Government ministers now talk of Iraq as a tragedy, as if it was a natural disaster and they had no hand in its making. There’s a public revulsion at the violent sectarian struggles best summed up as “a plague on all their houses”, as even the horror gives way to exhaustion.
The irony is that in this great age of communications and saturation media, this is perhaps the most important war to become nigh on impossible to report. Unless the reporter is embedded with the occupation forces, it takes either terrifying courage or extraordinary ingenuity to bring images to our screens of those caught up in the awful maelstrom of this imploded country. Without the human stories that bring people and their suffering so vividly to life, there is little chance of public opinion re-engaging with the biggest political calamity of our time.
The Iraq war represents the end of the media as a major actor in war. In Bosnia journalists stirred western Europe’s conscience with their vivid accounts; these were people we came to understand, recognise and empathise with, and public opinion forced recalcitrant governments to take note and act. It was a lesson not lost on the Kosovans: they ensured the media saw every atrocity, and the coverage was used to secure a comparable outcome to Bosnia – western governments were forced to act. But in Iraq the number of journalists killed (now at least 138) means that this war is near private – the images and people who might make the horror of this war real don’t reach our screens. It’s no longer a war that is accessible to public scrutiny or to democratic engagement.