Media Analysis 3 - Deconstructing News Coverage of the “Civil War” - 04.04.2006

Yesterday the New York Times ran this article, regarding the increase in gun sales in Iraq:

Sectarian Strife Fuels Gun Sales in Baghdad

Some of the recent arguments for the ongoing or looming civil war have focused on the increase in gun prices and the fluidity of gun transfers, from smugglers, shops, and the government.

In the opening of this article, Jeffrey Gettleman describes the situation, and sets the scene for his conclusion, that the Samarra shrine bombing has directly resulted in the free flow of weapons in Iraq, exhibiting the presence of a civil war:

With chipped, painted fingernails, Nahrawan al-Janabi picked up a cartridge and slid it into the chamber.

“Like this,” she said, loading her new Glock pistol with a loud, satisfying click. “You see, like this.”, why do they need militias

In this article, Charles Levinson alleges the costs of all guns have risen:

Weapons prices have skyrocketed. A used Kalashnikov that sold for $100 before the Samarra bombing now sells for $150. The price for a 9mm Browning handgun has gone up from $800 to $1,200.

Back to the article from the Times however, the Iraqis showcased in this article all appear to be from a higher social class, a journalist, a bookseller, and a gunseller. The only voice not of the wealthier, apparently middle class Iraqis, is an identified member of the Mahdi Army. It’s obvious he received his weapon from the militia.

The presence of the militias time and again appears to be the telling issue in the gun trade and the high presence of guns in Iraqi society and on the streets. This piece of Mr. Gettleman’s article appears to be a small glimmer of truth amidst the misleading, prescribed narrative of the foreign press:

But the reality is that Iraqi politicians have been reluctant to disband militias or to disarm the populace. The Shiite leaders who control the government rely on militias to stay in power. And guns have become so embedded in Iraqi life that they are now as ubiquitous as palm trees.

Again, the evidence of the role of militias in fomenting a civil war. “The Shiite leaders who control the government rely on militias to stay in power.” Is anyone else out there as surprised by this statement as I am? If Iraq has a democratically elected government, supported by the majority of Iraq since, as we’ve heard repeated constantly by the media, Shiites are the majority of Iraq, why do they need militias to remain in power?


A. The respective resistance and insurgent movements in Iraq are far more intransigent than it at first appeared.

B. The “Shi’a majority” is not a monolithic group whose religious identity is their defining character.

C. The elites currently running Iraq, as wealthy intellectual expatriates who’ve lived outside Iraq for decades, do not represent any major constituency on the ground in Iraq, and must utilize the creation of political identity along sectarian lines to remain in power.

Gettleman, like many of the foreign correspondents now in Baghdad, contends that:

But the destruction of Askariya Shrine in Samarra in February uncorked a different kind of bloodshed and a different kind of fear, ratcheting the personal arms race even higher. Mobs of mostly Shiite men killed Sunni civilians. Some Sunnis fought back, killing Shiites.

However Martin Shieff at the World Peace Herald suggested a different perspective:

The trigger for the current eruption of violence was the bombing of the historic Golden Mosque in Samara on Feb. 22, apparently by Sunni insurgents. But the real underlying cause of the massive Shiite retaliation was the outcome and consequences of the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections that the Bush administration and its media supporters had for so long predicted would take the fight out of the Sunni insurgency.

Instead it did precisely the opposite: It propelled the most militant, Iranian-backed Shiite political groups and their powerful militia forces into the cockpit of power in Baghdad.

This is the very issue I am trying to explain to my readers. Political power and wrangling, under occupation, not liberation, is the major cause of the current situation in Iraq. Furthermore, the establishment of militias has a far greater influence on security and instability than the purchasing of guns by those who are likely only a small percentage of the Iraqi nation, given the crushing poverty most Iraqis are now experiencing.

One final comment, Martin Shieff suggests:

They[ the Sunni Resistance] have not yet fully achieved that goal, but the emerging conflict between Jaafari and other Shiite political leaders backed by the United States and Britain who are now seeking to oust him shows that they have certainly come far further towards achieving that goal than anyone dreamed was possible six weeks ago.

Unfortunately I have to disagree with Shieff on this point. I feel that the meddling of the United States and the desire for a “national unity government” which is western-minded and supports the neoliberal agenda of the Bush administration is the main cause for the instability in Iraq. The Multinational Forces might have prevented much of the violence in Iraq simply by supporting Iraq for Iraqis and allowing the Iraqi Army to establish security in Iraq, while keeping the oil fields and other resources nationalized.

This would not have led to a democratic Iraq, but then again, is Iraq really democratic right now?

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