IamA Al Jazeera’s Jane Arraf, Iraq's longest-serving Western correspondent, AMA!
My short bio: What's happening in Iraq? Are the self-declared jihadists winning? And does anyone have the power to restore calm? Ask me anything as I cover the latest conflicts taking place in Iraq.
My Proof: https://www.facebook.com/aljazeera/photos/a.10150243828793690.369310.7382473689/10152697470248690/?type=1
Great question - it does have resources and certainly momentum but I think the momentum is being stopped. I think people have to look at the root causes of why they are getting support in some regions. The fact remains that in areas they have taken over they are not proving able to run a state that many people would want to live in.
How are the Sunni and Shiite Arabs in Iraq feeling about the U.S. air campaign against ISIS? Most of the media coverage so far has only focused on how the Kurds and Assyrian Christians feel.
I think apart from Iraqi minorities under threat and perhaps the Kurds, very few Iraqis want a large US military presence here. They are though - particularly the Shiite - quite aware of how much of a threat IS fighters pose and when push comes to shove most people are quite happy with US air strikes if it helps restore some stability.
Jane, thank you for doing this.
Recently, a lot of more sensational media point to US influenced or caused factors leading to the current situation in Iraq: the US left too quickly with an unprepared and unregulated Iraqi military behind it, the US permitted corruption to run rampant opening holes in the civil service and civil society that could otherwise have bolstered public faith in their country, the US's refusal to become involved in Syria provided the space for ISIS to generate, etc.
How much, if any, of the current situation would you consider influenced due to US missteps? Was the rise of an organization like ISIS in the current regional climate an inevitability?
Again, thank you for your time.
Thanks for writing - I don't think it was inevitable and I don't think it's about whether the US left too quickly. I do think its very clear though now that the US was unprepared for a war in Iraq - it didn't know the country and made very fundamental mistakes. When it realized its mistakes it was too late to fix in many cases.
Do you think the Kurds can hold off IS much longer?
Not without help no. I think their forced retreat has been a wake-up call. Some of the units that gave up cities in the Ninevah plains seem to have performed quite badly and there are indications that the lack of professionalism that has plagued Iraqi security forces, although to a lesser extent, was to blame. It's been a long time since the Kurdish region was really threatened and now they are returning to their warrior roots - but they need help.
Does ISIS really have the strength and momentum to become a serious power player in the ME?
If so, do you think Jordan should be worried as the next country on their list?
A number of people have compared the current ME crises to the European religious wars (30 years' war), do you think that is a fair comparison?
If so, do you think peace might be achieved by some sort of neo-Westphalian agreement, in which each particular identity (Shia, Sunni, Kurd, Alawite, Christian, etc.) is given sovereignty over its own national/religious state?
- It is already a serious power player - it now has territory in Syria and Iraq that is bigger than Jordan.
- I think Jordan is well-protected enough that it doesn't have to worry but ISIS ideology thrives in environments where there is a huge disparity between the rich and poor, the powerful and the politically disenfranchised.
- I don't see this as a religious war in a classic sense.
- I like to think Iraq can still hold together - people revert to religious and tribal identities when they feel threatened and politicians do it when they have something to gain from it. Everyone now is very insecure and determined to hold on to whatever they have. Eventually there might well be separate Sunni and Kurdish states but I don't think its inevitable.
Are journalists currently under severe threat thanks to ISIS? It would seem to me that after Christians/Yazidis/Kurds/Shias, journalists would be high on their kill list?
The social media documentary of their "accomplishments" is absolutely terrifying, and I'm curious to know how threatened journalists feel. If it was me, I'd be on the first plane out of Dodge...
Oh you know we head in when other people are heading out… Pretty much everyone is under severe threat. We thought al-Qaeda in Iraq was horrific but their successor is much much worse. They have executed journalists in Syria - including a wonderful Iraqi cameraman. If it were up to their people we actually wouldn't exist - women out there - working.
How does food get produced for the population during conflicts? How self-sufficient is Iraq in fruit, vegetables and meat products?
Not as self-sufficient as it was. Mesopotamia was the world's original bread-based and that continued until a few decades ago - bad government policies, bad water management. Iraq now imports most of its food.
How much would you say reporters at Al Jazeera have in the way of journalistic independence from its business side and the owners. If a member of the Qatari House of Thani were implicated in something terrible, for instance, would you feel comfortable reporting it?
