The al-Sadr Demonstration in Najaf Flops [UPDATED]

much ado about nothing

By streiff Posted in Comments (49) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »

Update by Moe Lane:: Update/correction post here. We even included Healing Iraq's snark on the subject.

Update by Erick: It appears, as more information comes in, that there might have been a larger crowd in Najaf. We're working to put it all together.

Yesterday the followers of Moqtada al-Sadr held a demonstration in Najaf to commemorate the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime and to demand that the US withdraw from Iraq.

Despite the hype in the run up to the event and the breathless accounts provided by various news services, the outcome was underwhelming.

Read on.

According to the Washington Post:

Draped in Iraqi flags and chanting anti-American slogans, tens of thousands of Iraqis swept into the southern city of Najaf on the call of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to mark the fourth anniversary of the ouster of President Saddam Hussein, calling for U.S. forces to withdraw from Iraq.

CNN-IBN says:

Thousands of Iraqi Shias have converged on the holy city of Najaf in Iraq, to stage a massive anti-US rally on Monday.

Around 3,00,000 Shias have left Sadr City to travel to Najaf for the mass demonstration.

Your guess of what “3,00,000” represents is as good as mine.

The New York Times:

Tens of thousands of protesters loyal to the militant Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr took to the streets of the holy city of Najaf on Monday in an extraordinarily disciplined rally to demand an end to the American military presence in Iraq, burning American flags and chanting “Death to America.”

The Detroit Free Press:

Tens of thousands of protesters draped themselves in Iraqi flags and marched through the streets of two Shi’ite holy cities today to mark the fourth anniversary of Baghdad’s fall, with some demonstrators calling for U.S.-led forces to leave Iraq.

The rally was ordered by radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who a day earlier issued a statement ordering his militiamen to redouble their battle to oust U.S. forces and argued that Iraq’s army and police should join him in defeating “your archenemy.”

You will notice the monotonous regularity of the description of the demonstration in these articles and you will notice one other fact: there is one source that isn’t called on for substantive comment. The US military.

Two of the articles, the WaPo and CNN-IBN do not quote the US military at all. The New York Times provides this:

American officials tried to put the best possible light on the event, despite the fiery words.

“We say that we’re here to support democracy,” Colonel Garver said. “We say that free speech and freedom of assembly are part of that. While we don’t necessarily agree with the message, we agree with their right to say it.”

The Free Press offers up this:

Col. Steven Boylan, a U.S. military spokesman and aide to the commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq, praised the peaceful nature of the demonstration, saying Iraqis “could not have done this four years ago.”

“This is the right to assemble, the right to free speech — they didn’t have that under the former regime,” Boylan said. “This is progress, there’s no two ways about it.”

But Colonel Boylan actually had a lot more than that to say about the demonstration.

Citizens of Iraq assembled in Najaf Monday to conduct a demonstration against the U.S. presence in their country.

Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called for the protest on the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, when Coalition forces toppled the Saddam Hussein regime.

The number of participants that took part in the event ranged from 5,000 to 7,000, based on aerial photographs, said U.S. Army Col. Steven Boylan, a military spokesman with Multi-National Force-Iraq.

Five to seven thousand. And they provide an aerial photo:

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The al-Sadr Demonstration in Najaf Flops [UPDATED] 49 Comments (0 topical, 49 editorial, 0 hidden) Post a comment »

I've often wondered why there aren't more large protests in Iraq. And to all of the angry Iraqis storming the streets and spitting bile at their American occupiers I say:

Well done.

But I also add:

You're welcome.

We saw the core principle of a free society on display yesterday.

--
We would also like to know your advice for somebody like my daughter, who's going to graduate in two years, advice that you would give a young person.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Advice for a young person. Study history.

the reason that protests aren't larger than they are is because they are too busy detonating road side bombs, suicide bombs or gunning each other down.

Yes, we are their arch enemy. Will any of the twits think about the fact that we could have just eliminated from 5,000 to 7,000 to 3,00,000 (whatever that is) of our "arch-enemy" without a whole lot of trouble? If indeed we were their "arch enemy"? Will anyone in the press point out the irony? I'm not holding my breath...

For what it's worth, I saw the military's estimate of "5000 - 7000" over at defenselink.mil yesterday afternoon. Because of that, I couldn't resist quickly flipping on the BBC news at 6pm EDT to see what number they would headline. Their headliner on the leads-in was "hundreds of thousands."

Gosh, they're reliable. I guess they just didn't pick up much math when they studied journalism.

