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They Were Expendable

07.26.2005 05:02 | DISPATCHES

From the Dossier of an Ex-Patriot.

The New York Times is a major lobbyist seeking further deregulation of media ownership from the Federal Communications Commission. But when one of its own was impounded, it's as if it realized, never mind the mergers and acquisitions, the integrity of its core product was being impugned. In other words, the Times has become noticeably less inclined to let its pursuit of TV and radio stations dictate its content.

Dexter Filkins was already one of the Times's token truth-tellers. In Defying U.S. Efforts, Guerrillas in Iraq Refocus and Strengthen with David S. Cloud on Sunday (July 24), he asserts that, "A string of recent attacks. . . has brought home for many Iraqis that the democratic process [sic]. . . unfolding since the Americans restored Iraqi sovereignty in June 2004 has failed to isolate the insurgents and, indeed, has become the target itself."

Furthermore, Filkins and Cloud maintain that "the insurgents are choosing their targets with greater precision, and executing and dramatizing [Editor's italics] their attacks with more sophistication. . ."

If it's drama you want, revisit the July 19 assassination of two moderate Sunni leaders, Mejbil al-Sheik Isa and Damin al-Obeidi, who had been helping write Iraq's constitution. Waiting to kill them off until after the painstaking months Shiite leaders and American officials spent coaxing them to the drafting table had to be the work of a skilled ironist.

Meanwhile, another sure dramatic hand milked the so-close-yet-so-far plot device for all it was worth. On March 4, Major-General Nicola Calipari of the Italian SISMI (military intelligence) had just negotiated the freedom of hostage journalist Giuliana Sgrena. Even though they were making their triumphant return on the Green Zone's secure VIP road, US forces managed to find some pretext to open fire on their vehicle.

Directing Calipari to throw his body on Giuliana Sgrena, get shot, and die in her arms just yards from the airport makes this story a strong candidate to win the Haji award for best screenplay in a war.

Meanwhile, the Haji for best action thriller will likely go to the production that premiered in Musayyib on July 17. Ducking beneath a truck of liquefied gas, its principal player ignited a giant fireball that killed more than 70 and wounded more than twice that number. Talk about your classic movie explosions.

While The Thief of Baghdad has nothing on these stories, in truth, every killing has its own tale to tell. When there's too many, though, individual deaths get lost in the shuffle.

Still, one would think the numbers in which Iraqis are dying are too big to ignore. But between the "We don't do body counts" American military and a public too discrete to mention war casualties (including our own) in polite company, we're managing.

In fact, our struggles in this arena would make a powerful movie in its own right. Unfortunately, the perfect title for it was snatched up by John Ford at the end of World War II: They Were Expendable.


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