I understand there are issues like this in most American news outlets, and am curious as to how wide-spread the problem is, though supposedly the BBC is relatively immune.
I haven't seen business considerations affect coverage at AJE but there is no disputing the network is rooted in the Middle East - for the most part I think that's a good thing. In my experience with American networks it's really a question of the marketplace dictating coverage rather than the political bias that most people assume exists.
As a more broad question, do you think a unified single state solution in Iraq is possible, or is it untenable given the historical strife between different groups within the country (Kurds, Sunnis, Shiites, etc)?
I think Saddam was the awful glue that kind of kept the country together but I would like to think the frequent Iraqi comment that Iraq needs a strong man doesn't do the country justice. I think with good governance a lot is possible and I'm not sure Iraq has had that so far for a variety of reasons rather than the fault of any one politician.
What should I be doing if being a foreign correspondent for Al Jazeera is one of my dream jobs?
I'm a Syrian-American third year journalism student and I speak close to fluent Arabic.
That's great! A wonderful combination. Depending on where you want to go, a news desk at one of the regional centers is a good place to start to see how it all works.
How difficult is it to return home and resume "regular" life after an extensive stay in certain war torn areas?
That's a good question. It makes you appreciate the things you take for granted certainly. Just down the street from here for instance there is a group of refugees including a young man who desperately needs to be in a hospital who is lying on the ground in a construction site. It makes it a bit tough to sleep well in our nice hotels. We did a story on him and made sure he got medical treatment.
Two questions: Have you ever worked for other networks? How do the other networks compare to al Jazeera?
Yes, I was a CNN correspondent from 1998 to 2006 and I reported for NBC for a year. For CNN I opened the first permanent Western bureau in Baghdad in 1998. Interesting times.
Have there ever been any threats made against you?
Yes but I don't take them personally :)
Would you say that the self-declared jihadists have all the right questions but all the wrong answers? Most of the time, religious wars are more politically motivated than anything else. If so, is it possible to address these questions in a manner that can be satisfactory to all parties involved?
I have to say although I understand the desperation that poverty and lack of opportunity and perceived humiliation can breed, I don't really understand the mentality of self-declared Jihadists and particularly why foreign fighters from the West come here to fight. Again, I don't think this is a religious war and certainly in Iraq, the roots of this are much more complicated than religious reasons.
I will be live from iraq on Al Jazeera English in a few minutes. I will be answering more questions right after. Watch our livestream here: http://www.aljazeera.com/watch_now/
Hi Jane, is there any chance ISIS could get into Baghdad? If so, would they effectively then have control over the whole country? What would an ISIS administration look like?
Baghdad would be tough. The areas they have taken over are Sunni ones, some of which fell because the Iraqi Army wasn't welcome in those areas. Baghdad has become a largely Shiite city now protected by a variety of militias. They are able to do quite a lot of damage given the ongoing bombing campaign but fighting there way through Baghdad would I think be difficult.
Thank you Jane for answering questions.
How do you see things developing in Iraq/Syria/Turkey in the long run with respect to the Kurds? We are seeing a number of stories that Kurdish forces are the ones most effectively fighting ISIS/L in the North of Iraq, and that the US is assisting and arming the Kurds and not the Iraqi army.
Do you think this will translate into more independence from Baghdad for the Kurds, possibly leading to efforts towards an independent Kurdistan? Do you think that the cross border efforts from Syria might also translate into an attempt to break off territory there?
What we've seen in the past two months since the fall of Mosul is essentially the country being torn apart. There is a growing sense in the Kurdish region that they would be safer without the rest of Iraq but it remains a very difficult proposition to go it alone despite vastly improved relations with Turkey. So far the Kurds have delayed a referendum on independence because of the expectation there might be an Iraqi prime minister they can deal with better than the current one but who knows how long that will last.
What is the most frustrating thing about being there(maybe meaning what is something that can be fixed but is neglected)?
What are some stories that most of the public is unaware of that we should know?
There are so many many stories that I would like people to know. Someone once said to me that any Iraqi could write a book about their life and it's true - they are fascinating. It would be great to get across what is being lost here - an entire civilization, a way of life, a country that is a mosaic of extraordinary religious and ethnic identities...
Going to check on the latest political developments but back soon...
What's been your favourite meal in Iraq so far?
Oh that's such a great question. I would have to say mazgouf - fish propped up on sticks and grilled the way the Sumarians did it - on a picnic once when war was several years away with Iraqi artists near the site of Babylon. I have been very lucky.
