Good(?) News from Iraq

Australian blogger Arthur Chrenkoff has attracted a lot of attention for his “Good news from Iraq” posts. Not only has he had a piece in the New York Times, but he’s been at the centre of a lengthy debate between Media Watch and the Australian (covered here by Tim Dunlop)

One problem with good news, though, is that it tends to be announced, reannounced and then re-reannounced for good measure. During the Boer War, Lloyd George caused a stir in Parliament when he did the sums and found that, according to the body counts announced by the British Government, they had killed more Boers than the entire Boer nation contained. According to Orwell, Arthur Balfour rose to his feet and shouted “Cad!”

Tim Lambert applies the same metric to electricity, finding that, despite nearly continuous good news, electricity generation is lower now than in the immediate aftermath of the invasion, and far below the level prevailing in 1991.

That’s the time-series approach. I thought I’d take a different tack, and look at the bits of bad news that can’t be concealed, even when, like Chrenkoff, you are looking exclusively for good news. That is, I’m doing what Chrenkoff does, but in reverse, using his news stories as the source.

Here’s a selection from Chrenkoff’s April 25 edition. Remember this is all supposed to be “good news”:

“The State Department has ordered a major reevaluation of the troubled $18.4 billion Iraqi reconstruction effort, blaming problems on early decisions to hire US companies for major infrastructure projects.”

“In a report to Congress last week, the State Department said reconstruction officials will cancel several planned water and electricity plants”

“The three-story hospital in downtown Fallujah sits empty and abandoned”

“Most of Iraq’s schools are still run down and out of date. According to the Ministry of Education, 5,000 additional schools are needed, and repairs are required at 80 percent of existing ones.”

” The Baghdad Police College says it has no shortage of recruits. In a country with unemployment well over 50 percent, a police paycheck — about $200 a month — is simply too tempting.”

“The stock exchange may be one of post-war Iraq’s few success stories”

” Production from the southern oil fields has recently reached 1.1 million barrels … The rate is close to what the company produced before the war …”

Why bother hammering the bad news? The obvious reason is that, until the failure of existing policies is recognised, there’s no chance of any better policies being adopted. The whole history of the occupation has seen the US persisting with policies long after they were obviously doomed, from radical economic reform, to the “regional caucuses” plan, from Chalabhi to Allawi, from Najaf to Fallujah and beyond.

25 thoughts on “Good(?) News from Iraq

  1. The excellent news from Iraq is that conventional military force is rendered impotent by a well-organised guerrilla force which enjoys the tacit support of a sizeable portion of the population.

    The bad news is that this repetition of the most salutary lesson of military practice represents a victory for an oppressive and reactionary force in Iraq and in the Islamic world in general.

    The bad news is that the Bush Administration provoked this development in the arrogant beleif that they could control it. Remember “Bring it on!”?

    The bad news is that the seminal text for the practice of guerrilla war, Carlos Marighella, “Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla”, is still banned in the United States. Denial is such a powerful motivation.

    The good news is that, thanks to the genius of the WWW, this text is available to everyone:

    Read and learn.

  2. Hi Katz – curious about your comment above that “…a well-organised guerrilla force which enjoys the tacit support of a sizeable portion of the population”. Can you provide any reports (links etc) that support this?

  3. Happy to Elizabeth. Try here for starters. Juan Cole is a well-respected writer on military events in Iraq.

    (I wrote my little piece above before I happened across Cole’s analysis.)

    Another source closer to the ground is Bagdhad Burning, a young female blogger, resident of Baghdad who despairs at the stupidity and clumsiness of the US occupying forces:

    And for a dispassionate but very comprehensive chronicle of military events on the ground in Iraq, see this site:

    In addition to a runningscore of Coalition killed and injured, on the right hand side is a drumbeat of insurgent and guerrilla events that don’t get covered by the mainstream press and certainly are never mentioned by Arthur Chrenkoff or even competent journalists.

  4. Lloyd George,
    now thee is a colourful and interesting politician.
    Interestingly he went from needing a police escort which the Liberals lost resoundingly in the Khaki election to winning the next in a landslide when Chamberlain proposed imposing tariffs.

    They don’t make them like LG anymore!

  5. Well actually the good news is that the Middle East is getting a taste for democracy.

  6. “Middle East is getting a taste for democracy.”

    Yes indeedy, MB. US client states Saudi Arabia and Egypt are foremost in this welcome development.

    Meanwhile, less promisingly, the democratic cheque seems to have gone missing in the mail in US client states Pakistan and Kazakhstan.

    And in Iraq democracy has proven to be the faithful handmaiden of theocracy.

  7. “Well actually the good news is that the Middle East is getting a taste for democracy.”

