Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Iran experts admonish the Financial Times

The Financial Times has refused to publish the following letter:

Dear Sir,

In the context of the widely-reported ambitions of US neo-conservatives to mount a military attack on Iran, we, Iranian/British academics, are disappointed to note that your article (”Al-Qaeda linked to operations from Iran“, by Stephen Fidler, dated 8th July 2007) adds the Financial Times to the list of “reputable” newspapers prepared to engage in amplifying the drum beats of a new and bloody war in the Middle East.

Would you, for example, have led with the headline: “Al-Qaeda linked to operations from Pakistan”? This would have been far closer to the truth, but no one in the White House is seeking war with Pakistan.

Your report is hardly “news”. The Guardian splashed precisely the same story – also citing anonymous officials – on May 22, alleging that “Iran is secretly forging ties with al-Qaeda elements and Sunni Arab militias in Iraq”.

Indeed, the FT is but the last of the British “quality” newspapers, with the exception of the Independent, to run recent front-page stories claiming that Iran is a major factor in the Iraqi insurgency.

However, any Middle-East expert would have told you that the likelihood that the Shia Iranian regime is backing Sunni extremists in Al-Qaeda is slim in the extreme. Of course Iran has its clients in Iraq, as everyone knows, they are members of the Iraqi government. Why should Iran back the mortal enemies of SCIRI and the Da’wa?

Only this weekend, the Associated Press reported that the leader of an al-Qaeda umbrella group in Iraq threatened to wage war against Iran unless it stops supporting Shiites in Iraq. Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, leader of the group Islamic State in Iraq, said on a website commonly used by insurgent groups that his Sunni fighters have been preparing for four years to wage a battle against Shiite-dominated Iran, the agency reported.

In the run-up to the disastrous invasion of Iraq, Pentagon and MoD officials manipulated a credulous media to plant “news” stories bolstering the case for war. We are witnessing in the same process in the British press once more, this time pushing for military action against Iran.

Briefings with unnamed officials are a classic means by which governments and the military place their propaganda in the media. It is the ABC of journalism to treat such sources with scepticism.

When the New York Times on February 10 splashed with “Deadliest Bomb in Iraq is Made By Iran”, sourced from those same unnamed officials again, the newspaper was widely condemned for resurrecting the “Judith Miller school” of journalism. It is a sad day indeed if the Financial Times has also failed to learn the lessons of the Iraq WMD fiasco and is adding its voice and reputation, wittingly or unwittingly, to those of the Pentagon hawks.


Dr. Mehri Honarbin-Holliday, Canterbury Christ Church University

Dr. Elaheh Rostami-Povey, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

Dr. Ziba Mir-Hosseini, London Middle East Institute

Professor Haleh Afshar, OBE, University of York

Professor Abbas Edalat, Imperial College, University of London

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