Optimism in Iraq sniffed at here

Mostly positive pre-election poll of Iraqi voters given short shrift in Denver

Jan. 29, 2005

by David Kopel

In the weeks before the 2004 election, it was nearly impossible to pick up a Denver newspaper without reading about a new poll. With so much at stake in Sunday's elections in Iraq, you'd think that the papers would be eager to publish Iraqi polls.

On Jan. 21, The Washington Postran a full-sized story on a poll by the International Republican Institute, which found more than 80 percent of Iraqis said they intended to vote. The next day, the Rocky Mountain Newsran a Scripps Howard article that included a few snippets of data from the Iraqi poll. The Denver Postignored the poll completely. According to the Post'srevamped Colorado Kids children's news section, "No place is safe in Iraq" (Jan. 25). The grown-up sections of the Denver papers have been harping on similar themes for months. The Iraqi people, however, don't seem to agree.

According to a recent poll published in Alsharq Alausat(and then translated into English and circulated around the blogosphere), 53 percent of Iraqis "said the security is good in their area," and 22 percent said it was "average." Twenty-five percent "said that security was bad in their area" - a percentage roughly equal to the percentage of Iraqis who live in the Sunni triangle, as opposed to the mostly peaceful areas that make up the majority of Iraq.

The poll also found "66 percent said that the elections must take place under current circumstances." Seventy-two percent of Iraqis were planning to vote - more than 90 percent of the people in the south and in Kurdistan planned to vote, as did a third of the people in the Sunni areas.

Now the first poll was by conducted by an organization which receives U.S. government funding, and the second was conducted by the Iraqi Ministry of Planning. But the Denver papers often report the results of polls conducted by government agencies, or by special-interest groups.

My pre-election predictions: The turnout rate for Sunday's elections in Iraq will exceed the turnout for the 2004 U.S. presidential election. And on Monday, both the Postand the Newswill run pessimistic news articles describing the elections as mostly a failure, and asserting that the new and freely-elected Iraqi government is not legitimate.

The Post caused a lot of controversy with its Jan. 19 front-page photo of a little blood-spattered Iraqi girl, whose parents had just been shot while they tried to drive their car through a group of U.S. soldiers. The international section of Newsalso included a photo from the same event.

Considering all the attention the photo generated, the Denver papers should have run the article written by Chris Hondros, the embedded photographer who took the pictures.

As he explained in Britain's The Independent(Jan. 20), he was out with his unit near dusk, when a car appeared about a hundred yards away, headed toward them. The solders yelled out orders to stop, and fired warning shots, but the car instead accelerated toward the soldiers. With the accelerating car only 50 yards away, the soldiers opened fire.

We may never know why the car's driver chose to speed up rather than stop, but the photo of the little girl was so compelling that the Denver papers were derelict in not supplying their readers with information beyond the caption.

One letter-writer to the Postcompared the Hondros photo to "the 1972 Vietnam photo of the horrified naked girl running down a road following a U.S. napalm attack."

The 1972 photo was certainly compelling, but it was a case where the full story of the picture was deliberately obscured for propaganda purposes.

The napalm was not dropped by the U.S., but by the South Vietnamese air force, which was fighting North Vietnamese invaders outside the town of Trang Bang, on a highway north of Saigon.

As is often the case in war, the ordnance missed the enemy target, and accidentally hit some nearby civilians.

Anti-American propagandists later invented a tale that the girl was in a Buddhist pagoda which was deliberately bombed by the Americans. As the letter to the Postshowed, some lies have enduring power.

As the letters pages of the Denver dailies also show, there are a lot of Coloradans who mistakenly believe that the anti-American "militants" in Iraq are fighting for national self-determination. Last Sunday, terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi released a statement explicitly stating that his side was fighting against "this evil principle of democracy."

The Zarqawi quote appeared in two articles in Monday's Post,although neither article was mainly about the quote, or had a headline related to the quote. The Newsdid better, headlining its story "War on Democracy."  

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