    Yes at the point of a gun.

  8. As was the case with Nazi Germany. Although, I had better stop here in case Ender suggests that I am an anti-German bigot for criticising Nazis. This would be consistent with some of his previous posts. But then again the only consistent think about the ‘peace in our time crowd’ is their hatred of the US. Why don’t some of you people occasionally criticise the likes of France and Germany for doing nothing advance democracy in the Muslim. At least some leading French intellectuals understand that the behaviour of their government leaves a lot to be desired.

  9. Shouldn’t we also evaluate, that is quantify, the content of each good and each bad news story – indeed ideally of all stories – about Iraq – and come up with a net position? Of course a net balance in either direction would not negate or justify the facts in the other direction. But the balance – a summing up – would surely throw more light on options going forward.

  10. Actually the main country I would like to advance democracy in is the USA. The rise of the evangelical christian right seems to me to be the greatest threat to democracy particularly when they fix elections. Mike Moore wrote a post about calling in UN observers for the 2000 election. The fact that a county can lock up 2 of our citizens for 3 years without trial or charges indicates that there is something wrong.

    The main problem I have with your stance is that you arrogantly assume that advancing democracy no matter what the method is good and right. You are right up there with the extremists trying to convert people to religion. Democracy works for us and I like it a lot however I am not going to religiously convert every nation on the Earth at the point of a gun just because I think this. If they want democracy they will ask or will organise it themselves. This is the difference between you and I – you know you are right and everybody should be the same. I like the way I live but recognise that other people want different things.

    As to good and bad news, I posted on Chrenkoffs site that the truth probabley lies between his site and Mike Moore’s. Mike reports the bad news. If you read both and discount about 50% of each then you may get some idea of what going on.

  11. Ender, your comments on the evangelical Christian right being the greatest threat to democracy is another illustration of the appalling lack of perspective of most individuals on the anti-war/anti-American left. Members of the Christian right do not stop their daughters or wives driving a car, advocate the stoning to death of women for pre-marital or extra-marital sex or generally go around sentencing to death anyone who dares to criticise them. Their influence on the American political scene has also been greatly overstated. Many actually vote democratic. Some of those who switched sides at the last election did so because they (quite rightly) thought Clinton was somewhat morally challenged. They were also fed up with politically correct individuals such as yourself labelling anyone who dared criticise abhorrent behaviour by members of minority/victim groups as bigots while at the same time feeling free to attack the majority for often relatively minor transgressions.

  12. Agree ML. An article for the MEES by an Iraqi energy consultant, Isam AlKhalisi, looks at strengths and weaknesses.

    His interest is not in the politics of Iraq though he addresses the political decisions and processes as they impact on the supply of electricity.
    His major concern is the centralised system and the missed opportunities from 1991 to rectify the weakness of the power supply and infrastructure in Iraq, initially by the Iraqis, and now the Iraqis and the Occupiers. Isam suggests it is the centralised nature of the system and the design flaws in the power stations that turn attacks into widespread power failures.

    He sees administrative changes as adding to rather than solving Iraq’s problems, i.e.,

    “its largest public service industry and the biggest absorber of public funds has been transferred from a semi-independent Commission to a bureaucratic Ministry headed by a political appointee. This Ministry now has around 35 disparate departments, each headed by a Director General answerable to an “interim� Minister who is also the Chief Executive Officer. Politicisation of top management of an industrially based organisation of national strategic imperatives increases the potential for short term thinking, mediocrity and even corruption. In neighbouring countries, ministers for electricity act as chairmen of boards, leaving the day-to-day running to dedicated full-time professional CEOs.�

    And he says
    “neither the new management nor, indeed, USAID and their contractors, has shown any inclination to examine the root problems in the technical structure of Iraq’s electricity supply system�

    He concludes on ownership
    “It is clearly premature to bring privatization into Iraq at the present indeterminate political state of the country, but this may be regarded as desirable by an incoming full sovereign government and parliament. But regardless of private or public ownership, the electricity system must be run efficiently, and the economic advantages of decentralization are overwhelming.�

    I am not sure, but Iraqis either pay virtually nothing or nothing for their power. Their petrol costs are miniscule. A German of the puppet government after the war, others may know who he was, removed price controls without permission. But all he had to worry about was the Occupying forces displeasure, not a world press baying for blood.

    Rather than the sniping and gotchas, as ML an evaluation of all the events and factors that can be known would allow a better understanding of what needs to be done for Iraq’s energy needs amongst others All would seem to agree that power availability is a crucial element of prosperity, Iraqi satisfaction and insurgence emasculation.

