Jewish World Review July 16, 2004 / 27 Tamuz, 5764

Jack Kelly

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Real Iraqi People | Los Angeles Times reporter Alyssa Rubin thought she had the perfect anecdote to illustrate her gloomy "news analysis" piece July 4th on the situation in Iraq.

"L. Paul Bremer III, the civilian administrator for Iraq, left without even giving a final speech to the country -- almost as if he were afraid to look in the eye the people he had ruled for more than a year," she wrote.

The Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran had sounded the same note in his "news analysis" days earlier:

"When he (Bremer) left Iraq on Monday after surrendering authority to an interim government, it was with a somber air of exhaustion," Chandrasekaran wrote. "There was no farewell address to the Iraqi people."

This came as a shock to the Iraqi web logger Ali, and to thousands of his countrymen who watched Bremer's farewell address on television, and were moved by it.

Ali was at a party at the hospital where he works (he's a doctor) celebrating the transfer of sovereignty: "They had al Jazeera on. Then suddenly Mr. Bremer appeared reading his last speech before he left Iraq. I approached the TV to listen carefully to the speech, as I expected it to be difficult in the midst of all that noise. To my surprise everyone stopped what they were doing and started watching as attentively as I was.

"The speech was impressive and you could have heard the sound of a needle if one had dropped at that time...I was deeply moved by this great man's words, but I couldn't prevent myself from watching the effect of his words on my friends who some of them were anti-Americans and some were skeptic... "I turned to one friend who distrusted America all the way. He looked as if he was bewitched. I asked him, 'So what do you think of this man?' He smiled and said 'he brought tears to my eyes, G-d Bless Him!'

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"Another friend approached me. This one was not religious, but he was one of the conspiracy theory believers. He put his hands on my shoulders and said smiling, 'I must admit that I'm beginning to believe in what you've been telling us for months and I'm beginning to have faith in America. These people have shown that they keep their promises."

The reaction of Ali and his friends to Bremer's speech doesn't fit the media story line on Iraq (that everything is going to Hell in a hand basket), so it is understandable why it would be down played. But to assert that Bremer made no farewell address at all goes a bridge too far.

Eric Johnson, a Marine reservist who served in Iraq last year, doesn't think much of Chandrasekaran, the Washington Post's Iraq bureau chief.

A year ago April, Chandrasekaran showed up in al Kut, "talked to a few of our officers, and toured the city for a few hours. He then got back into his air conditioned car and drove back to Baghdad to write about local unrest," Johnson said.

Chandrasekaran's story "described a local, Iranian-backed troublemaker named Abbas Fadhil, who was squatting in the provincial government headquarters," he said.

Fadhil called himself the mayor of al Kut. "The refusal of Marine commanders to recognize Fadhil's new title has fueled particularly intense anti-American sentiments here," Chandrasekaran wrote. "In scenes not seen in other Iraqi cities, U.S. convoys have been loudly jeered."

"In our headquarters, we had a small red splotch on a large map of Kut, representing the neighborhood that supported Abbas Fadhil," Johnson said.

"When we asked about him, most citizens of Kut rolled their eyes.

"Our (civil affairs) detachment had teams constantly coming and going throughout the city, and Chandrasekaran could easily have accompanied at least one of them," Johnson said. "Since he didn't, he couldn't see how the Iraqis outside of the red splotch reacted to us. People of every age waved and smiled as we rumbled past."

When a Marine officer told Fadhill he would be forcibly removed from the government building, Fadill quietly slunk away, Johnson said.

"Since I saw Rajiv Chandrasekaran's integrity up close, I haven't believed a word he writes, or any story coming out of the bureau he runs," Johnson said.

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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. Comment by clicking here.

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