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Escaped journalist exposes western hypocrisy

Delhi-based Syrian journalist, who recently escaped Iraqi captivity, said given a choice between external power and Saddam, Iraqis will go for the latter.

india Updated: Apr 05, 2003 14:55 IST
Agencies

"Embedded" Arab journalist Waiel S H Awwad, who recently escaped after being captured by Baath party supporters, said the Iraqi people had "great fighting spirit" and they resist the coalition forces not because of any love for President Saddam Hussein, but because they hate a colonial power ruling over them again. He also questioned the coverage of the war by the Western media, saying it has become an integral part of the war machine.

"Iraqis have had a very bad experience with the British colonial regime and given a choice between the two evils, they would definitely choose Saddam."Waiel S H Awwad

"It is true that the Iraqi people have suffered a lot under the regime of Saddam Hussein and people are scared to talk openly against him," Awwad said adding that "Iraqis have had a very bad experience with the British colonial regime and given a choice between the two evils, they would definitely choose Saddam."



The New Delhi-based Syrian journalist whohad beencovering the war for the newly launched Al Arabiya television channel,said he saw a great fighting spirit in the Iraqi people. "People came from all over to know how they can fight the coalition troops who had much superior ammunition. The rewards that the regime gave for killing enemy soldiers and downing their planes obviously helped."

"Once you are embedded with them you can write only what they want you to write. You sign papers that stipulate that you will get your reports cleared by them before sending it to your editors,"Awwadtold IANS on his return to New Delhi.

'Second birth'

Awwad, who was embedded with the 3rd unit of the US Marine Corps, was captured two days after the war started on March 20 when he ventured with his cameraman and technician into an Iraqi village to "get the other side of the story".

"I saw the Iraqis kill 20 British soldiers (near Zuber) out of which only two were acknowledged."Waiel S H Awwad

He was captured by the resistance group of Iraq's ruling Baath Party near Zuber, a small town some 20 km north of Basra. Awwad said he was captured because the Iraqi fighters, who were in civilian clothes, mistook him for a Caucasian because of his attire and physical appearance.



When he said that he was an Arab, he was scolded for moving around with the Americans and the British, who were considered invaders.

"You should be fighting a jehad against the coalition forces," he was told to which he replied "My jehad is my camera and my mike."

Awwad said the Iraqi authorities considered him a traitor the punishment for which was death in Iraq.

"They had seen my face on television as I had covered Afghanistan but said, 'You came with the wrong people. You should have come through Baghdad. You don't have the authority of the Iraqi people. You are an infidel'," Awwad said.



They were detained in a house as messages went back and forth between his captors and the regional Baath Party office. The final word was "don't let them leave. We are coming to take them," he said.

"That is the irony of it. You have to submit everything that is filed from the front to military censorship. Still they sit in judgement of reports from the other side. They call them enemy lines. Whose enemy? Are you a journalist or a soldier?"Waiel S H Awwad

"Execution is the order for you," his captors told Awwad and his colleagues.



But on the eighth day of their captivity, freedom came in the form two Kuwaiti informers. The three were bundled into a car when the guards were away and taken to an area controlled by the British.

Awwad, who returned to India on Friday, said that was the end of the war coverage for him and his crew. "We had to return because we had lost all our equipment."

His aged parents in Damascus, who were mourning his "loss" and were receiving callers with condolence messages, were thrilled when he called them to say he was safe.

"I called my wife and children (in Delhi) next," said the father of four, describing his experience as a "second birth".

Awwad came to New Delhi 15 years ago to study medicine at Safdarjang Medical College but after obtaining the degree switched to the media and stayed on to be perhaps the best known Arab face in the Indian capital.

'Reporters or soldiers'

He said the coverage of the war by the Western media had totally disillusioned him. All reports filed by the embedded journalists were censored. "If you want to be with them (US and allied troops) you have to follow what they tell you.

"They will never tell the truth of how many of their soldiers have been killed," Awwad said, adding that "during my period of captivity I saw the Iraqis kill 20 British soldiers (near Zuber) out of which only two were acknowledged."

"The restrictions on reporting (for embedded journalists) are such that it only justifies the reason for those who wanted to go to war."Waiel S H Awwad

"You can't call it press freedom when you very well know that you are not giving the whole truth. We were the only ones who ventured out to report the other side," he said, adding they could do so because unlike other embedded journalists they were allowed to have their own vehicle because of the loads of equipment they carried.



Awwad said it smacked of hypocrisy when Western media like the BBC prefaced reports from their Arab correspondents from Iraq that they were being "supervised" by the authorities.

"That is the irony of it. This is what bugs you. You have to submit everything that is filed from the front to military censorship. Still they sit in judgement of reports from the other side. They call them enemy lines. Whose enemy? Are you a journalist or a soldier?" Awwad asked.

"Though they are there to write, you forget about the Iraqi people. But you lose all your objectivity. The restrictions on reporting are such that it only justifies the reason for those who wanted to go to war."

Catastrophe unfolding in Iraq

There is a big human catastrophe unfolding in Iraq and there are a lot of people fleeing from the cities, Awwad said.

Referring to the many Iraqi civilians killed because the coalition troops could not distinguish a soldier from a civilian, he said, "If the British and the Americans don't win the confidence of the local population, there would be more casualties."

The physical infrastructure and the communication network in the country has collapsed, he said adding that the B-52 bombers deal a devastating blow to the psyche of the people. It would take a long time to rebuild it, he added.

First Published: Apr 05, 2003 14:28 IST