January 19, 2005

Iraq The Model: Questions Exposed by the BBC and NYT

Both the BBC and New York Times yesterday published articles examining the controversy surrounding whether or not the Iraq The Model blog is a CIA front or a more subtle form of US PsyOps.

The NYT article actually mentions me by name and repeats some of my claims, although the writer does not provide a link to my blog and glosses over the subtance of my accusations against the Fadhil brothers. Furthermore, she accepts Ali's explanation that his strange comments were prompted by his brothers' meeting with Bush and Wolfowitz, when in fact he made those comments before the meeting even occured.

Still, it's good to see the story getting some attention, however superficial. Given that both articles reference my claims without trying to contact me for further comment (or providing a link to this blog), I am taking the liberty of republishing both articles in full below.

Here's the Jan 18 New York Times article by Sarah Boxer, "Pro-American Iraqi Blog Provokes Intrigue and Vitriol":
When I telephoned a man named Ali Fadhil in Baghdad last week, I wondered who might answer. A C.I.A. operative? An American posing as an Iraqi? Someone paid by the Defense Department to support the war? Or simply an Iraqi with some mixed feelings about the American presence in Iraq? Until he picked up the phone, he was just a ghost on the Internet.

The mystery began last month when I went online to see what Iraqis think about the war and the Jan. 30 national election. I stumbled into an ideological snake pit. Out of a list of 28 Iraqi blogs in English at a site called Iraqi Bloggers Central, I clicked on Iraq the Model because it promised three blogging brothers in one, Omar, Mohammed and Ali.

It delivered more than that. The blog, which is quite upbeat about the American presence in Iraq, had provoked a deluge of intrigue and vitriol. People posting messages on an American Web site called Martini Republic accused the three bloggers of working for the C.I.A., of being American puppets, of not being Iraqis and even of not existing at all.

Then abruptly, at the end of last month, Ali quit the blog without telling his brothers while they were in the United States attending a blogging conference at Harvard and taking part in a tour sponsored by Spirit of America, a nongovernmental group founded after 9/11 that describes itself as "advancing freedom, democracy and peace abroad."

Ali's last post sounded ominous, a kind of blogger's "Dear John" note:

"I just can't keep doing this anymore. My stand regarding America has never changed. I still love America and feel grateful to all those who helped us get our freedom and are still helping us establishing democracy in our country. But it's the act of some Americans that made me feel I'm on the wrong side here. I will expose these people in public very soon, and I won't lack the means to do this."

What happened?

Ali seemed to have gone through a radical transformation when he found out that his brothers, both described as dentists on their Web site, had met President Bush. Odd. I scrolled down a bit into the past and found that in mid-December a conspiracy theory had emerged about Iraq the Model on Martini Republic.

One of the principal bloggers there, Joseph Mailander, had some questions for the Iraqi brothers. He wanted to know whether someone in the United States government or close to it had set up the blog. (The Web host, based in Abilene, Tex., is called CIATech Solutions.) And what about the two brothers' tour of the United States? Did the American government "have a shadow role in promoting it?"

The questions boiled down to whether Iraq the Model had been "astroturfed." Astroturfing occurs when a supposedly grass-roots operation actually is getting help from a powerful think tank, governmental agency or any outside source with an agenda. Why else, Martini Republic asked, would the brothers have been feted in Washington?

Ali, while he was still at Iraq the Model, tried to quell some of the doubts: "Hi, I would be happy to answer your questions, as you do raise some valid questions." To the question of the Web host in Abilene, he responded, "All I remember is that we started our blog through the free blogger.com!"

Ali explained the name of the Web host, CIATech Solutions, by pasting in an e-mail message he got from an employee of the company explaining that the C.I.A. in the name is short for Complex Internet Applications and that the company "has nothing to do with the U.S. government."

As for financing, Ali said that Iraq the Model had received private donations from Americans, Australians, French, British and Iraqi citizens. In addition, the brothers were promised money from Spirit of America. But, he added, "We haven't got it yet."

That did not quiet the suspicions on Martini Republic. A man posting as Gandhi reported that his "polite antiwar comments were always met with barrages of crude abuse" from Iraq the Model's readers. His conclusion? The blog "is a refuge for people who do not want to know the truth about Iraq, and the brothers take care to provide them with a comfortable information cocoon." He added, "I hope some serious attention will be brought to bear on these Fadhil brothers and reveal them as frauds."

What kind of frauds? One reader suggested that the brothers were real Iraqis but were being coached on what to write. Another, in support of that theory, noted the brothers' suspiciously fluent English. A third person observed that coaching wasn't necessary. All the C.I.A. would need to do to influence American opinion was find one pro-war blog and get a paper like USA Today to write about it.