Hello - I'm back. Back to your great questions before I head off to find out the latest on Iraq's very complicated politics...
Breaking news - prime minister Maliki explaining why he's not going to step aside - back in a bit...
What is your opinion of the movie "Control Room?"
I thought it was fascinating.
Jane, do you believe that the United States is doing the right thing by getting involved in the conflict? Do you support them and feel as if their tactics are working/will work? Also, what is your opinion on President Obama and how he's handling himself during this situation? Thank you so much for doing this. I hope this can alleviate many of the questions we have regarding the conflict
I think it's remarkable the US got involved but perhaps inevitable given the dangers of not getting involved. Air strikes alone are obviously not the answer and there are also a lot of people asking why the US didn't get involved in Syria but is now in Iraq. I think the plight of the Yazidi - the religious minority trapped on Sinjar mountain and the target of genocide - is pretty hard to ignore.
Have you seen for yourself, first hand, the effect Isis has on people close to where they're stationed? If so can you share..
I haven't been able to get to Mosul because of the danger but have spoken to friends there. A lot of life just stops, particularly for women who are told they should be seen in public as little as possible. As for the rest, its dangerous because people don't know the rules. It is as you've seen very severe - both in what is allowed in terms of behavior and the blowing up of ancient sites that pre-date Islam or contradict their version of Islam.
do you think Israel could do anything to help the Kurds and all the minorities under threat from isis considering it also poses Israel a threat?
I think any Israeli involvement would be extremely controversial although it's clear there is a long-standing Israeli-Kurdish relationship. Any open involvement would certainly backfire against minorities I would think...
Hello, could you describe a memorable time out in "the field", dangerous, funny, exciting...?
All memorable - we are watching history unfold here…. Among my top ten the first Iraqi elections since I also covered Iraq when Saddam had fake referendums in which people signed signatures for him in their own blood as a show of loyalty. Exciting is not quite the word but there's very little like seeing an RPG - rocket propelled grenade - land quite close to you and then not explode...
Thank you for doing this AMA and for the great journalism you have risked your life for all this time to bring to us!
What is the current (ie., ISIS, US jets) geopolitical affect on the tribal structures and what kind of political changes do you see on a map (new states? boundaries? etc.)?
Thank you VERY much!!
Thank you. The tribes are very divided. Hugely important as you know but they need some incentive to back Iraq as a state - that might be doable if there is a new government willing to reach out to them. I think as long as they're so politically divided we would be unlikely to see them creating new geographic entities.
Jane - you met my dad in 03/04 in Iraq where he was a Brigade Commander and again at the Council on Foreign Relations in 05/06. You later took me out to lunch in New York City to talk with me about my future goals and aspirations (I was a junior in high school at the time). I just wanted to say thank you, I'll never forget that!
I do have a question. What do you think it would take to increase the popularity/political strength of moderate voices/moderate Islam in the Middle East?
Thanks so much for writing! I'd love to get in touch again - can you contact me through twitter? @janearraf That is a question everyone is struggling with. Funny that it takes courage for political and religious leaders these days to be moderate. I look at Iraq and see that moderate voices are actively in danger and I think that's partly because of the breakdown of rule of law. For moderate voices to thrive there has to be a certain level of safety...
What is the one story you always wanted to tell but never got a chance to?
There are lots of stories I would like to retell in the sense of catching up with people I interviewed years ago to find out what happened to them - families in Fallujah for instance who have now been displaced three times… I've been able to tell a lot of stories but there is always more to the necessarily short stories we tell on TV….
How much responsibility does Nouri al-Maliki and his government have for creating an environment that allowed ISIS to conquer so much of northern Iraq? Did the Maliki government's treatment of Sunni Iraqis make ISIS's goals easier to achieve?
I think Maliki is personally getting perhaps a larger share than warranted of the blame for a wider failure but yes I think his policies are partly at fault. I've seen the country's political climate become more and more sectarian and power more and more consolidated. In Fallujah and other Sunni areas I've been in neighborhoods where young men in almost every home have been rounded up and imprisoned, some still held months later without charge, some sentenced to death after confessions extracted through torture. All of that does create the environment that has helped ISIS thrive through passive acceptance of their presence as well as active recruitment. The sectarian nature of some Iraqi security forces hasn't helped either.
