Peter Arnett, a Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent covering the war in Baghdad for NBC and cable channel MSNBC, appeared on Iraqi TV yesterday praising Saddam Hussein's government for its treatment of journalists and criticizing the U.S. war plan.
Arnett's appearance on the government-controlled network was broadcast to American viewers last night on the Fox News Channel, a rival of MSNBC.
Fox has tried to position itself as the all-news cable channel most supportive of the American war effort and immediately cast Arnett's remarks in a political context.
"For 12 years, I have been coming here, [and] I've met unfailing courtesy and co-operation," the 68-year-old Arnett said in the interview with Iraqi TV.
Correspondents from CNN, another rival of MSNBC, as well as those of Fox and other American news organizations, have been expelled from Baghdad by the Ministry of Information.
In the interview with an anchorman from Iraqi TV, Arnett went on to call the American war plan "failed" and blamed it on the Bush administration underestimating the determination of the Iraqi military.
"Clearly the American war planners misjudged the determination of the Iraqi forces," he said. "... And, in my commentaries on television, I would tell Americans about the determination of the Iraqi forces, the determination of the government and the willingness to fight for their country. But me and others who felt the same way were not listened to by the Bush administration.
"Now America is reappraising the battlefield, delaying the war maybe a week and rewriting the war plan. The first war plan has failed because of Iraqi resistance."
Arnett suggested that the Bush administration also has underestimated the difficulty of trying to take Baghdad.
"This clearly is a city that is disciplined," Arnett said in the interview. "The population is responsive to the government's requirements of discipline. And my Iraqi friends tell me there is a growing sense of nationalism and resistance to what the United States and Britain are doing."
Arnett also took credit for a "growing challenge" within the United States to the war.
"It is clear that within the United States, there's a growing challenge to President Bush about the conduct of the war and also opposition to the war. So, our reports about civilian casualties here, about the resistance of the Iraqi forces are going back to the United States, [and] it helps those who oppose the war."
'Analytical in nature'
NBC issued a statement last night saying: "Peter Arnett and his crew have risked their lives to bring the American people ... up-to-date, straightforward information about what is happening in and around Baghdad. [This] impromptu interview was done as a professional courtesy. His remarks were analytical in nature and were not intended to be anything more."
Alphonse D'Amato, the former Republican senator from New York, appeared on the Fox News Channel last night saying, "This isn't anything new for Peter Arnett. ... He gives aid and comfort to the enemy."
Arnett has faced such criticism before. During the gulf war, Alan Simpson, then Republican senator from Wyoming, called Arnett a "Saddam sympathizer" for his reporting from Baghdad for CNN.
While Arnett's work in Baghdad during that war was generally hailed, he did generate controversy with a report contradicting the Pentagon as to one of its bombing targets. What the Pentagon described as a munitions factory, he said was a plant making baby formula.
Arnett was forced to resign from CNN in 1999 over his part in a 1998 report titled Operation Tailwind that claimed the U.S. military used deadly sarin gas on its own soldiers in Laos in 1970. CNN retracted the report under pressure from the Pentagon.
He returned to Baghdad last year for the National Geographic Explorer Channel. Shortly before the start of the Iraqi war, MSNBC and NBC hired Arnett to report for them as well.
Arnett could not be reached last night for comment. MSNBC did carry reports from Baghdad last night of intense bombing and raging fires. But instead of reports from Arnett, viewers heard anchorman Lester Holt in New York interviewing Khaled Oweis, a reporter for Reuters in Baghdad, by phone.