet another scoop--it turns out that there aren't any Baathists at all! In a July 2003 report we learn, courtesy of one Sheik Kassem Sudani, that "The Baath is gone and the Americans know it. . . . Every time there is an attack on their troops they say it was the terrorists of the Baath. That's what the Baath did. They always blame someone else."
When U.S. forces succeeded in killing Uday and Qusay Hussein, an event other reports said was largely celebrated throughout the country, Michael Georgy could only find Iraqis who were outraged. "We will fight and fight until they leave," said Badr Mohammed--another of Reuters' eloquent 15-year-old sources.
MORE RECENTLY, Reuters' attention has fallen on Moktada al Sadr's abortive anti-Coalition rebellion where. "You Americans, do not fall into a quagmire," warned Sadr City Sheik Nassar al Saedi, "Rivers of your blood will flow." Reuters then goes on to cite their usual collection of America haters, who "damn [us] always."
What's going on here? Do Iraqis hate us with such complete uniformity?
Polls, most recently a March 2004 ABC News survey show that Iraqis are as divided about the war as we are. According to the review, 48 percent of Iraqis thought the United States was right to invade; 51 percent want coalition forces gone, though in months, not immediately, 39 percent want Coalition troops to stay. Though Reuters reports prominently feature Iraqis who favor the slaughtering of Coalition forces, only 17 percent of Iraqis favor attacks while 78 percent oppose them.
Overall, despite the uniform view of Reuters' Angry Iraqi that things are worse in Iraq because of the invasion, only 19 percent of those surveyed agree while 23 percent say conditions are the same, and 56 percent say they are better. To read Reuters, you would think that Iraqis' first priority is ejecting Coalition forces, preferably in body bags. The ABC poll says that the biggest concern of Iraqis (64 percent) is "Regaining public security."
ARE REUTERS REPORTERS the victims of chance? Have they simply not been able to find Iraqis who think well of the Coalition and see their lot as improving? Perhaps. Or perhaps there's something more going on.
According to the "Trust Principles" posted on their website, Reuters is "committed to reporting the facts. . . . We do not take sides. . . . Reuters' journalists do not offer opinions or views." (Indeed, days after the September 11 attacks, Reuters took down the digital U.S. flag that was displayed outside its New York office in Times Square. It didn't want anyone to conclude that it supported the United States, as opposed to Osama Bin Laden.)
Yet the "Trust Policy" gives Reuters reporters a more subtle way to editorialize. We "avoid the use of emotive terms," it says, "[E]xcept when we are quoting someone directly or in indirect speech." Since Reuters reporters aren't allowed to tell readers what they think about the Coalition and George Bush, they let the Angry Iraqi do it for them.
Dan Dickinson is a writer in Mississippi.