Excerpts from the interview with London Times war correspondent Christina Lamb on Irish radio today [she is a so-called 'unilateral' journalist rather than an 'embedded' journalist]:
CL: I'm not under any restrictions at all [in what I say]. I want into southern Iraq on Friday having heard all the reports that the Pentagon and the MoD [UK ministry of defense] kept issuing that Umm Qasr had fallen and that southern Iraq was going well and went in following an American military convoy and right over the border at a small place called Safwan we were greeted, instead of the cheering people you had heard about, we were greeted with people throwing stones at the tanks, making angry gestures and a very hostile environment which was quite a shock. I then carried on the road towards Basra and came under fire with a colleague and some British military police and it became quite clear that that area wasn't under control at all. What it seems is that because they've concentrated so much on pushing towards Baghdad they haven't secured the areas on the way. And it seems based on a strategy that, on an assumption that all the ordinary Iraqis would support them and defect, and we've always heard that the south in particular would be easy, because it's Shi' ite and they don't like Saddam. And that wasn't what I saw at all.
Pat Kenny: Why do you analyse that this is the case, because we know that the Shia rose up after Gulf War 1, and of course their rising up was rewarded by indifference by the international community and Saddam was able to crush them. Is it that feeling or is it the sense that they perceive the motivation for coming into Iraq this time to be different?
CL: I think it's a mixture; I think they did feel betrayed before but I think they don't like seeing Americans to come in to occupy or what seems like to occupy the country particularly knowing that an American general would be administrator once Saddam has fallen. A lot of these people we saw and this general sort of lawlessness and people going around shooting, the military are telling us that they are Iraqi militia dressed in civilian clothing, which may well be the case. It's very difficult for us to know that.
PK: What about the city of Basra, we know they haven't gone in deliberately, they don't want to get involved with house to house and street to street fighting, but what is the situation there?
CL: Well again, they certainly a few days ago thought that Basra would be easy, they kept saying that the 51st division, the main division guarding it, was about to surrender, they were in negotiations, and that the local people were all ready to welcome them, and they were even arranging a press trip for us to go from here, that we were going to be flown in to see all the welcoming crowds. So initially they did intend to go in, and now they're saying they didn't intend to go in, they only wanted to secure the road alongside. The situation at the moment is that they are outside the city, more or less surounding it, but they certainly aren't in the city. [...snip...] They could just leave it, because if the objective is to go to Baghdad and to secure the route up then they don't need to have Basra, but psychologically to have it, it's the second biggest city, to be able to show pictures of the capture of a major city, of people welcoming them would make a huge difference.
PK: There are some humanitarian concerns for Basra, isn't that so?
CL: Yes the area is very poor and a lot of the people were coming up to us asking for water and for food. Now I know that President Bush yesterday promised that humanitarian aid would start within 36 hours. It's very difficult to see how that could be so because they still haven't secured the port of Umm Qasr right on the border which the aid needs to come through.
PK: And how great is the resistance at Umm Qasr?
CL: Well it's quite astonishing. We were first told on Thursday night that Umm Qasr had fallen. It's a small place, right, just across the border and I think now nine times we've been told that it's fallen and in fact it still hasn't. And certainly when I was in the area yesterday the road between the border and Umm Qasr is not secured and it was not possible to get even up near the town so they really don't seem to control anything in that whole southern area at the moment.
PK: I suppose though that it's very difficult of being sure of holding an area when you can't venture out into the hinterland for fear of being shot by snipers. So unless they bring massive air power to bear on this kind of thing they can never be sure, can they?
CL: No, it is very difficult, I mean this whole strategy of trying to do this with minimum interference with civilians and with daily life means it is very difficult and they keep saying they're 'securing' places, but they're not actually 'safe'. But I think there's no doubt they never expected this kind of resistance in that area, and we've just been told today that even Safwan, which is right on the border, it's the kind of place you go to if you want to enter Iraq; a lot of... 50 journalists that were on the other side have all been cleared out today. They were told that they were going to be ambushed, and that there were people in Safwan saying they were going to kill Western journalists. Now this could be propaganda from the US military becaue they don't like having us so-called unilaterals (non-embedded journalists independent of military oversight) inside covering, they want just the embedded people because they're giving a more positive side, because they're with the troops that are going through on the way to Baghdad, and they're not out in the streets or out in the countryside seeing what's actually happening there. So, it's difficult to know if that's true, but there's certainly a very hostile feeling in the area.
