Saturday, May 10, 2008

McClatchy takes sides (revised, then updated)

McClatchy this morning reports that "In a big concession, militia agrees to let Iraqi troops into Sadr City," relegating to the fifth paragraph the news that this is a tentative agreement between Shiite parties subject to agreement that hasn't yet been obtained from Maliki and Sadr. (See also the previous post for the run-up to this, and the update below). Moreover, Azzaman, which reports on this same topic relying on the same single source (Sadrist member of parliament Baha Araji), describes its scope and contents rather differently, and includes a reference to this all-important point, not mentioned in the McClatchy version:
A source close to the Iraqi government said Maliki is not obligated to implement any agreement that is contrary to the decision to disarm the militias, which is an absolute obligation [undertaken] by Maliki with American president George Bush at the tie of the Baghdad Security Plan [aka the Surge].
Azzaman describes the negotiations between the Sadrists on the one side, and the United Iraqi Alliance (mainly Supreme Council and Dawa) on the other as an attempt to revive or recreate the agreement of several months ago between Sadr and Hakim, indicating that it aims, among other things, to resolve problems between them in the South and Center of Iraq.

With respect to the Sadr City part of the agreement, Azzaman says this:
Araji explained to Azzaman that the document does not contain any clause relating to the dissolution of the Mahdi Army, or to the handing over of arms, but it does include a clause relating to the handing over of persons with pending charges relating to lawbreaking or criminal activity.
(Recall that in earlier accounts of these negotiations this appeared to relate to a list of people described as "over 40 individuals"). And the Azzaman reporter tells us quite frankly that the UIA side of the negotiations has "maintained silence and has not commented on the meetings [leading up to this] at which there has not been any direct official representative of the government".

McClatchy's scoop, then, is that the agreement includes a clause that would let Iraqi forces arrest anyone in Sadr City found with heavy weapons, relegating to the 10th paragraph this remark of Araji's: "The Iraqi forces, not the American forces, can come into Sadr City and search for weapons, Araji said. We don't have heavy weapons, and we want this to stop."

So there is the Azzaman version: A tentative agreement between the Sadrist trend and the SupremeCouncil/Dawa parties, broad in scope, including provisions to stop the fighting in Sadr City that Araji said don't include a clause respecting general handing over of weapons, with the warning that no government person was directly involved in the talks, and in any event a government person says Maliki won't agree to anything short of disarmament, on account of his "absolute obligation" to Bush in that regard. By contrast, McClatchy picks one clause (and without quoting it) to describe a "major capitulation" by the Sadrist trend, implying that final agreement by Maliki and Sadr will be merely a question of formal signing of the document, with no reference either to the broad scope that Azzaman refers to, or to the point about Maliki's "absolute obligation" to Bush.

In a nutshell, this appears to be a case of McClatchy inserting itself into the negotiating process in order to spin the process as a major defeat for the Sadrists and a victory for the Maliki/Bush alliance (but without mentioning Bush anywhere in the story).

To put it another way, Azzaman points us in the direction of the key problem, which is Maliki's relationship to Bush, while McClatchy tells its story about one clause in a broad, tentative agreement, touting this as a victory for Maliki, without reminding its readers of the role of the American forces or of Bush.

UPDATE: Reuters quotes Maliki spokesman Ali Dabbagh to the effect "Maliki has approved this agreement". But the Reuters piece serves to highlight all of the other problems with the original McClatchy piece, namely: (1) There isn't any clear statement what the agreement calls for. Sadrist spokesman Salah al-Obeidi is quoted as follows: "Ubaidi said that after the four-day ceasefire, Iraqi forces could enter Sadr City and detain anyone they wanted as long as they had an arrest warrant. He said the agreement called for aid to be delivered to residents and roads opened." That isn't what the McClatchy piece said. And (2) The ambiguity respecting the American forces is highlighted when Reuters quotes Obeidi as follows: "He said he expected the pact to take effect either on Saturday night or Sunday with a total halt to all Iraqi military activity for four days. He did not mention the U.S. military." And the Reuters reporter tells us: "The US military said it was not aware of any agreement".


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