Cover Story

Beyond the nightly news

COVER STORY: 20 questions (and answers) that could cause you to see the Iraq war effort and occupation differently than if you relied on big network coverage

Issue: "Beyond the nightly news," Oct. 11, 2003

The pencil came of age in the Civil War, the telegraph in World War I, and the transistor radio made tense early days of the Cold War bearable. War in Iraq will be known for popularizing the blogosphere.

Internet weblog chronicles have morphed under the police-blotter approach taken by traditional media in Iraq coverage. Instead of endlessly leading with what bleeds in Iraq, good bloggers are carrying raw footage from the front lines, letting servicemen and Iraqis chronicle the war unfiltered.

Joe Katzman (windsofchange.net) has twice-weekly reports on Iraq that include stories from Middle East newspapers and straight goods from coalition fighters. Chief Wiggles (chiefwiggles.blog-city.com) is a foamy journal by a U.S. debriefer among the coalition forces. Under pseudonym he is shamelessly campaigning for the release of 17 Iraqi generals, prisoners-of-war he says will do the Americans more good than harm. The blog also provides a way for him to collect and distribute toys for Iraqi children.

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Some blogs only take you around the block and back again, with stops along the way at mind-numbing links. Some bloggers think readers are interested in what their kids had for breakfast.

But then Paul Miller, a blogger and journalist from Ohio, posed in a Sept. 26 entry to his Along the Tracks weblog "20 Questions the Media Will Not Ask Concerning Iraq." That's a challenge no journalist should allow to go unanswered. Mr. Miller's questions were not only thoughtful but also indicative of the frustration newshounds everywhere feel over the lack of genuine war coverage. So WORLD took his 20 questions and turned them into 20 answers.

Where is all the money from the UN's Oil for Food Program?

Mr. Miller is right to make this Question No. 1. The disappearance of Oil for Food money is just one reason the Bush administration must press Congress for more spending money in Iraq. And it's a big reason Iraqis don't trust the West when it shows up to "help."

From the time the UN began to receive oil revenues under Iraq's Oil for Food program (December 1996) until the start of the war, the body raised $64 billion in oil revenue from Iraq. Humanitarian imports designated on paper total less than $45 billion, and only $25 billion was actually delivered. No one has accounted for the difference. The UN placed Iraq funds "with five different creditworthy banks" but won't disclose which ones or how much money is on account. In nearly seven years of operation, the program has never been audited.

None of that kept UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan from signing off on Saddam's requests for new programs under Oil for Food as recently as June 2002, when Mr. Annan approved 10 new "sectors," including a "Board of Youth and Sports." Under it Iraq imported boats from France. Remember Saddam's Tikrit palaces, complete with artificial lake and pleasure boats.

How many people have now lived at least six months longer than they would have under Saddam?

Trick question. How many Americans have now lived longer than they would have if Saddam were still in power?

But for the record, statistics from UNICEF suggest that Iraqis live longer under U.S. protection than they did under Saddam. Annual surveys by the UN children's organization showed the number of infant and child deaths growing every year that Saddam was in power. In one five-year period, 1994-99, the number of deaths per 1,000 young children grew from 92 to 131. During that same time period in northern Iraq, child mortality rates improved-from 90 to 72 deaths per 1,000.

The reason? Not UN sanctions. Shortages due to sanctions were heavier in the north than in Saddam's central power base. But in the north, Kurds operated Saddam-free local governments, thanks to a U.S.-patrolled no-fly zone.

How many civilians were really killed in the major combat portion of the war?

Iraq Body Count Project (IBC) is a plainly biased but highly credentialed team of researchers. They say 7,203 civilians died during March-April fighting.

Human Rights Watch, which started counting noncombatant bodies in Iraq two decades ago during the Iran-Iraq War, has some strong words against U.S. military intervention in Iraq. But its first-hand research documents that most civilian casualties have been the work of the regime, not coalition forces.

In the weeks before war began, Saddam Hussein parked missile launchers in neighborhoods, loaded mosques with landmines, and parked tanks and armored troop carriers in schoolyards.

On April 13, Human Rights Watch researchers found a classroom at al-Bayda Secondary School for Girls in Kirkuk stacked with dozens of boxes of ammunition, including rocket-propelled grenades, 82mm and 100mm mortar shells, and 12.7mm machine-gun bullets.

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