Checking the Hard Facts

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Thursday, December 8, 2005; 1:00 PM

Some American journalists intent on fact-checking President Bush's vision of Iraq are finding it too dangerous to inspect the areas Bush yesterday cited as models of success.

Which sort of tells you the story right there.

While conceding that American efforts to rebuild Iraq have been flawed at times, Bush nevertheless yesterday touted the effectiveness of reconstruction projects in Najaf and Mosul in particular as examples of the "quiet, steady progress" transforming the country.

So how are those projects really doing? Hard to say.

It's too dangerous to allow visitors to inspect them freely, Rick Barton of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington told James Glanz of the New York Times. "I bet if we could get around and see these places that they would not be the story that he's telling," Barton said.

There were, however, at least a couple reporters plying their trade in Bush's exemplary cities yesterday.

In The Washington Post, Saad Sarhan in Najaf teamed up with Robin Wright in Washington for a story that contrasted Bush's words with the facts on the ground.

"Some Iraqis challenged Bush's assertions," they write. "In Najaf, Rafid Farhan, 33, said security is now controlled by Moqtada Sadr, a young cleric and militia leader, and not U.S. troops or the Iraqi government. . . .

"[M]ilitia fighters of the two rival religious parties that control the Shiite holy city recently clashed in street battles. A few days ago, former prime minister Ayad Allawi was attacked during a visit by an angry, rock-throwing mob that some Iraqis charge was backed by a militia -- and that Allawi called an assassination attempt."

As for Mosul, Wright was tagging along with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when she made a stop there last month -- "although the city is still so volatile that she flew by Black Hawk helicopter to the U.S. military headquarters and never got into the city. . . .

" 'Progress is running far behind Iraqi expectations in virtually every area,' said Wayne White, head of the State Department's Iraq intelligence team from 2003 to 2005 and now an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute. 'In their view, most Iraqis are not seeing "amazing progress." All too many of them live in constant danger, with less electricity in many areas than under Saddam Hussein.' "

Alaa al-Morjani and Sindbad Ahmed write in an Associated Press story datelined Najaf: "Najaf is a largely peaceful Shiite city 100 miles south of Baghdad that has not suffered from the sectarian attacks ravaging other parts of the country. But rivalries between Shiite factions have occasionally become violent, and many complain that militant political parties and militias dominate city government and security forces. . . .

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