How much does Qatar influence your news coverage? Would you resign if they made you compromise your journalistic integrity like others have on RT?
Jazeera English is a different model and I wouldn't really see compromising my journalistic integrity as a likely possibility but yes I would resign. Most of us see journalism as a calling rather than a job. If I weren't doing something I thought of as worthwhile or ethical I would resign in a heartbeat.
Hi Jane, thank you for taking your time to do this! I have followed your work for a long time! Ever since the US invasion of Iraq me and many others have wondered if we could ever see a fully autonomous and independent Kurdistan, so my question is:
Do you think these recent developments following the escalating progress of ISIS can somehow lead or have an effect on a possible independent Kurdish people?
Thanks for watching! I think this country and this region have been turned upside down including the Kurdish region. I would like to believe this is an opportunity for Iraqi politicians and people to realize the dangers of division and come together but I think perhaps the more likely scenario is that Iraq perhaps won't survive in its current form. In any case, most people believe the Kurds have a right to their own homeland and I would say they've suffered quite enough through history…
Thanks for this AMA. A simple, but I feel important question: Many of us who watch the media feel like a passive audience in a world going through much turmoil and change. What are constructive things people in other countries can do for this situation other then simply absorb the news reports?
Thank you for that wonderful question. I think already anyone keeping up on the news is doing a really constructive thing by knowing what's going on and being able to make informed decisions - whether it's about who to elect or how to make a positive impact on the world. I know what you mean about feeling like a passive audience and I sort of understand when people say they don't watch the news because it's all so depressing. I personally think though that people can have a huge impact and that collective action on politicians or corporations can make a difference. I will think about your question more.
In your estimation, how many of the insurgents are ideologically alligned with IS and how many are Sunnis who are hoping they can tame IS after Sunni dominance is restored?
Great question - there is clearly an important faction made up of Saddam loyalists (Naqshabandia) and elements of Sunni tribes. Mosul seems to be evidence that they can start out as allies but ISIS doesn't do long-term relationships.
Thanks everyone for the great questions and sorry I didn't get to all of them this evening - it's after midnight and we are still covering Maliki, the air strikes and the humanitarian tragedy here. I'll try to answer the rest of the questions later.
And please do stay tuned for other Jazeera AMAs. Thanks again.
What is a normal day like for War Correspondents?
I have to admit I never really liked the title war correspondent - I think must of us who have covered the Middle East for years had war come to us rather than us seeking it out. I've been on the front lines throughout the war and I think there's a real value to it but at the end of the day we're really ideally covering a country rather than a battle. Having said that if there is an actual war going on you're guided by the troops you're with or if you're not embedded covering as safely as possible the fighting going on. I guess the short answer at the end of this long explanation (sorry) is that there is really no typical day.
When Syria shot down a Turkish aircraft I recall Turkey wanting to use the defense article in NATO, but they were talked down by the US and other members into instead invoking the article to call for a meeting.
Here's what I'm getting at: Turkey seemed very eager and ready to invade Syria. Should NATO allow and encourage this now that ISIS has taken over large parts of both Syria and Iraq? Should Turkey be the nation with "boots on the ground" intervening to topple the Islamic state? Would this be a net-positive for the region, in your opinion?
No, I think Turkish intervention given its history in the region and sectarian tension would be a disaster. It is striking though that the US military has become involved in Iraq after refusing for so long to become more involved in Syria.
What is the Iraqi public's general opinion on Haider al-Ibadi being appointed Prime Minister?
I really think Iraqis are just terribly relieved that this ordeal could perhaps soon be over...
I read your title as Iraqs longest -surviving Western correspondent. How do you feel about that and what are the dangers you have to deal with on a day to day basis?
It hasn't been lost on me that the only reason I'm the longest-serving Western correspondent still covering Iraq is that I'm still alive. And grateful for it obviously. You kind of get used to the danger - I'm not sure whether that's good or bad. I think people really take for granted in other places being able to walk down a street without worrying about car bombs or being caught in a crossfire. The dangers for a long time were kidnappings - now they are being in the wrong place at the wrong time and being caught in a bombing. If you've covered Iraq for a while, you see a lot of friends die. That's why I want to be here when and if this country turns the corner - to know that maybe it was worth it.
A lot of people have grown concerned about the various forms of biases that may be influencing the media. What is your take on this? Which biases are you concerned about within your organization?
