Iraqi insurgent groups are mostly shadowy bands of nationalist or Islamist factions from whom we never hear, except in internet posts. Guardian reporter Seumas Milne says that some now wish to open a dialogue with Western media. And he believes that journalists are obliged to listen.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: According to the General Accountability Office, there are more than 5,000 insurgent attacks each month against coalition troops, Iraqi security forces and civilians. The vast majority, by some estimates, 70 percent, are carried out by groups not affiliated with al Qaeda in Iraq. They're mostly shadowy bands of nationalist or Islamic factions from whom we never hear, except in occasion Internet posts or videos.
But according to Guardian reporter Seumas Milne, that may soon change. Milne says that some Sunni insurgents want to open a line of communication with Western media, and he believes that Western journalists are obliged to listen.
In fact, Milne arranged a meeting in Damascus, Syria, through a series of intermediaries, he says, with some of the most influential Sunni insurgent leaders in Iraq. SEUMAS MILNE: The people I met were leaders of three of the main resistance organizations in the predominantly Sunni areas of Iraq. They're part of a group of seven organizations that have decided to form an alliance, or a front, as they would call it, with a common political program. BROOKE GLADSTONE: How did you verify the legitimacy of these people? SEUMAS MILNE: The evidence that they gave of their intimate knowledge of the internal politics of these organizations, the people who put me in touch with them, the trust that was invested in them, but also the provision of material, including videos and tapes and photos that are not available on the Internet and other things like that.
But, I mean, you know, if we'd been wrong, they would have immediately cried foul once the articles were public. BROOKE GLADSTONE: How do you think reporting in Iraq would change if there were actually an official spokesperson of the Sunni insurgency? SEUMAS MILNE: Well, I think that's what they are trying to do. I mean, they're trying to find a way of having a public face, some sort of calling card and posting box where the global media and the Iraqi media and the Arabic media can come for comments and to engage in a political dialog with them.
I mean, as they themselves say, they're in a particularly difficult situation because they regard themselves as the first resistance movement in modern history which is not supported by any outside power, and the reason for that is because of the power they're fighting, namely, the U.S., which has the power to force any other state that were to give them sanctuary not to do so, or to pay a very high price for that.
I mean, I think there are some signs that the American administration and the occupation forces themselves are beginning to, from time to time, either talk to sections of the resistance through back channels or even partly cooperate with them against al Qaeda, as has been taking place, I think, sometimes, in Anbar Province. And maybe that will happen more in the future.
But I think it's a sort of process of kind of feeling their way forward in a quite fast-evolving situation. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Seumas, I think you've really laid out their strategy very clearly, but I'm also interested in how it will influence you. I mean, these guys are saying, we're here, we can give you quotes, we deserve a lot more ink. What's your response, as a journalist, to that? SEUMAS MILNE: Covering the Iraq war has become incredibly difficult in the last couple of years because of the security situation in the country. Many, many stories are not seeing the light of day at all.
But I think there's an incumbency on all of us, and especially media organizations from the countries that are occupying Iraq, to try and tell the real story of what's going on there and what the people who are significant there want to say.
And I think partly because of this security situation, it's been possible to present the resistance to the occupation as, from the outside world's point of view, a bunch of bloodthirsty lunatics rather than actually some profoundly rooted organizations and forces in the country that, in the end, you're going to have to deal with.
So I think this is part of a process that, from the media point of view, the Western media point of view, we have to respond to. You know, these people need to be interviewed and challenged, not just by Arabic satellite TV stations and newspapers but also the main newspapers and TV stations, radio stations in the U.S. and Britain and other Western countries. BROOKE GLADSTONE: As you wrote in your piece, these groups distinguish themselves from al Qaeda in Iraq in that they say they never target civilians. They only target combatants, whether Iraqi or American or British. And I just wonder, did you have any qualms meeting with these people or would you have had any misgivings if al Qaeda had set up a similar meeting? Or is it just, you know, it's not your role to pass judgment or have qualms? SEUMAS MILNE: No. I think it's the job of the media to report these things on the ground as they are, not as we'd wish them to be. I mean, the problem with talking to al Qaeda is mainly a security one rather than a moral one. BROOKE GLADSTONE: But you don't feel as if you were being used. SEUMAS MILNE: Well, that's, I mean, for any media organization when it's talking to any side in any conflict, there's always that danger and you have to apply professional standards when you're dealing with them. And that applies to when you're talking to the British Army or the American occupation forces as well as to people fighting on the other side.
I mean, we have the problems of how you report on the British Army when you're embedded with them. That raises a whole lot of issues as well. I mean, it's our job as journalists to make sure that we're not allowing our agenda to be set by one side in the conflict. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Seumas, thank you very much. SEUMAS MILNE: Okay. Very nice to talk to you, then. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Seumas Milne is a reporter for The Guardian newspaper. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]