An Occupation by Any Other Name

The Bush administration is keeping U.S. operations in Iraq out of sight and – they hope – out of mind.
Paul Bremer, the former U.S. administrator, has packed up his trademark boots and gone home. Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the deputy chief of military operations in Iraq, and Dan Senor, the former U.S. main spokesman in Iraq, no longer grace our television screens. And the controversial John Negroponte, who is now running the show out of the largest U.S. embassy in the world, is rarely seen or heard.

In other words, the U.S. occupation of Iraq has officially gone underground. The Bush administration is indeed putting an "Iraqi face" on the occupation by keeping its operations outside the media spotlight. Since the White House can't come up with a strategy to actually get out of Iraq, it is now hoping that voters will simply forget we're over there.

Although the chaos, killings, kidnappings and destruction continue, the administration's spin doctors are no longer on the front lines managing the news in Iraq. The steady drumbeat of pro-war analysis on television has slowed to a trickle with the usual parade of White House supporters seemingly on a summer break.

In Iraq, the PR flacks for the Coalition Press Information Center in Baghdad no longer offer daily press briefings. They are too busy training Iraqis for their job, now that the interim government is becoming public face of security operations on the ground.

According to the New York Times, Ambassador Negroponte has deliberately kept a low profile.

"Us not speaking as much as we have been in the past for the situation in Iraq may be one of the things we can do," Negroponte told reporters. "Let them speak for themselves."

Or more accurately, let them speak for us.

The most effective spokesman for the U.S. occupation is the interim and unelected Prime Minister, Ayad Allawi. Now it is his face that we see when Iraq makes the evening news. And each time, he repeats one of his two favored messages: Thank President Bush for freeing Iraq; take immediate action against the insurgents. That Allawi's message appears to be aimed at a U.S. audience is hardly a coincidence.

As one administration official told the Washington Post, The White House now has "an Iraqi leader who publicly thanks the United States for the past, takes political responsibility for the future and has a strategy." The Bush administration could hardly ask for more in an election year.

What's more, the strategy is working. "Iraq's newly empowered politicians have not stemmed the violence and instability in their country ... three weeks of partial sovereignty may have helped the Bush administration's drive to reduce its political vulnerability on Iraq at home," writes the Washington Post's Jim Hoagland.

While neither Allawi nor Bush can hope to fool Iraqis who know exactly how bad things are on the ground, gulling the distant American public is a lot easier, especially when many of the reporters now in Iraq don't leave their hotels, let alone Baghdad.

The cable news networks that brought the sanitized invasion into America's living rooms 16 months ago still report from Iraq but the blazing banner headlines have receded into the background, the keyed-up news anchors have calmed down, and rooftop reports from Baghdad are less frequent and carry less urgency. The news that the 900th U.S. service member had died in Iraq as of this week did not merit more than a passing mention by major news outlets.

"To the relief of the White House," Hoagland writes, "the American public and media seem to be slowly trying to tune out Iraq's continuing violence. Accounts of all but spectacular assaults slide deeper into network news broadcasts and the inside pages of newspapers as the summer and the U.S. presidential campaign progress."

As of this writing, 47 U.S. service members have died in Iraq since June 28. Over the past month American soldiers are dying at the rate of two per day - a rate greater than the month before the "handover." As points out, at this rate, we will pass the 1,000-death mark in 50 days, or a week after the Republican National Convention in NYC.

But will any one notice?

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Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering right-wing groups and movements.