Martini Republic pointed out that the pro-war blog was getting lots of attention from papers like The Wall Street Journal and USA Today while antiwar bloggers like Riverbend, who writes Baghdad Burning, had gone unsung. Surely Iraq the Model did not represent the mainstream of Iraqi thinking?

Ali finally got exasperated: "The thing that upset me the most is that if there are some powers that are trying to use us and our writings as a propaganda tool, you and other bloggers as well as some of the media outlets are doing the same with anti-American Iraqi bloggers."

But his "if" seemed to signal that Ali, too, was indeed worried about being used.

That was on Dec. 12. Ali's "Dear John" letter followed on Dec. 19. Then he quietly resurfaced on the Internet as a blogger called Iraqi Liberal and, when that name generated too much online debate about what "liberal" meant, Free Iraqi.

Using an e-mail address listed on Iraq the Model, I got in touch with Ali to see what in the world was going on. And last week I finally got to talk on the telephone to Ali Fadhil, a 34-year-old doctor who was born to Sunni Muslims but said, "I don't look at myself as one now."

Why did he quit Iraq the Model? When was he going to expose the Americans who made him feel he was on the wrong side?

He was surprisingly frank. The blog had changed him. When the blog began, he said, "People surprised me with their warmth and how much they cared about us." But as time passed, he said, "I felt that this is not just goodwill, giving so much credit to Iraq the Model. We haven't accomplished anything, really."

His views took a sharp turn when his two brothers met with the president. There wasn't supposed to be any press coverage about their trip to the United States, he said. But The Washington Post wrote about the meeting, and the Arabic press ended up translating the story, which, Ali felt, put his family in real danger.

Anyway, he said, he didn't see any sense in his brothers' meeting with President Bush. "My brothers say it happened accidentally, that it was not planned." But why, he asked, take such an "unnecessary risk"? He explained his worries: "Here some people would kill you for just writing to an American."

Ali never did expose the people who made him feel that he was on the wrong side, and in fact conceded that he couldn't. As he confided on the phone, "I didn't know who the people were." Instead, he started his own blog. He said he had always wanted to do that anyway.

"Me and my brothers," he said, "we generally agree on Iraq and the future." (He is helping his brother Mohammed, who is running on the Iraqi Pro-Democracy Party ticket in the Jan. 30 election.) But there is one important difference: "My brothers have confidence in the American administration. I have my questions."

Now that seems genuine.
And here's the even more superficial BBC article, "Iraq blog spat leads to web chaos":
A pro-US weblog by three Iraqi brothers has become the unlikely setting for a huge web spat after conspiracy theorists alleged it was a fake.

Iraq the Model, a weblog detailing the more positive aspects of the US-led occupation of the country, is one of the most popular Iraq sites on the web.

But some anti-war activists said it was a CIA-sponsored propaganda tool.

The brothers strongly denied the claims, but the row has led to severe ructions in the online Iraq community.

'Positive message'

The blog, written by Baghdad-based brothers Mohammed and Omar, who are dentists, and doctor Ali, first surfaced in November 2003, a few months after the war in Iraq ended.


My brothers have confidence in the American administration. I have my questions
Former Iraq The Model blogger Ali
Ali told the BBC News website in a phone call last year that he and his brothers had developed the blog because they wanted to send out a more positive message about events in their home country.

"More than 90% of major media outlets have a rather negative agenda, and what's the benefit of us doing the same?" he said.

"They [the media] ignore pictures of good relations between the Iraqis and the coalition, and the good interaction between both sides."

Its popularity spread to such an extent that two of the brothers, Omar and Mohammed, attended a blogging conference at Harvard University in the US and even met President George W Bush.

'Stupid' theories

But soon detractors began posting on the site, accusing the brothers of being frauds and of disseminating false propaganda about the situation in the country.

Some even claimed the brothers had been coached by US intelligence officials to put a positive spin on events in Iraq.

These "stupid conspiracy theories", coupled with his brothers' US visit, proved the final straw for Ali, who posted a message on the site announcing he was leaving the blog and hinted darkly that he intended to "expose" those Americans who had made him feel "on the wrong side".

He later explained in posts on his new blog he had been angered by his brothers' trip to the US, because he felt that by speaking to the American media they had endangered their family and allowed themselves to be used.

The fight has raised the issue of identity and misrepresentation in weblogs, where often it is nearly impossible to verify if the person "blogging" really is who they claim to be.

And as for Ali, he has since told the New York Times newspaper that he has reconciled with his brothers, although they still do not quite see eye-to-eye.

"My brothers have confidence in the American administration. I have my questions," he told the paper.
Finally, in case you missed it, let's just remember Omar's response to my allegations:
Ghandi, everything you mentioned is true.

now, could you please leave us alone.
we're the bad guys and you're an angel from heaven, does this satisfy your
beautiful sick mind?
get the fuck out of this CIA blog or I will have your brain taken out and
tested in our secret laboratories.

