Last summer, the mainstream American media was ready to surrender Iraq to the terrorists.
They'd beaten us in the country, we'd never be able to democratize Iraqis, and it was time for an exit strategy, the editorial pages of many of the big dailies screamed.
What a difference a year makes. These days, the only people retreating on the terrorist angle are members of the national media.
I began to suspect that something was terribly wrong with the coverage in Iraq about a year ago, after a liberal anti-war activist group published the "Iraq Body Count," which tallied the number of Iraqis killed by various groups in Iraq between March 2003 and March 2005. Those who wrote the "Iraqi Body Count" say they went a step further than the media in gathering information. They actually visited Iraqi morgues.
According to the report, of the 24,865 Iraqis tragically killed during the two-year period, just 11 percent, or 2,671, were victims of terrorists. Three times that many (8,935) were killed in gang- or crime-related violence. (The report failed to note how many of those killed were suspected criminals or gang members themselves, which is probably unknowable.) The rest of the people were killed by US forces.
A search of Lexis Nexis for that period shows American newspapers ran more than 1,000 news pieces a month about terrorists in Iraq. That's about nine articles published for each person actually killed by a terrorist in Iraq. In reality, terrorists had managed to kill just one out of every 10,000 Iraqis a year over the two-year period. To put that in perspective, consider that the odds a typical American driver will die in a car wreck in a given year are also one in 10,000.
A recent written communication between al Qaeda cell members seized in an April raid on an al Qaeda hideout in Iraq could give the world its first glimpse of what the terrorist situation in Iraq really looks like.
According to the translated document, which details the problems the jihadists are facing in Iraq, al Qaeda has spent too much time on what it calls a "media-oriented policy" in which it blows up people and things to attract media coverage without a clear comprehensive plan to capture an area or an enemy center.
Terrorist leaders admit in the document that Baghdad jihadist cells are capable of only "hit and run" operations that create the impression on the news that the American forces are losing. These attacks are not considered to be more than "a daily annoyance to the Shiite government," according to the document and preoccupation with this strategy to get media coverage has "delayed more important operations such as taking control of ... a university, a hospital or a Sunni religious site."
So what's the total number of al Qaeda fighters in the Baghdad area, according to the document? Just 110.
Let me get this straight: According to the mainstream media, the US was supposed to begin planning an exit strategy last year because 110 jihadists who can't even capture a hospital claimed to have won a war they barely qualify as bit players in?
By March, the big newspapers' fascination with the terrorists and their antics had dissipated. After bombings and retaliatory bombings of a few Sunni and Shiite mosques, the big dailies declared an all-out civil war was going on. This was what would finally bring Iraq to its knees. News reports instantly began attributing many of the murders and bombings in Iraq to "sectarian" violence. How the reporters now knew that the ongoing, daily killings they once largely attributed to the terrorists were actually sectarian was never explained.
Whatever the case, Iraq was falling apart, mainstream reporters wrote in article after article with datelines in Baghdad, where a lot of the media stays firmly tucked away from danger in the Green Zone.
A little-known statistic tracked by the Defense Department could shed some light on this situation: During the invasion of Iraq, 692 journalists were embedded with coalition forces. Today, that number has dwindled to 32. There are 18 sprawling provinces in Iraq, so that's less than two journalists on average in each province. (More than 32 journalists cover Charlotte on any given weekday, and Charlotteans still have no idea what is really going on here.)
Whatever the case, the much-anticipated civil war has yet to unfold, and last month the Washington Post even went so far as to charge that the US government tricked the paper by "inflating al Qaeda's role in Iraq." That's rubbish. I know this because for more than a year now I've read the Defense Department's weekly transcripts of its press conferences with the media -- press conferences in which American military leaders repeatedly begged reporters to stop over-inflating the role of al Qaeda and then the role of sectarian violence in Iraq.
These days, it's looking more like much of the killing in Iraq is being done by a criminal element whose workings even our generals admit in press conferences they don't fully understand.
So is Iraq going to hell in a hand basket? I haven't the vaguest idea, and neither, as best as I can tell, does mainstream American media.
Got a story idea? E-mail Tara: firstname.lastname@example.org.