Buck the Phoebe Sea....

The Algorithm
1. Find protest of x
2. Cherry pick the most inflammatory comments
3. Inflate numbers
4. By 1-3 you have a mass movement against x. The people will not have it anymore.

And Fox news is Faux ??
______________________________
"Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it."
-Thomas Paine: The American Crisis, No. 4, 1777

Let me preface this comment by saying that I'm no expert in extimating crowd size based on arial photos and that the area shown is difficult to judge precisely, but that photo looks to show way more than 7,000 people.

on what you're saying.

Are you saying that the military's crowd estimation is wrong based on your experience in estimating crowd size?

"A man can never have too much red wine, too many books, or too much ammunition." -- Rudyard Kipling

I think we all have experience with big crowds -- civic celebrations, ballgames, etc.

That looks like a huge crowd, and by most standards 7,000 isn't a huge crowd -- which I think was your point with this post.

I say that not to question the military's estimates, but to say that it's never smart to ignore what your lying eyes are telling you...

--
We would also like to know your advice for somebody like my daughter, who's going to graduate in two years, advice that you would give a young person.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Advice for a young person. Study history.

In order to estimate the size of the crowd, one would need to know the size of the geographical space that the crowd is occupying. There is probably some number that represents the amount of space that a person will occupy, divide that into the amount of territory and one would have a rough estimate on the size of the crowd.

I'm more inclined to believe what the military is putting out as the size of the crowd.

Don

yes--In my opinion, there appear to be way more than 7,000 people shown in that photo.

no--It's not based on any experience estimating crowd size. It's based on estimating the area shown in the circle and a conservative estimate of the number of people per square foot.

Would you like the math?

the people estimating the crowd size provided the photo, I'd suggest you and your calibrated eyeballs take it up with them. The link to MNF-I is provided in the story.

"A man can never have too much red wine, too many books, or too much ammunition." -- Rudyard Kipling

1. "Reply To This" in the blue bar at the bottom of the post is your friend.
2. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that the US military is lousy at crowd estimates. Let's say that there's 15,000 people there.
3. The news agencies are reporting "tens of thousands".
4. Do you see any disconnect?
5. Does the fact that no injuries or deaths, or even arrests, mean anything?
6. Does the fact that no US military sources were quoted about anything in any story mean anything?
____
Those who live by the sword get shot by those who don't.

1. Huh?
2. Yeah.
3. 15,000 is tens of thousands
4. Huh?
5. No.
6. Huh?
"A man can never have too much red wine, too many books, or too much ammunition." -- Rudyard Kipling

The post would be left justified...
____
Those who live by the sword get shot by those who don't.

He could count them to be certain.
______________________________
"Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it."
-Thomas Paine: The American Crisis, No. 4, 1777

. . . not tens of thousands. You would pretty much have to have at least 20,000 to qualify as that.

Oh, and streiff's post should've set off your snarkmeter :) .

-
NARF

must translate to "thirty hundred" in Persian numerals.

a conservative estimate of the number

What's really interesting is the decline in the influence of Moqtada Al Sadr. I think this is the consequence of some momentous changes in Iraq which are just beginning to be felt & seen.

Much of this has to do with military tradition in the Middle East vs in the West. Victor Davis Hanson has written about this and it is presented cartoon-style in the movie "300". Our Western military tradition, derived from the Greeks, has a number of features (such as the role of decisive battles in European history) that simply does not exist in the Middle East.

The Mahdi Army is a perfect example of a pseudo-military force that fills the vacuum of legitimate political-military leadership in a country like Iraq. We have invaded Iraq twice with the idea that we would be fighting a conventional war against conventional forces that would be decided by major battles. This has not been the case -- because Iraq did not have a military in the sense that say Britain does (or used to!). In fact there are only three real nation states in the Middle East, and only three real armies -- Israeli, Egyptian, and Turkish.

In Iraq, there might be a large force of men under arms -- as there was under Saddam. But it was not an army; rather it was a force of conscripts (Shiites) who would desert at the first opportunity, a corrupt officer corps (Sunni) who occupied a privileged position in the country not related to any actual fighting ability, a small fiercely loyal palace guard (the famed Republican Guard) and an assortment of mercenaries and hired guns. Thus: able to mount some parades on some national day, to keep their own population terrorized, to mount suicide campaigns like the war against Iran by forcing the conscripts to march across minefields against a similar force if Iranian conscripts. Defend their country, win a decisive battle, mount a true expeditionary force? Not so much.