Omar. | Email | Homepage | 12.28.04 - 4:00 pm | #
I'm in the process of digging up more info on those behind Iraq The Model. For instance, Lady Diana Dougan, a member of the 3-person Cyber Century forum (which helped create ITM's Us sponsors Spirit of America) is also on the board of directors at Qualcomm. Qualcomm won a very controversial contract to supply Iraq's CDMA mobile phone network... Coincidence?

More to come on this.

10 comments:

Soldier's Dad said...

Legal Definitions

reckless disregard
n. gross negligence without concern for danger to others.

I suggest you consult an attorney.

Wadard said...

Gandhi, I am impressed with your persistence in challanging the Fadhill brothers. It was very interesting watching the story unfold. I still do not know if anything is in it, though. I checked out the server domains as well and decided CIATech could just as easily be an ordinary hosting co, You have raised a few questions, yes, but you have no conclusive answers. Anyway keep it up. I am curious to see where this goes.

jedati said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
jedati said...

The use of Juan Cole's terms "attack" and this sentence: "For American observers concerned with Iraq not to realize how truly awful the situation is, and to fail to understand that the US faces a grave crisis if key policies are not changed, makes them poor Americans", just shows more brainwashing attempts by leftists. The brothers did not "attack", simply because they disagreed with him. People who disagree with Juan Cole's policy assessments does not make them poor Americans. People in Iraq under Saddam may not have been able to speak their minds, but that does not mean they were not able to USE them. This is the most intellectually dishonest, bigoted debate I have witnessed in years. I suppose all Arabs, or all Iraqi's must think alike, as you assert all Americans should in order to be classified good. You all need to take a "brainwashing 101" course. It may not help to increase your IQ to overcome your conspiracy theories, but it might help you see the errors of your own ways.

Squigoth said...

Hey Gandhi, how the hell do we know you’re not a fake as well?

Just a thought...

And Bush won by the way, no thanks to idiots like you and your type. You guys bashed him so bad it spilled over onto our troops in Iraq and then onto Kerry... Good job dumbass.

But not to worry, us centrist Democrats are going to take the party back off you idiots... you guys had your chance and you blew it.

Pat in NC said...

Ghandi, are you enough of a fool to actually believe the tripe you write? There are connections in all societies they are not necessarily nefarious. Why do you persist in your ridiculous questions? No matter who may or may not support the brothers it nakes no difference. They are hoping for a better life free of dictatorship. Do you get some perverse pleasure out of putting them down?
Do you really get joy from the desire to see Iraq fail?
I am sorry you do not like the idea of liberty and freedom for others. You are truly pathetic. Now I have asked you questions and I demand answers.

Pat in NC said...

Ghandi, are you enough of a fool to actually believe the tripe you write? There are connections in all societies they are not necessarily nefarious. Why do you persist in your ridiculous questions? No matter who may or may not support the brothers it nakes no difference. They are hoping for a better life free of dictatorship. Do you get some perverse pleasure out of putting them down?
Do you really get joy from the desire to see Iraq fail?
I am sorry you do not like the idea of liberty and freedom for others. You are truly pathetic. Now I have asked you questions and I demand answers.

Pat in NC said...

Ghandi, are you enough of a fool to actually believe the tripe you write? There are connections in all societies they are not necessarily nefarious. Why do you persist in your ridiculous questions? No matter who may or may not support the brothers it nakes no difference. They are hoping for a better life free of dictatorship. Do you get some perverse pleasure out of putting them down?
Do you really get joy from the desire to see Iraq fail?
I am sorry you do not like the idea of liberty and freedom for others. You are truly pathetic. Now I have asked you questions and I demand answers.

Pat in NC said...

Ghandi, are you enough of a fool to actually believe the tripe you write? There are connections in all societies they are not necessarily nefarious. Why do you persist in your ridiculous questions? No matter who may or may not support the brothers it nakes no difference. They are hoping for a better life free of dictatorship. Do you get some perverse pleasure out of putting them down?
Do you really get joy from the desire to see Iraq fail?
I am sorry you do not like the idea of liberty and freedom for others. You are truly pathetic. Now I have asked you questions and I demand answers.

Pat in NC said...

Ghandi, are you enough of a fool to actually believe the tripe you write? There are connections in all societies they are not necessarily nefarious. Why do you persist in your ridiculous questions? No matter who may or may not support the brothers it nakes no difference. They are hoping for a better life free of dictatorship. Do you get some perverse pleasure out of putting them down?
Do you really get joy from the desire to see Iraq fail?
I am sorry you do not like the idea of liberty and freedom for others. You are truly pathetic. Now I have asked you questions and I demand answers.

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