Newspapers Duped Again in Iraq

'Good news' from Sadr City marred by facts, short memories.

Bush the evangelist has always fevered to spread the good news. Yesterday the front page of the New York Times once again did it for him by announcing:

"Iraqi Troops Take Charge of Sadr City in Swift Push"

This morning, the Washington Post proclaimed:

"Iraqi Troops Welcomed In Sadr City: U.S. Absence Seems To Make Difference"

So do the facts on the ground: Before this ballyhooed push into the massive Baghdad slum, our airplanes pulverized the place, and thousands more residents fled.

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Yes, we reduced the place to rubble and then sent the Iraqis in to "take charge" of it. Just as in Baghdad five years, we marched in and grateful Iraqis danced in the streets. Both of them.

More on the extremely short memories of the media in a minute. Before I forget, Post story went on to note:

The Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is pursuing an increasingly successful effort to contain the militias of his Shiite rivals and to exercise authority over areas where Iraqi forces were once unwelcome. The strategy has won Maliki admiration from Sunni politicians and from U.S. and British officials, who credit him with exerting some of the political will necessary to achieve reconciliation.

An offensive against militias in the southern city of Basra earlier this year required hastily organized support from U.S. and British forces, but this week's deployment of thousands of Iraqi troops into Sadr City so far has included no overt assistance from the U.S. military.

So the Iraqis have done this by themselves? They've swept into Sadr City and are even being welcomed? Sounds like the propaganda foisted on us five years ago as we shocked and awed Baghdad.

Let's back up to May 8, only two weeks ago, when Bradley Brooks of the AP reported:

Entire sections of Baghdad's Sadr City district have been left nearly abandoned by civilians fleeing a U.S.-led showdown with Shiite militias and seeking aid after facing shortages of food and medicine, humanitarian groups said yesterday.

The reports by the agencies, including the U.N. children's fund, added to the individual accounts of civilians pouring out of the Sadr City area as clashes intensify.

U.S. forces have increased their use of air power and armored patrols in an attempt to cripple Shiite militia influence in Sadr City, a slum of 2.5 million people that serves as the Baghdad base for the Mahdi Army, led by the anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The fighting started in late March, after the Iraqi government had begun a crackdown on militias and armed gangs in the southern city of Basra, including some groups the United States says have links to Iran.

Claire Hajaj, a UNICEF spokeswoman based in Jordan, said that up to 150,000 people - including 75,000 children - were isolated in sections of Sadr City "cordoned off by military forces."

She said that about 6,000 people had been forced to flee their homes and that some areas of southeastern Sadr City were virtually abandoned.

The Post was right about one thing: Our absence made a difference. So did the absence of Sadr City's residents.

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