A Kurdish man in a T-shirt, looking outside from his house when in the distance missiles were exploding: as the speculations about what exactly happened this weekend in the Kurdistan Region’s capital of Erbil and especially why it happened, continue, I keep seeing that short video. The man shouted in outrage and shock. Again, Kurdistan is targeted. Again, bigger powers are terrifying citizens. While these powers, they can withdraw from this theater any time they wish, while the people bear the burden.
Last night, a fierce discussion started on Twitter about news that both the New York Times and the Washington Post published: a ‘senior US official’ had informed them that an ‘Israeli training facility’ had been the target. An Iranian ‘official’ told Middle East Eye that the missile attack was in retaliation of an attack on a drone factory in Tabriz in Iran that was staged from inside Kurdistan in Iraq. How can that be a story? The source is an anonymous Iranian official, so the perpetrator white washing his crime, and as a journalist you make it a story while you can’t even confirm there was ever such an attack in Tabriz, let alone where it was shot from? You can’t just solve that logic problem by writing ‘alleged attack’, the only logical thing to do is not to write te story because it consists of nothing but loose sand.
Let’s stick to the facts, and the only ones confirmed are that some twelve missiles were shot, that Iran did it, and that no military target was hit but civilian targets: the compound of a filthy rich businessman and the premises of Kurdistan24 TV-channel was damaged. The new US consulate, still under construction, was nearby. Nobody died.
A thread from a government accountability researcher on Twitter put it sharply: Iran is trying to whitewash its illegal attack on civilian targets, and journalists irresponsibly go along with it. The New York Times and Washington Post source may have been American, but but this person may have been informed by an Iraqi official, and everybody knows many of them are aligned with Iran. So what it boils down to is that Iranian bombs and missiles are raining down on Kurdistan, drones operated by Iran-backed militias regularly hit targets around the airport with dead or wounded civilians as ‘collateral damage’ and the Iranian secret service is assassinating Kurdish activists from Iran in the Kurdistan Region with impunity, but all of a sudden, we are talking about Israel.
One of the big questions in journalism today is, I strongly believe, how journalists position themselves towards government officials. Not just in the US or in Kurdistan, but everywhere, also in the Netherlands, where I am from. The golden journalism rules that one source is no source, and that anonymous sources should only be cited when it’s absolutely necessary, are clearly not enough. The hunt for scoops, in itself a great part of journalism, has been smudged by a capitalist drive to satisfy advertisors and share holders, and the geo-political implications of an Iranian attack in Iraq (seen how it’s mostly about ‘Iraq’ in the news reports, not about Kurdistan, as if that part is irrelevant) in the vicinity of a US consulate are just too interesting not to wildly speculate about.
What I honestly think, is that we need less journalists who are close to power. In Western journalism, the better access you have to power the more prestige you have. A ‘senior official’ whispered a scoop in your ear but you’re not supposed to tell anybody their name, and when it’s juicy and sure gonna lead to clicks, you pen it down. That’s not journalism, it’s being the assistent of the senior official who has political interests.
Those political interests hardly ever coincide with the interest of the common people, for whom journalists really should be working. And trust me, that’s applicable in this case too. The Kurd looking out of his house perplexed and confused about yet another attack on his homeland, doesn’t want to be in the firing line of the shots big world powers shoot at one another without ever getting hurt themselves. He also doesn’t want to be framed as being part of a people that hosts the Israeli Mossad in his hard fought for autonomous region, in a world in which anti-semitism is on the rise and in a region with states that make no secret of their anti-Kurdishness. Even more so not in a region with leaders who are caught up in corrupt power play amongst themselves in Erbil and Sulaymanya, and in complex political strategic games with alliances in Baghdad who couldn’t care less about Kurds.
The ones who call themselves leaders, they can almost always get away. A common man, a common woman, in this case a common Kurd wants a reason to stay in his homeland besides having no means to leave, and live in peace. That’s the story that should be told. It should not be obscured by cynical whispers of ‘senior officials’ into reporters’ ears.
Fréderike Geerdink is an independent journalist. Follow her on Twitter, or subscribe to her acclaimed weekly newsletter Expert Kurdistan.