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Something Is Missing From CNN’s Iraq News Coverage

ISISEarly in August, conservative news radio executive Lee Habeeb appeared on CNN, asking his host, Kate Bolduan, “Where are the Hamas soldiers?”  With nearly non-stop coverage of the conflict in Gaza that was ongoing at that time, there was one huge omission. In contrast, over the last few weeks, CNN viewers have now seen many, many images of ISIS fighters.  We’ve seen ISIS fighters in tanks, ISIS fighters firing guns, ISIS fighters running through streets, ISIS fighters committing beheadings. What we have not seen, or heard anything about, is Iraqi civilian victims of US or Iraqi military actions. There has been almost no discussion of even the possibility of civilian casualties.

On August 31, for example, we heard the news that US airstrikes had broken the siege on the Iraqi town of Amerli.  This would seem to have been accomplished with no civilian casualties at all.  Watching Fareed Zakaria’s coverage on CNN, there was no indication to the contrary.

I am not a military analyst and I have never served in any armed forces. I suppose it is possible that this mission was completed with no civilian casualties. If that were the case, however, I would expect that fact to have been announced. It would have been an additional moral and military victory. But the question does not even seem to have been asked.

According to the group Iraq Body Count, however, there were 217 Iraqi civilians killed by government forces in the month of August. It is not clear whether IBC’s total refers exclusively to Iraqi government forces, or whether it includes US airstrikes. Even if these were all victims of Iraqi military action, however, Iraq is now our “partner,” if not our ally, as well as a recipient of US foreign assistance. Aren’t civilian victims of Iraqi military action worthy of news coverage?

On September 10, President Obama announced an aggressive new strategy to combat ISIS in Iraq and Syria.  Prior to this announcement, the US had already flown 2,700 missions, with 156 airstrikes, and 253 bombs and missiles dropped in Iraq. Within a week of his announcement, the number of airstrikes had grown to 162. IBC reported that during the first half of September, 1,343 Iraqi civilians were killed. A fair assumption is that the 655 of those found in mass graves are casualties of ISIS, but what of the remaining 688?  Were any of those people victims of US airstrikes, or of the actions of the Iraqi military? Has anyone asked?

ISIS

On September 8, in a Council on Foreign Relations blog post, Colonel Stephen Liszewski, wrote of the importance of “minimizing collateral damage” — an implicit recognition that such damage cannot be entirely eliminated. On September 19, Newsday published this report:

The top Army officer says it will become increasingly difficult to target and launch precision airstrikes against Islamic State militants hiding among the Iraqi population.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno (oh-dee-EHR’-noh) says the worst thing that could happen is if the U.S. begins mistakenly killing innocent civilians, causing the population to turn against the U.S.-led effort against the Islamic State group.

This is an acknowledgment that it is nearly impossible to fight terrorists that hide among civilians without causing civilian casualties.  (Odierno also made similar comments to Time.)

Watching CNN over the past week, I have seen no discussions whatsoever of the potential for Iraqi civilian casualties caused by US or Iraqi military actions. I would think, though, that if all of these missions have been completed without any civilian casualties, that fact would be highlighted. I am not a professional media watchdog and I can’t watch CNN all day long, of course it is possible that I have missed something. I have been making a point to watch about 30-60 minutes a day, at popular viewing times, usually in the early morning. I think I am typical of an average viewer. And so far, I have yet to hear a CNN anchor so much as ask a commentator about the potential for civilian casualties in Iraq.

Jonathan Tobin made a similar point today regarding Syria, writing that

American forces conduct such operations under rules of engagement that seek to limit if not totally eliminate non-military casualties. But even under the strictest limits, civilians are killed in war. . . . In real life, war is conducted in an environment in which a host of factors make perfection as unattainable as it is in every other aspect of life. Which means it is almost certain that at least some Syrian civilians (a population that may include supporters of the terrorists and some who are essentially their hostages) were killed and wounded last night.

Kate BolduanAll of this stands is very sharp contrast to CNN’s coverage of the Israel-Gaza conflict this summer, during which you could not turn that channel on without seeing visceral images of the tragic but inevitable consequences of Israel’s defensive actions. This is simply further evidence that CNN, among other news outlets, allowed itself to be used by Hamas to carry out its PR strategy this past summer.

About the author

Picture of Mirabelle

Mirabelle

A Zionist in exile, Mirabelle has, in past lives, been a lawyer, a skier, and a chef. Outside of Israel, her favorite place in the world is Sun Valley, Idaho.
Picture of Mirabelle

Mirabelle

A Zionist in exile, Mirabelle has, in past lives, been a lawyer, a skier, and a chef. Outside of Israel, her favorite place in the world is Sun Valley, Idaho.
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