(I'll get back to Mookie in a second) This reminds me of a comment Gen. Petraeus made at his confirmation hearing by the Senate. He was recounting mistakes made in the early part of the war, and he commented that the Pentagon had assumed that after Baghdad fell to the invaders, the surviving members of the Iraqi military would go to their armories and barracks where they would form up their units and secure the weapons, equipment, ammunition, etc, and await instructions.

Well, yes. That would be the drill if we had invaded, say, Switzerland or Canada or Poland or Ecuador. In Iraq, the soldiers threw off their uniforms and deserted, leaving the weapons etc to be stolen by militias who use them against us and each other.

The mahdi Army which Al Sadr heads and which he trying to re-activate is very much in the Middle Eastern military tradition, which consists largely of the following:
1. Stealing
2. Running away
3. Blowing things up

Not necessarily in that order.

We are going to win in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East to the extent that our military tradition is the one that prevails. And I look for signs that this is happening as true signs of progress. And by the way, the notion that we could create a Western style army in Iraq -- which is our goal, and has to be -- in a few years, as was the plan up till this year, was simply impossible, as the President finally realized.

I look on Sadr's obvious failure to revitalize his forces as an encouraging sign of the Iraqis internalizing one of our military concepts. This is that the leader goes with his troops and suffers or prevails with them. The Arab idea is of the hidden leader -- Osama in his cave, Sadr in Iran, Saddam in his spider hole. The idea they had was that this is clever and somehow heroic. It gave their leaders a mystical kind of power, and inspired their followers. In the brutal light of war, many illusions are shattered, and I think this one is going.

Because the Iraqis have seen our leaders, like Gen. Petraeus, walking around the market deliberately exposing himself to danger, not wearing his helmet, putting himself in the position of the average troop. (McCain doing this as well was a great thing, in spite of M Ware). In contrast, Mookie hiding out in Iran and telling his followers to start fighting us, doesn't look so good. This is how we will win.

Carl Sagan did a really intresting show on astronomy called "Cosmos." He tried to stay away from precise, yet boring numbers. It was science for the non-mathematical.

His tagline, so to speak, was to describe any really big number as "Billions and Billions.."

The MSM does the same thing with demonstrations and then exagerates by an order of magnitude. So what you get on MSNBCABCBS is that some rediculously large portion of the population in Najaf heeded the call of Mookie to protest.

Not likely, considering the man calling for the demonstration is in Iran, not Iraq, and has gotten his people slaughtered in numbers every time he's sent them into battle.

"...and each wasted evening is
a gross violation against the
natural course of your only life;"
-Charles Buckowski

Sorry I used to give planetarium shows. That thing was boring to the point of being painful.
______________________________
"Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it."
-Thomas Paine: The American Crisis, No. 4, 1777

You watched it billons and billions of times...

"...and each wasted evening is
a gross violation against the
natural course of your only life;"
-Charles Buckowski

______________________________
"Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it."
-Thomas Paine: The American Crisis, No. 4, 1777

All -

While I was waiting for my lunch to heat up, I took a quick peek at what our friends at Iraq the Model were saying. They've got a catch-all communiqué about some interesting things going on today, but they get to the numbers game about yesterday's rave in Najaf. An interesting read, as they seem to come out at the < 10k number too.

Also interesting - apparently the source for the "hundreds of thousands" number that the BBC (sick) used without reference comes from (surprise!) the Arabic-language Iranian channel....

Buck the Phoebe Sea....

You can add the CS Monitor:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/csm/20070410/wl_csm/osadrdemo_1

Fox News:
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,264860,00.html?sPage=fnc.world/iraq

Forbes:
http://www.forbes.com/feeds/ap/2007/04/09/ap3594912.html

If every major news outlet consistently covers an event, and there is a lone voice claiming otherwise; what gives that lone voice credence? Especially when that lone voice has an interest in down playing the event.

Secondly, Do we know when the picture was taken? At the height of the event, or at the ebb? The picture also doesn't show the crowds of people to the left and right of the square.

I can understand not being satisfied with the MSM, but not in this particular case.

And, believe you me, if the photo turns out to actually contradict the military's statement, that's worth a news story. You might also want to consider that two of your three 'examples' are actually AP, and that none of the three give any evidence to support the larger numbers.

It won't be the end of the world if there were 20-30K people there, but given that there's what purports to be direct evidence arguing against that number I think that we should be at least told how the media came up with it in the first place.

The Fuzzy Puppy of the VRWC.

