During the first Gulf War, CNN’s Peter Arnett became known as “Baghdad Pete” for his willingness to air the Iraqi government point of view. He highlighted the bombing of a so-called “Baby Milk Factory” that some U.S. officials said had been used for biological weapons production. Arnett is back, doing National Geographic broadcasts for MSNBC. His latest, “Baghdad on the Brink,” features several so-called “man on the street” interviews.
The Arnett broadcasts are a good reason to review a White House publication, “Apparatus of Lies,” which got little coverage from the major media. The document points out, “The easiest way to manipulate images is to control and censor outgoing broadcasts. During the Gulf War, the Iraqis would not allow CNN and other media to broadcast scenes of damage to Iraqi military installations?only footage of civilian casualties.”
The same kind of thing happens today. Jeremy Scahill, a left-wing journalist, reports a press center had been established on the ground floor of the Iraqi Ministry of Information, and that inside the building, “tiny 6′ x 6′ cubicles are now the hottest real estate on the Baghdad market. Officially, the space will cost you $500 a month.” He says the media also pay fees, including $100 a day per journalist, $150 a day for permission to use a satellite telephone, $50-100 a day for a mandatory government escort, $50-100 a day for a car and driver, and $75 a day for a room at the Al Rashid Hotel. In addition, there’s thousands of dollars daily for each direct live satellite feed for TV networks, and assorted bribes or “tips.” Plus, money is handed over at border crossings and the airport.
Scahill reported this information in the context of browbeating the Fox News channel. He said, “It is particularly ironic that while Rupert Murdoch’s ‘troops’ from Fox News Network rally for the war, dismissing antiwar activists as dupes of the Iraqi regime, the ‘network America trusts’ is paying ‘Saddam?hand over fist tens of thousands of dollars every month.” But now, Fox News correspondents have been ordered to leave Baghdad, in retaliation for the expulsion of an Iraqi journalist from the U.S. for “activities considered harmful to U.S. national security.” This is language that means espionage. The expulsion of Fox News is more evidence of Saddam’s iron control of the media in Baghdad.
On his return to the Iraqi capital, Arnett highlighted the Amiriyah Bunker-Shelter, which is now a monument to the “civilian” casualties of the first Gulf War. But the White House points out that it had been converted into a military command-and-control center. Civilians had been admitted to the top floor at night, while the Iraqi military continued to use the lower level as a command-and-control center.
Khidir Hamza, former director general of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program, confirms this, noting that during the Gulf War he noticed long black limousines slithering in and out of an underground gate in the back. “I asked around,” he said, “and was told that it was a command center. After considering it more closely, I decided it was probably Saddam’s own operational base.”