Media bias ‘threat’ to Iraq

Arab commentators say Western media spread falsehoods and fuel sectarianism.

Press photographer

Al-Hashimi says Western media speak of Sunni
Arabs in the same breath as terrorists [EPA]

Information about Iraq propagated by Western media is often woefully inaccurate or downright wrong, according to leading Arab figures, and such distortions are damaging any chance of peace in the country.


Tariq al-Hashimi, Iraq’s Sunni Arab vice-president, says that one idea – widely accepted in the West as true but which lacks evidence to support it – has upset the balance of power in Iraq to such an extent that violence was an inevitable outcome.


Western media often refer to Iraq as being “overwhelmingly Shia”, or use other phrases to imply a large Shia majority. This, he says, is wrong – and it has resulted in over-representation of Shia parties in the Iraqi government at the expense of Sunni Arabs.


Al-Hashimi said: “The false allegations promoted by Western media have resulted in an [inappropriate] political process, and everyone is paying the price for its wrong foundations.” 


Where the figures came from to back up assertions of a large Shia majority are unclear: no Iraqi census in modern history has ever included sect.  


Sources such as Encyclopaedia Britannica put the Shia population in Iraq at 52 per cent of the total in 2001. However, figures circulated by the US military, which invaded Iraq in 2003, put the figure at 60 per cent.


Feeling of deprivation

– Baath party spokesman

Al-Hashimi has also blamed the Western media for the feeling of deprivation among Iraq’s Shia, referring to phrases such as “the once-dominant Sunni”, and “Sunni who enjoyed privileges under Baath Party rule” – widely used in news reports.  

He said: “Western media and politicians are still promoting those same allegations, and we really do not know how to let them realise that everybody got his share in ruling Iraq across history.


“Western media and politicians are still defining this community [Sunni Arabs] as a troublesome group, whose motives are incomprehensible by the West.


“Western media always put question marks around this community and speak of it in the same breath as terrorism. They portray it as a community that is still incapable of comprehending the new Iraq; hence, it is not qualified to play a role in a democratic process. Such allegations are backed by lobbies whose aim is to undermine Iraqi nationalism.”


Baath party

The spokesman for the Arab Baath Socialist Party, which ruled Iraq from 1968 to 2003, who asked to be identified as Abu Muhammad for security reasons, said: “Most Western media outlets have been helping the US occupation authorities to portray the Baath party as a Sunni party which suppressed the Shia and deprived them of their rights.


“Actually, sect was never an issue in Iraq. I am a Shia and I have been a senior Baath official … No Baath party official – no Iraqi official – ever asked me about my sect.


“When the US army occupied Iraq they issued a list of 55 wanted top Iraqi officials, starting with President Saddam Hussein; half of those senior officials were Shia.


“The Committee of Debaathification issued a list of 100,000 senior Iraqi Baathists who would not be allowed to enjoy governmental posts, 66,000 of them were Shia – so how is the Baath party a Sunni party?


“It is a character assassination campaign instructed by Western lobbies and carried out by Western media.”


Who is fighting?

Abu Muhammad voiced resentment at the the term “Sunni insurgency”, saying that Iraqis from different backgrounds are fighting the foreign presence in Iraq.


“This term plays down Iraqi nationalism,” he said. “I repeat, I am a Shia and I am resisting the US forces in Iraq, and we know for sure that resistance fighters from all background are fighting. Why do the Western agencies insist that only Sunni are fighting? Big question mark, I think.”


I think there was sectarianism under Saddam and the Western media reflected that, but the question is, should we hold the Sunni sect responsible for that? I think Iraqis must be careful in answering this question”

Karim Bader

Mustafa Bakri, chief editor of the Egyptian newspaper El-osboa, said the attitude of the Western media is unsatisfactory when it comes to any issue in the Arab world, not only Iraq.


He said: “In their coverage of the current Palestinian issues, they are backing Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, to such an extent that it is basically the US and Israeli view.


“Look at their coverage of last year’s attack on Mar Jerjes Churge [a Christian church in Cairo] in Egypt, their coverage was provoking, unprofessional and seemed designed to create a rift between Egypt’s Muslims and Christians.” 


Prominent Western media outlets that served the Middle East for decades have, for many people, ceased to be credible. Many people in Arab countries now feel that they take sides rather report news fairly. 


Aws Sattar, an Iraqi journalist, said: “Until the second Gulf war in 1991, Iraqis and all Arabs used to listen to the BBC Arabic service and the Voice of America radio station to get information, they thought they were revered international news agencies.


“It has not been the case since the role they played in keeping Iraq under sanctions and the subsequent invasion of the country. I can feel that people have become wary of the news they get from Western agencies … They do listen, but they tend to verify the information by also listening to, watching or reading Arab media.”



Bakri expressed surprise that no Western media outlet has ever apologised to its readers for promoting false Iraq war pretexts.  


“Western media in general supported what the US and UK governments wanted in their massive build-up for the war,” he said.


“They supported the existence of alleged weapons of mass destruction … It took them the destruction of a country, murder of hundreds of thousands of its people, to realise they were wrong. Personally, I think they knew it was wrong from the beginning but they wanted it this way, because they are simply an arm for their governments not for truth and neutrality as they promote themselves.”



However, Karim Bader, an independent Iraqi politician, said that Western media had done a decent job on reporting what had occurred under Saddam’s rule.


He said one had to look only at the senior army commanders and intelligence officers in Saddam’s day, all of whom he said were Sunni. Or to look at the sizes of houses in Shia suburbs – small and overcrowded – or in Sunni areas, where houses were far larger but with fewer occupants.


Bader said: “I think there was sectarianism under Saddam and the Western media reflected that, but the question is, should we hold the Sunni sect responsible for that? I think Iraqis must be careful in answering this question.”

Source: Al Jazeera