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60 Minutes goes to Baghdad

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This post is part of the The Iraq war ten years on debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

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13 March 2013 10:53


This post is part of the The Iraq war ten years on debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan is author of Running the War in Iraq.

Sam Roggeveen has invited Interpreter readers to 'talk about their views of the Iraq War ten years after the invasion'. Several weeks ago, 60 Minutes invited me to Iraq to make a segment addressing this topic. After some discussion, I agreed. The segment was broadcast on 10 March.

Contrary to a previous unfortunate experience with this show, the crew were a delight to work with. They were truly professional in everything they did, they respected each other and the story, and they treated my contribution fairly. The vast experience of each and every one of them in previous conflicts and disasters gave me some hope that there would be an understanding of the complexities of Iraq over the last ten years.

We spent a week in Iraq and traveled widely, at least throughout Baghdad and environs. We spoke to an assortment of people. Hour-long formal interviews were conducted with Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister, a long serving National Security Adviser, and with me. Just about every aspect of the invasion and the war, its justification and its morality, were addressed. Visits were made to average middle class families, to inter-married Sunni and Shia families, a refugee resettlement centre, a wedding, an orphanage, an orchestra and a park. We even did a walk down a Baghdad street, drinking tea and eating flat bread.

Over that period, these professionals must have produced hundreds of hours of video and sound. But of course when the segment went to air, it was 14 minutes in length. My first feeling after seeing it was to check myself for knife wounds, but I was treated fairly. Finding no personal injury, I considered how the issue of Iraq after ten years was treated.

The segment was entertaining but I did not feel comfortable when the host journo, Michael Usher, opened with the statement that the war was based on a lie. That is an important opening judgment as it sets the tone. Part of the war's justification relating to WMD was undeniably wrong, but it has never been proven to be a lie. It was just wrong. And it was not the only justification.

Interestingly, when we put to Iraqi interviewees the judgment that the war had no moral basis because there were no WMD, at least three of them made the point that to Iraqis, WMD was irrelevant. What was overwhelmingly important for Iraqis was that Saddam was gone. Many of us in the West have no understanding of how evil Saddam actually was, and how his evil impacted daily on Iraqis of all classes and sects, and how happy Iraqis (including many Sunnis) are that he is gone.

The interview with the middle class Baghdad family, where the adult sister stated that 'things were better under Saddam because there was more electricity', offered viewers insufficient context. To my knowledge this was the only expression of 'things are not as good as they were under Saddam'.

The fact is, there is far more electricity being produced in that benighted country now than in Saddam's time. But Iraqis are also using much more electricity because they are free to buy things that use electricity. Also, Saddam ensured that his power base, the Sunni elite who ran the country and lived in Baghdad (in fact, the Sunni family of this woman), received electricity at the expense of the Shia, especially those in Basrah. The electricity being produced now is inadequate for a modern consuming society; it is just that the inadequacy is being shared by the whole country now, not just the Shia.

The interview with the National Security Adviser was fascinating. Consistent with many others, he said that no one ever wants to be invaded and occupied by the Americans, but Iraq had to get rid of Saddam and it was worth the war to do it. It is understandable but disappointing that a totally disproportionate amount of the 14 minute segment was taken up by the rope in the corner of the National Security Adviser's office that hung Saddam, when so much else he said was so important.

The report also lacked context in the way it addressed the level of violence in Iraq at the moment. That Iraq is still violent is an unchallengeable fact. On the day before we arrived there were ten car bombs in Baghdad which killed twenty people. The perspective that I think should have been there was that the violence in Iraq today is far less than during Saddam's time, unless of course you were a member of the 20% Sunni elite oppressing the 60% Shia and 20% Kurds. It is also far less than during the American occupation. Compared to Australia, the violence is appalling but by Middle East and Iraqi standards, one may arrive at a different judgment. In relation to violence, Iraq must be better off today. Not perfect or good, but better.

The 60 Minutes website has a section called 'Extra Minutes', where the host expands on a few points. In that section, we see Michael Usher giving some more context and making some judgments that perhaps could have been included in the broadcast segment. He says he has hope and optimism, that Iraq had changed for the better, that people are getting on with normal life, but that al Qaeda is alive and well in Iraq.

My 60 Minutes interview in Iraq went for about an hour. It covered my views on the reasons for the war, how you can judge success, the moral base of going to war and then in conducting the war, and the state I think Iraq is in. I will ask that 60 Minutes put this interview, along with the National Security Adviser's interview, in full on their website. These interviews balance the broadcast segment, give some context, and act as a handy reference for anyone who may want to get past the first level of the broadcast segment.

Photo by Flickr user Omar Chatriwala.

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