Re: Iraq: Farnaz Fassihi Letter: The real scoop

Randy Black writes: As a fact checking WAISer, I questions parts of Phyllis. Gardner’s email from Farnaz Fassihi, the “Middle Eastern bureau chief" for the Wall Street Journal. I question this report especially after Ms. Gardner recently claimed that the Bush Administration was “quietly trying to push a new mandatory military conscription bill through Congress” when it was the Democrats who “quietly introduced the bills nearly two years ago.”
The Democratic bill, led by Charles Rangel, D-New York, was introduced in January 2003 for the soul purpose of making an anti-war, anti-Bush political statement. The record shows that all of the bill’s sponsors were Democrats. WAISers may remember that Rangel is the same New York Democrat who falsely claimed that poor blacks were the principal American victims of the Bush War on Iraq. The facts, of course, show otherwise.
Addendum: Representative Rangel’s bill was finally put to a vote last night. 402-2 against passage. Rangel even voted against the bill’s passage, but evidently two other Democrats did not get the message and voted for it.
Now, Ms. Gardner reprints an Internet chain letter claiming it’s from Farnaz Fassihi, the “Middle Eastern bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal.” It just ain’t so. Fassihi is a “staff reporter,” nothing more, probably not for long, and certainly not a Middle Eastern Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal. Rather than attempting to give added credibility to Ms. Fassihi by giving her a “title,” Ms. Gardner would be better served by simply letting the reporter’s personal email stand by itself. It’s a strong letter, if valid. But it seems to conflict with her published stories as recently as two days prior to the Email letter. As support for my claim that disputes that of Ms. Gardner, here is Ms. Fassihi’s byline as published Sept. 27, 2004 in the Wall Street Journal:
FARNAZ FASSIHI  Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL  Nothwithstanding the claims in the Internet chain letter, here is an excerpt from one of Ms. Fassihi’s stories from Sept. 27, 2004. It paints a slightly more positive picture.

Iraqis Seeking Relief Fulfill Wanderlust
September 27, 2004; Page A17
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Amid the protracted hostilities here, air travel remains mostly off-limits to the public as mortars and rockets continue to pummel the airport. Ground travel, too, is a dicey proposition for civilians and soldiers alike, with roadside explosives being just one among many deadly dangers. And yet, Iraqis are braving these obstacles and more for respites from the chaos and uncertainty of daily life: A burgeoning tourist industry is taking root, spurred by the very violence that is making travel so perilous and fed by the newfound freedom to leave at will.Bright yellow banners hanging at street corners throughout Baghdad flap in the wind, offering Iraqis a chance to explore Syria, visit Egypt for a swim in the Red Sea, tour the Shiite Muslim shrines of Iran or savor the relative calm of their own nation's Kurdish north via weekend getaways. More attractive than what any of these destinations boast is simply the chance to leave their troubles behind. For the first time in more than two decades, the travel business is booming here. Nearly one hundred new travel agencies have opened in the past year, competing to offer package deals to a rapidly increasing number of tourists. "The nicest thing about traveling is psychological relief," says Haidar Yasser, the 30-year-old owner of Al-Hani travel agency. "Tourists say they want to go to a place that is safe, beautiful and quiet and forget about this mess for a few days."

Syria ranks as the No. 1 destination -- a 10-day package including transportation, hotel and guided tours costs about $250. The Kurdish north, with its cool weather, green mountains, rivers and waterfalls, is a second favorite spot. On a recent early morning at the crack of dawn, several dozen Iraqi families gathered at a street corner waiting for the tour bus from Al-Hani agency to arrive. Most passengers were heading to Syria, but a dozen planned to fly on to Egypt. The hurdles for travelers are considerable. The only commercial flight available to the public is a chartered Royal Jordanian flight that costs $600 for a one-way trip to Amman, Jordan. Besides bombs, road travel carries the risk of highway robbery, kidnapping and the crossfire of raging battles. A few weeks ago, one of the agency's buses en route to Irbil was shot up, injuring a driver and his assistant and forcing the tour to return to Baghdad. But the pack of tourists seems undaunted. To take the passengers' minds off the risks, a young tour leader on the Al-Hani bus doubles as a showman for the duration of the drive. He sings popular Arabic songs, dances, tells jokes and engages the crowd in games such as bingo. In about eight hours, the bus will reach Damascus, and "it will be all over. We can relax and do every thing we can't do in Iraq, like have fun and not worry," says Sara Bazaaz, a giddy 17-year-old who is leaving Iraq for the first time in her life. Her parents have traveled to Europe, Asia and the Middle East but haven't left the country since 1980. "Iraq was safe before, but like a prison," says Shameel Bazaaz, a 52-year-old mechanical engineer. Aside from the desire to flee the mayhem, Iraqis have wanderlust. For the first time in nearly 25 years, they are allowed to leave the country without needing authorization. Saddam Hussein's regime banned traveling abroad unless one had special government permission -- and it cost the equivalent of about $200, which most Iraqis couldn't afford.