    The dismissal of what Chrenkoff has to say isn’t just a about muscling up to the RWDBs. A lot of what he talks about is Iraqis acting and succeeding as well. And Iraqis do read Chrenkoff, and his critics. Give them a break. He is not the answer but it is credible that his work is of value.
    Maybe the story is that a complex system on the edge of chaos isn’t all that easy to manage and the unpredicted is constantly emerging. But there are attempts to manage the short term and well understood. It does look like though the current policies don’t have adequate built in mechanisms to change with the circumstances. But a Newtonian western press that can only conceive of government and management by absolutes in a totally predictable and controllable world, grasping, we don’t know, thus we are trying to run with robust strategies rather than optimal. Ha they would shout, as Kerry O’Brien said to the Defence Minister, You went into this not knowing what the outcome was.

  13. “Communism is socialism plus electricity” [Lenin]

    “Civil society is voting plus electricity” [Any number of vulgar materialists supporting Bush’s Iraq fiasco.]

    What is this fixation with electricity? Will the Sunni become more reconciled to marginalisation when they can make popcorn in their toaster oven?

    A million facts about electricity generation don’t add up to an inch of credibility for the current regime in the minds of a large and angry minority in Iraq.

    Moreover, the majority Shiites don’t subscribe to anything that remotely resembles neo-con or Bushite victory conditions in Iraq.

    Here are some more salient facts:

    Bush is a lame duck whose approval ratings are plummetting.

    Recruitment for the US Army is lagging behind retirement, resignation, desertion and attrition.

    A draft is deeply unpopular.

    A growingmajority of US voters believe that the Iraq adventure was a mistake.

    Without a major and sustained US presence in Iraq, civil war is likely to erupt.

  14. Michael – “Members of the Christian right do not stop their daughters or wives driving a car, advocate the stoning to death of women for pre-marital or extra-marital sex or generally go around sentencing to death anyone who dares to criticise them.”

    And neither do the vast majority of Muslims. You are taking the actions of a small minority of criminals that happen to be Muslim and using this to paint all Muslims in the same light. What this does is promote hatred and division. In our society we need to promote tolerance and understanding. Only in this way can we work with certain people within the Muslim religion to eliminate this sort of behaviour. Most of these punishments are in the Bible as well as the Quoran. It is not too long ago that Christians were doing this sort of thing as well. There are Christian sects, again a minority, where to husbands do not allow their wife to wear makeup.

    But this is not about splitting hairs and trying to see who is worse than the other. I am afraid of the intolerance and bigotry that you are displaying. I do not know why you are so afraid of Muslims. We do not need to fear people that are different. I would like my children to grow up in a world where people live together. My daughter’s two best friends at High School were a Muslim girl and a Jehovas Witness. None of this mattered to the kids and that is how we need to educate our children.

    I fear the rise of the Christian Right because to me some of them are just as bad as the Muslim extremists. Some of their policies are anti choice, anti science and I do not agree with this. Their influence can be seen with Bush vowing to veto embryonic stem cell research and trying to stack the supreme court to try and overturn RoeVsWade.

  15. Ender, so it is ok to criticise the christian right (which I also do) but not muslims. Nothing I have said when criticising Islamic extremism is not being also said by real Muslim moderates such as Irshad manji and Ayaan Hirsi Ali who know something about oppression within Islam.

    The difference betwee the various religions is that when a Jew or Christian expresses bigoted views to a Muslim about all Muslims being scum etc there are plenty of Jews etc who step forward in defence of the Muslim. In contrast, Muslims are generally silent when fellow Muslims behave appallingly.

    Moreover, polls show that over 10 percent of Muslims in the UK and France would welcome another sept 11 in their own country, around 50 percent regard Bush and Blair as worse than Osama and the Taliban etc and historically about 85 percent of Muslims in the Middle East have supported suicide bombings against Israeli’s – this has dropped in the last few years as the poverty of this violent approach becomes al to obvious.

    Oh and by the way, newspaper editors in Pakistan were threatened with execution and had their newspaper closed down – wait for it this is really good…..because they printed a letter which mildly criticised the extent of anti-Semitism in Pakistan. Oh and how many non-Muslims are there in the Pakistani parliament (zero) compared to non-Hindus in the Indian parliament. Get your facts straight before you start accusing people of bigotry. What is really racist is too seek to deny Muslim women and others the same rights as we take for granted in western societies simply because they are non-white or non-western challenge your post-modernist silliness. Your are the real racist and bigot.

