Adrian Blomfield went to Baghdad as a strong believer in regime change. Now he thinks that Bush has messed up in Iraq — and should be booted out of the White House
The other day, shortly after returning from a longish stint in Iraq on behalf of the Daily Telegraph, I had dinner with a staunch Republican friend at a restaurant here. I was expecting a stern rebuke, and she did not disappoint. ‘I thought you were fairly unbiased,’ she said. ‘Yet your stories became increasingly focused on the attacks. Why didn’t you write about the good things, about how Americans troops are building schools and restoring services?’
Many of those intending to vote for President Bush next week would share my chum’s frustrations. They believe there is a conspiracy, perpetrated by the undoubtedly liberal-dominated press, to bury the good news and report only on the bad in an effort to make sure he is not re-elected.
Do they have a point? The difference between the despondency of media reports from Iraq and the optimism of the press releases put out by US military command in Baghdad certainly could not be starker.
My inbox is filled with emails from a Sgt Steve Valley at the Coalition Press Information Center bearing cheery headlines such as ‘Iraqi Children Get a Kick out of Donation’, ‘Winning Hearts by Filling Stomachs’ and ‘Another Precision Strike in Fallujah’. Sgt Valley, who signs off his emails with the words ‘Cowboy Up’, recounts heart-warming tales of brave American soldiers handing out soccer balls to children, delivering food to poor mothers and rebuilding schools, clinics and playgrounds. The interim Iraqi government sees things Sgt Valley’s way. Addressing a joint session of Congress in September, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi was profuse in his praise of the US-led invasion and announced that, while there were a few problems in three of Iraq’s provinces, things were pretty much hunky-dory in the other 15.
Yet the Western press is daily filled with disheartening stories of suicide bombings, allegations of American bungling and the denouncements of furious Iraqis. Our television screens show grim images of dust-covered children being pulled out of the rubble after raids in Fallujah, or panicked civilians fleeing the latest suicide bombing in Baghdad, Mosul, Baqubah or a host of other towns and cities.
As we all know, bad news sells papers. Most foreign correspondents lean left and some may even twist the truth, especially if they think that by doing so they may lose Mr Bush the election. Indeed, there are a few reporters in Baghdad who do greet each atrocity with unbecoming glee for that very reason, as my colleague Toby Harnden reported in these pages in May. But the majority of journalists do not, I believe, put a liberal spin on their reporting, if only because there is no real need to. The situation in Iraq, despite what the military command and government would have you believe, is unrelentingly grim — if not everywhere, then at least in a large proportion of the country.
Before I flew into Iraq in early June, I — like the editor of this magazine — was uneasy about what was happening, but believed the war to be right. As someone born and raised in Africa, the issue for me was not so much whether Saddam had weapons of mass destruction (though I assumed the British and American governments knew something they weren’t telling us) but whether the country was better off without him. I wasn’t convinced that the Iraqi regime had much to do with al-Qa’eda, and accepted that an invasion would be a diversion from the real war on terror. But I did savour the words ‘regime change’.
For far too long Western countries have sat back or even lent a hand as African dictators imprisoned, tortured and murdered their opponents. During the Cold War, Washington and London pumped in money to support venal regimes like those of Mobutu Sese-Seko in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, Idi Amin in Uganda and even our own Daniel arap Moi in Kenya. So the idea of a dictator getting his comeuppance rather than retiring to a villa in the C