May 16, 2007

Getting the War Wrong... Again

A chronic problem of news agencies reporting from Iraq is their apparent inability to separate sectarian violence--violence committed by one sect on another, typically Sunni to Shia, or Shia to Sunni--with the terrorist attacks instigated by al Qaeda and aligned groups.

al Qaeda will attack against anyone and everyone else, including their Sunni co-religionists. It is this propensity towards terrorism for terrorism's sake that has spurred both the Anbar and Diyala Awakening movements.

AFP today provides a prime example of the media mislabeling an act of violence, turning a terrorist attack into a sectarian attack, even when their own report indicates they got it wrong:

Insurgent bombers detonated a van bomb in a crowded Iraqi market, police said on Wednesday, as Shiite militiamen clashed with police and the US military hunted for three kidnapped comrades.

The latest apparently sectarian attack ripped through a Shiite enclave northeast of Baghdad late on Tuesday, killing at least 32 civilians and wounding 65 more, according to local security and municipal officials.

Iraqi officials said the bomb had been packed with tanks of chlorine gas, but the US military said a team sent to the scene could not confirm this.

Other news organizations are also reporting on this story, and all are mentioning the still unconfirmed reports that chlorine gas canisters were used in the attack.

Now, if true, who has a M.O. of using chlorine-laced conventional bombs against civilians?

Why, I just don't know.


If you click through the links, you'll notice that al Qaeda and it's umbrella group, the Islamic State of Iraq, have detonated these weapons against Sunni and Shia civilians, and government forces alike.

While disputed, the claims of chlorine in the explosives would actually point away from a sectarian attack, towards a terrorist attack by al Qaeda or its terrorist allies.

You would hope AFP and other news organizations would pick up on things like that, and yet here they go, arguing against their own reporting, getting it wrong... again.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at May 16, 2007 02:05 PM

Gee, Bob, if a guy didn't know better he could almost wonder if they're trying to give the wrong impression about what's going on. ... Nah, surely they wouldn't do that.

I added and excerpt and link to my 2007.05.16 Dem Perfidy // Islamism Delenda Est Roundup.

Posted by: Bill Faith at May 16, 2007 02:25 PM

Let's be honest. You really don't know whether or not al Qaeda committed the attacks. No terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the attacks. No terrorists linked to al Qaeda have been captured in relation to the attack. All you have is unconfirmed, circumstantial evidence. Also, as you mentioned, the use of chlorine gas canisters hasn't been confirmed, meaning that your link to al Qaeda is in question.

Listen, I'm not disputing the fact that the AFP could be wrong here. They've been wrong many times before. But before you attack the organization, why not get some concrete facts and not just assumptions. If you truly believe in the high standards of journalistic integrity -- confirming sources, not reporting specious claims -- why not hold yourself to the same standards?

Posted by: dmarek at May 16, 2007 04:24 PM

dmarek, you're utterly missing the point.

There was no claim, and no solid evidence of specific involvement by any group, so how can AFP flatly claim that this was a sectarian attack?

They can't, especially at the time they went to press, when there were numerous (though unconfirmed) accounts that the attack most closely resembled a pattern of chemical weapons attacked that were the work of al Qaeda's ISI.

I don't have to prove them guilty of fraud, just show that they were guilty of jumping to a conclusion that they can't support with the data they had at the time.

As the use of chlorine in the bomb (a known and well documented al Qaeda tactic) was still in question at the time, I think I did that.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at May 16, 2007 09:09 PM


You state flatly in your thrid paragraph that this attack was a terrorist attack. That's a little misleading when, as you mentioned above, there's no solid evidence of specific involvement by any group in the attack. So how can you flatly claim that this was a terrorist attack?

Listen, I don't mean to be picky, but I believe we should hold bloggers up to the same standards we hold our journalists up to. This is especially important because, as your other sources indicate, this journalist could be wrong in this case. (I'd love to see all the sources this journalist used. You very well could be right.)

The real question here is how should journalists refer to attacks like this before it's known whether or not terrorists or insurgents comitted the attack. The Department of Defense does classify al Qaeda as a "radical Sunni Muslim umbrella organization," so there might be an argument for calling this kind of attack sectarian. But I'm not sure; I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Posted by: dmarek at May 17, 2007 05:26 PM