PK: Now the humanitarian problems in Basra. There were some claims that utilities in Basra had been targetted by the coalition but [UK defense minister] Geoff Hoon denied that, he actually said 'I'm concerned that the Iraqi authorities are inflicted harm on their own people'.
CL: Well it's very difficult to know. As I say everyone kept asking us for water, saying they hadn't got water so it does seem that the water supply has been interfered with. Now who has done that, it's hard for us to know.
PK: Because it would suit the propaganda aims of Saddam's regime to say the allies were inflicting this kind of punishment on the population, but equally it could happen that as Basra was bombed, allied missiles did affect the utilities.
CL: Yes, there's an awful lot of propaganda. We're seeing on the ground that an awful lot of what's coming out of Washington and London is complete lies and doesn't bear any relation to reality on the ground, just the same way as what's coming out of Baghdad, so it's very hard to know.
[snip... the interview goes on to discuss why there were expectations for an early end to the war etc]
10:07:35 PM # your two cents 
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The Irish Department of Justice has launched a web page dealing with their proposed data retention bill (which would retain data traffic on all land and mobile calls, faxes, emails and web usage for three years, longer than any EU nation has proposed. Of course, the Irish cabinet already passed a secret direction last April, so all your call data info has been retained since then anyway, without your knowledge... For more info, see my Data Privacy Resource link to the right, over on the blue bar). The justice dept. page is here.
Unfortunately, the page is insecure!! It won't load without you clicking to give permission, because the Department of Justice did not correctly install its security certificate (doh!!) However, I'm SURE that's just a weensy little oversight and you can trust them to make responsible and informed decisions about the security issues introduced by the retention of all our sensitive call, email and internet use data...
Once you do get in, Minister McDowell asks for submissions on the area of data retention, which you can send to him here: email@example.com. Despite my unkind sarcasm above, I'd encourage any and everyone with an interest in this issue to send a considered -- please, not belligerent -- submission. I'm sure they would welcome perspectives from those outside Ireland, too.
5:54:56 PM # your two cents 
12:05:18 PM # your two cents 
An interview with a London Times war correspondent in Iraq (Christina Lamb, see her front page story today here) on the national Irish broadcast station RTE radio just now. She is not 'embedded' but travelling as an independent; she has emphasised that she can say what she wants and is not restricted by the US/UK military in the way that 'embedded' journalists are. She is saying the situation in Iraq is much different on the ground than what she is seeing reported in the US and UK, and to what the military is giving as official versions of events to reporters. Regarding one southern Iraqi city, Umm Qasr, she says: "I think nine times we've been told it's fallen, and it still hasn't."
The US is now saying they are "securing" areas rather than actually making them "safe", she says, she feels because the allies thought they would easily control these areas once they were 'liberated'. "I think they never expected this kind of resistance," she says, also noting that these are very small towns and the allies have brought in massive firepower, more than she has ever seen in any conflict, yet seem unable to make areas safe. In contrast to stories she has seen about smiling welcomes for allied soldiers, she says Iraqis are throwing stones and are hostile to the soldiers she has travelled with in the south. Independent journalists are also now being cleared by the military from the city of Safwan; with some independents expecting the so-called embedded journos only will be allowed into these areas to control the newsflow. Update: The correct link for the audiofile of the radio interview with Christina Lamb is: http://www.rte.ie/rams/ecs/radio_weekly/Mon/pkenny2.ram and the interview starts at 1:16 on the counter; however, the entire programme is on the coverage of the situation in Iraq and begins with a long discussion with a US rear admiral. Transcript of most of it at top of this page, here.
A similar perspective comes from the Guardian's Brian Whitaker here: "With less than a week gone, the invasion forces may be slowly winning the battle on land and in the air but Iraq is winning the battle of hearts and minds. To have reached such a position against an adversary who is demonstrably one of the world's most disgusting tyrants, to have transformed him into a hero figure, and to have transformed the American flag into a symbol of oppression, is not only unfortunate but reeks of political incompetence."
11:37:17 AM # your two cents 
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Welcome to a new look for the blog... still fiddling and trying to figure out how to make changes. One thing I can't resolve is how to decrease the space between postings. I've tried changing a number of variables... And I also can't seem to get the comments to work. If anyone has any ideas, please let me know (by email, the yellow envelope on the right). A few other things need fixing too but for now, I'm going to bed!
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