I applaud the diplomatic wording of a difficult question. Is there a sectarian bias do you mean? Not so much - AJE is made up mostly of former CNN or BBC types. What I would be concerned with in a wider sense is any atmosphere that stifles debate which I believe is the oxygen of any newsroom.
What are your thoughts on the current Shi'a-Sunni divide, specifically concerning countries where both communities are present (Iraq, Syria, Lebanon etc.)? Do you think that states will have to be defined on the basis of sectarian identity or are pluralistic politics and heterogeneous nation-states stil a possible reality? What do you think is required in order to achieve a stable political geography?
I don't think that states have to be defined on the basis of sectarian identity. Let me see if I can get back to your question though with a rationale for that in this current climate. It's after midnight on a day that started very very early and we're still chasing political developments. Your question deserves a fuller answer.
Thanks for doing this AMA!
What is it like working for a state owned publication? Have you ever felt pressure to uphold a certain bias, especially when reporting on such contentious topics as the current happenings in the middle east?
And, secondly, do hold any personal opinion on what a feasible resolution for all this conflict may look like?
Thank you. I studied journalism and have worked in journalism for two decades, mostly for American and British news organizations and this doesn't feel any different really. If AJE is to be credible it can't really hold biases. I think the only solution in this conflict is getting rid of the militias that have sprung up - particularly in Baghdad, reactivating a home-grown force that can drive out IS fighters, cracking down on corruption, reforming the correctional system and making sure that oil money actually benefits Iraqis… I guess that's a long list isn't it?
Thank you so much for doing this.
What do you think about the recent US air attacks? Were they warranted and do you support President Obama?
I'm kind of an old-school journalist where I think it's a really good thing if any political opinion I might have isn't apparent in my reporting. Also I'm Canadian. I've seen from the ground what air attacks do so that isn't just a phrase for me it's people and bodies. But the alternative I think in this case might be even worse and perhaps its the only way to fight this.
Do tourists still visit Iraq?
Yes! At the Iraq museum a few months ago I met British and Iraqis tourists on a package tour - it wasn't that long ago they were actually going to Ninevah near Mosul. I would say tourism has probably tapered off now for even the most intrepid travelers. But yes it is possible in 'normal' times to visit Iraq as a tourist and be welcomed as one..
Reliable media like the (Australian) ABC and Deutsche Welle have painted a bleak picture of the state of the Iraqi military in light of recent events in Iraq. How would you assess the readiness of the Iraqi Armed Forces, and do you believe they will be capable (in conjunction with the Kurdish Peshmerga) of halting ISIS' advance?
The fall of Mosul on June 9 has displaced upwards of 500,000 people by some accounts1 . What is the humanitarian situation like at the edge of the ISIS advance?
The fall of Mosul revealed huge weaknesses in the Iraqi Army and federal police - top commanders who bribed their way into posts, rampant corruption throughout, lack of supply capability and sectarianism. At least four army brigades will have to be reconstituted. They are not by themselves capable of fighting the IS partly because they aren't accepted in many Sunni communities. With a restructured army they might stand a better chance. There are now up to a million displaced throughout northern Iraq - it's a growing humanitarian crisis.
Who exactly is buying oil from ISIS?
In Syria? It's not entirely clear to me, only because I've been focused on Iraq. In Iraq they've taken over several small fields but are not selling oil...
I will be live from iraq on Al Jazeera English in a few minutes. I will be answering more questions right after. Watch our livestream here: http://www.aljazeera.com/watch_now/
Thank you so much for doing this, Jane.
As someone who is desperately trying to break into the field of journalism, with aspirations of doing exactly what you do, I was wondering if you could impart some advice as to how you got to where you are.
I feel like I am doing everything possible to make a name for myself, but it just is not enough. What are some "outside the box" tactics that you may have used to make yourself known?
Thank you so much for your time.
Thanks so much - I have to say that I think it's a lot tougher these days to get into 'quality' journalism. But perseverance is a large part of it. Send me a twitter message on @janearraf and I'd be happy to give you whatever advice I can - when it's a little quieter of course...
And I'm back.
Thanks for doing the AMA.
Being the longest serving western correspondent in Iraq is no small feat, what drives you to work and get you out of bed every day?
Thanks for that - Endless curiosity and a nagging sense that there are lots of people out there whose voices need to be heard…. Also it's so much more fun than working in an office :)
Do you think ISIS has momentum and resource to become an established state, or is its success fleeting?
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