RH: The reports by Farnaz Fassihi should be judged on their own merits, not according to her title.  It would seem that she toned down her reports for the Wall Street Journal, but expressed herself  candidly in her e-mails to friends.  If the implication is that the newspaper is silencing her or firing her for these e-mails, it would be a violation of freedom of the press.

From France, Christopher Jones writes: This devastating letter from the Wall Street Journal Iraq correspondent  Farnaz Fassihi comes as no surprise: if you live in Europe and follow the nightly news broadcasts, it has been clear for a long, long time that Bush's illegal war in Iraq (the qualification comes from the UN Secretary General) was much more than a mistake; it is an unmitigated disaster, cooked up by the Neo-Cons to satisfy the dreams of world domination by a Jewish cabal.  It hasn't worked because the guerrillas are more determined and will prevail; just like in Spain in 1808, Vietnam, Algeria, and elsewhere.  But what truly amazes most of us is just how many Americans still support the re-election of an outright liar for president, who started an illegal war that will be eventually lost -- I can only conclude that the US media is so firmly muzzled by its moguls that most Americans just don't know or care: why was this letter published "through the back door?"

Daryl DeBell writes: I rarely agree with Christopher Jones, but it is impossible to disagree with his comments on Farbaz Fassihi's letter. Bush has paralyzed Kerry by asserting his "resolve" and making dissent equivalent either to treason (giving aid and comfort to the enemy), or simply soft-headedness. The idea that Iraqis will suddenly arise like Phoenix from the ashes of their ravaged country and become happy, enthusiastic, democracy loving, market economy practitioners, is delusional, but evidently persuasive. Rationality is a weak reed in politics, and somehow Bush has managed to seize the high ground. The trouble is that even if Kerry wins, the mess is so bad that I doubt he can extricate us.

Glenye Cain writes: I don't see a contradiction between Farnaz Fassihi's privately e-mailed assertion that the situation is dreadful and stifling in Iraq and her publicly printed assertion that Iraqis want to get out of their immediate environment. The two certainly are not mutually exclusive, and it's entirely logical that one leads to the other--and that Iraqis who are brave enough to take the streets to the airport are attempting to head for the door. This should not be terribly surprising. Fassihi's description in the story Mr. Black quotes is hardly rosy and seems to me to be in line with, though less emotional than, her personal description: "Amid the protracted hostilities here, air travel remains mostly off-limits to the public as mortars and rockets continue to pummel the airport. Ground travel, too, is a dicey proposition for civilians and soldiers alike, with roadside explosives being just one among many deadly dangers. And yet, Iraqis are braving these obstacles and more for respites from the chaos and uncertainty of daily life."

As for her proper title, it is regrettable if she wasn't accurately described, but an error in Phyllis Gardner's e-mail to WAIS doesn't necessarily cast any sinister shadow over Fassihi's own writings, and whether Fassihi is a bureau chief or a--gasp!--staff reporter seems irrelevant as long as a) she really is on the ground in Iraq and b) the observations expressed in the e-mail really are hers. If Mr. Black find out that Fassihi's personal e-mail is actually one of those well-know internet hoaxes, well, then he'll have a legitimate gripe.

Your comments are invited. Read te home page of the World Association of International Studies (WAIS) by simply double-clicking on: E-mail to Mail to Ronald Hilton, Hoover Institution, Stanford, CA 94305-6010. Please inform us of any change of e-mail address.

Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: October 8, 2004