Gen. Petraeus vs. the British Press

Multi-National Force-Iraq commanding General David Petraeus has little use for recent claims in the British press that the Surge is on the verge of collapse in parts of Iraq. In an e-mail to Pajamas Media, Petraeus wrote that the story, as reported in the Guardian were "based on dated info."

In addition, he said that reports that the Iraqi government is refusing to employ Sunnis are incorrect."The National Reconciliation Committee just approved a list of over 3,500 names of Diyala Sons of Iraq for the Iraqi Police," wrote General Petraeus in his email, a sign that more jobs integrating the Sunnis within the government's security forces were forthcoming.

Petraeus also responded to a GuardianFilms video report for Britain’s Channel 4 on March 20 charged that Sunni militias in Iraq were not being paid by U.S. forces and were on the verge of staging a national strike because they were not getting jobs within the Iraq government.

A Guardian print article also made that claim followed on March 21.Petraeus said in his correspondence that a threatened strike in Diyala was "resolved a week or two ago" when Sunni militiamen called "Sons of Iraq" (SoI) were told that if they didn't work, they wouldn't get paid.

Anti-war activists in the United States had been quick to cite the original Guardian video story, with Logan Murphy of Crook and Liars using the story as an reason to declare, "Our occupation of Iraq and the fragile surge has been all but blacked out in the U.S. media, but thankfully, the foreign press is still out there trying to bring the truth to the rest of the world."

In his blog at The Atlantic, Andrew Sullivan sniffed in reaction to the Guardian print story that the report constitutes "Some troubling news from Iraq. It appears our bribes aren't being paid on time."It appears that Sullivan has difficulty distinguishing between bribes and wages, as the monies owed to the SoI are for security services, typically patrols and the guarding of checkpoints within communities to prevent al Qaeda infiltration.

Col .Steven Boylan, Public Affairs Officer for General Petraeus, told Pajamas Media that "the issues up in Diyala were fixed and [they] have been back to work for a while." Boylan noted that "We have a release on that in fact on the web site [located here -- ed.] and it also was put out to the media, and discussed in our press conference." Col. Bill Buckner, MNC-I PAO at Al-Faw Palace, Camp Victory stated: "We have looked into the allegation of the recent Guardian story, and find that there are currently no significant reports of pay problems with Sons of Iraq groups in Iraq. Past reports of pay problems were resolved on a case by case basis. Additionally, we have not received any reports of an impending national strike. There was a strike in Baqubah from February 8th through March 8th, but that has been resolved, and the Sons of Iraq are now working again. I think the Guardian may be reporting old news."

In addition to falsely reporting the death of the Surge, several factual details of the Guardian report were also apparently incorrect.The Guardian claimed 80,000 SoI participants, 16,000 less than actual figure of 96,000 provided by Multi-National Corps-Iraq. The newspaper also claimed that Sunnis have only been provided "only a handful" of jobs by the government of Iraq: 12,000 Sunni militiamen have already been transitioned to security or non-security positions within the Iraqi government.

The Guardian has been challenged over previous stories relating to the Sons of Iraq, including a November 2007 story in which the reporter compared a Sunni militia commander unfavorably to a mafia don. Repeatedly, the Guardian has portrayed Sunni militiamen in Iraq as one-dimensional caricatures, thuggish mobsters in Baghdad's city streets, or rank mercenary rubes who would sacrifice security in their communities for dollars.

Neither characterization is accurate. Sunni tribesmen did not join the Sahwa councils for profit: they did so to protect their communities against the barbarism and raw brutality of al Qaeda against Sunni civilians. The rejection of al Qaeda's torture and terrorism would continue whether or not Americans were paying Sunni militias to man checkpoints.

This mundane reality may not provide the drama and sensationalist copy: which is perhaps the reason that the Guardian isn’t particularly interested in reporting it accurately.

Bob Owens blogs at Confederate Yankee