  16. Ender, here is an excerpt from a Palestinan authority sermon- I rest my case.

    The following are excerpts from this week’s official Friday sermon on Palestinian Authority (PA) TV. [1] The preacher is Sheik Ibrahim Mudeiris, a paid employee of the PA. To view the sermon visit

    “Allah has tormented us with ‘the people most hostile to the believers’ – the Jews. ‘Thou shalt find that the people most hostile to the believers to be the Jews and the polytheists.’ Allah warned His beloved Prophet Muhammad about the Jews, who had killed their prophets, forged their Torah, and sowed corruption throughout their history.

    “With the establishment of the state of Israel, the entire Islamic nation was lost, because Israel is a cancer spreading through the body of the Islamic nation, and because the Jews are a virus resembling AIDS, from which the entire world suffers.

  17. Sure Michael bigots and racists usually preach tolerance and understanding. Nothing you have actually makes sense. You are accused of promoting hatred so you come back with yet more imflamatory and divisive statements. I really do not know what to say other than I can only forsee a bad end for all this anger.

    These problems that you speak of will only be solved by understanding not guns.

  18. Dear Ender – you write “These problems that you speak of will only be solved by understanding not guns.”

    So how does Mr. Sheik Ibrahim Mudeiris’ comments, referenced in MB’s post sit in with your philosophy.

    I appreciate that you are well intentioned, but could you be accused of being even a bit/slightly naive?

  19. Elizabeth – Mr. Sheik Ibrahim Mudeiris comments are basically the mirror image of Mr Burgess’s. They are designed to do that same thing – inflame hatred. And yes you can accuse me of being naive and perhaps I am – it does not really bother me. I would prefer idealistic however most people with a non-violent philosophy are accused of being naive.

    Mr Chrenkoffs good news bulletins however are equally naive. There is a lot of dedicated hard working people in Iraq trying, and sometime paying with their lives, to bring a better life for Iraqis. These people deserve to have their story told. To report only the good news however is propaganda not journalism. There are many bad news stories that are not reported on this site because they do not fit Mr Chrenkoff’s obvious agenda. In Mr Chrenkoffs view Iraq is a happy place full of joy and bliss and anything contrary to this is just left-wing rumourmongering. This is so at odds with reality that it could easily be mistaken for naivety.

    Additionally the rebuilding is not a result of some natural catastophe. The US and Australia, unlike the recent tsanami, is not there rebuilding on humanitarian grounds. The sole reason rebuilding in necessary is because of the Coalition’s invasion of the country. the leaders of which naively calculated that they would be greeted with open arms and their sadly undermanned and illegal invasion force would be out in 6 months. So Elizabeth if I am naive then I am in pretty good or bad company depending on your point of view.

  20. Ender, your comment that this Jew haters remarks are the mirror image of mine is simply outrageous. I side with moderate Muslims who are critical of extremism within Islam, including of the way women are treated. You are offended simply because I criticise the extremists and somehow associate this with bigotry. I also criticise Christian extremists although not as much because they are generally not as extreme. You really are a naïve fool living in a cultural relativist moral and intellectual vacuum.

  21. Thank you for the character assassination. You will note that I have not responded in kind to any of your insults and the fact that you feel the need to insult people that disagree with you seems to be a window into your character. If I have misrepresented you then I apologise however some of your statements are not the kind I would associate with a moderate person.

    I also side with moderate Muslims and moderates of any religious denomination however the fact that you do as well seems to be getting lost in the rhetoric and distortions that you write. Perhaps you would get your message across a bit better if you laid off the inflammatory statements. Extremists are best dealt with by ignoring them as the one thing people like this crave is publicity and notoriety. To ignore them is to take away their most potent weapon – publicity. Your method seems to me more akin to putting out a fire with petrol. You are feeding the flames rather than putting them out.

    I also make no distinctions about who is more extreme. Extremists of any nature, football hooligans, Catholics, Hindus whatever, are a major problem and end up characterising a whole group with the criminal activities of a tiny minority. You do your case of siding with moderate Mulims a great disservice by prefacing this with the statement that you consider them to be worse than Christian extremists.

    I don’t think that I will continue with this thread as I am getting a bit sick of being called an “offensive jerk” and “naive fool”. If you cannot confine your comments to the subject and resist playing the man in this manner then I really don’t see anything meaningful coming out of our discussions.

  22. Ender you state that ‘Thank you for the character assassination. You will note that I have not responded in kind to any of your insults and the fact that you feel the need to insult people that disagree with you seems to be a window into your character.’

    You were the one you offensive moronic twit who accussed me of spreading hatred etc and assocated me with some pretty nasty individuals. You also state that extremists are best dealth with by ignoring them. This is a bit difficult in Islam when the extremist run the show. I supposed Churchill should have listened to Gandhi and practiced passive resistance against Hitler.

  23. OK, let’s call a halt to this one. I’ve lost track of what the original dispute was about, but it certainly seems to have very little to do with events in Iraq

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