As we've seen with the British Marine debacle.

Here's another independent source w/ another inconclusive photo:
http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/04/09/africa/web0409-iraq.php

and US News and World Report:
http://www.usnews.com/usnews/blogs/news_blog/070409/anniversary_season_i...

I don't mean to quibble over the exact numbers, and I agree that the 3,000,000 is way off base. I'm just saying the military is going to try and spin an event to their advantage, like any other institution.

In my view trying and paint this as a failing of the MSM at large, is unrealistic.

______________________________
"Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it."
-Thomas Paine: The American Crisis, No. 4, 1777

Other than the photo's dimensions are odd. 330x223 isn't exactly standard.

The IHT piece was notably careful not to report that there were tens of thousands marching and the US News article merely throws out the number without backup.

Do you have any direct evidence that would contradict the military's estimate?

The Fuzzy Puppy of the VRWC.

and yes I've noticed that they site the AP reporting:

The demonstrators, appearing to number in the tens of thousands, marched to Najaf, 100 miles, or about 160 kilometers, south of Baghdad, from neighboring Kufa, with two cordons of Iraqi police lining the route. Some at the rally waved small Iraqi flags; others hoisted a giant flag 10 yards long, the Associated Press reported.

Other than every other news outlet consistently reporting this event, I do not have any direct evidence that the military's spokesperson was not accurate.

Although there is a president of the military changing their initial story on a number of events during this conflict.

No use wondering about who's cropped out; The US Army's 101st Airbrush battalion created those large expanses of empty concrete surrounding the mob. If they wanted you to see empty pavement on either side of the mob, they could do that, too.

what you are saying is just patent nonsense. It is illogical. It is just silly.

You did notice the photos are not aerial, right?

"A man can never have too much red wine, too many books, or too much ammunition." -- Rudyard Kipling

We have 5 independent professional sources consistently reporting an event.

We have a single aerial photo, that in my view is inconclusive.

As I've stated we don't know when it was taken. An aerial photo of a Dodger game taken after the 8th inning will not reveal how many were in attendance during the 5th inning.

Maybe I am silly but, anytime a 'spokesperson' says anything I get out the sea salt.

____
Those who live by the sword get shot by those who don't.

you've already demonstrated that you can't tell one AP story from the next.

You know nothing at all about the sourcing of a single one of the stories you cited, you don't even know if the stringers are working for multiple news bureaus.

"A man can never have too much red wine, too many books, or too much ammunition." -- Rudyard Kipling

1. WaPo, 2. NY Times, 3. CS Monitor, 4. AP, 5. CNN, 6. Reuters

http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/COL954309.htm

Six.

Your comment is true enough about the sourcing, as is mine regarding the timing of the aerial photo.

Your constant use of belittlement is amusing, nice schtick.

if you think the military is misrepresenting this there is a contact button on the MNF-I web page.

I also can't help but notice that you haven't read the articles you reference as the last two are just the AP feed.

You seem to discount that the military has a vested interest in its credibility and providing a number of 5-7,000, rather than 3,00,000 stakes out pretty firm territory.

You also seem to discount the fact that the reports from Najaf were provided by stringers of dubious integrity.

"A man can never have too much red wine, too many books, or too much ammunition." -- Rudyard Kipling

Here are 2 other independent sources:
http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/04/09/africa/web0409-iraq.php

and US News and World Report:
http://www.usnews.com/usnews/blogs/news_blog/070409/anniversary_season_i...

I did read the articles, and while two are from the AP, the Forbes piece is different. It mentions a Najaf policeman estimating the crowd size to be over 600,000. The article goes on to note that this was probably not accurate.

My only point here is that the military is no different than any large institution in the regard that they spin events to suit their needs. To paint the MSM as somehow complicit in this case, is just not realistic.

they release a aerial photo. They had a presence in Najaf. They have a vested interest in their credibility.

None of the above apply to the media.

"A man can never have too much red wine, too many books, or too much ammunition." -- Rudyard Kipling

But there is some validity to what both sides are arguing here. The photo you have posted above is from Khulani Square (don't ask me why a roundabout is called a square) in Baghdad (it is cited on the MNF-I page as being in Baghdad). The MNF-I page, along with the news articles, mentioned the crowd size in Najef. So, the photo above cannot be used to substantiate or refute the numbers bandied about, as nobody mentioned, as far as I read, the crowd size in Baghdad.

...and has a pretty good track record of gleaning useful intel from aerial reconaissance, I'll tend to give that "lone voice" my two ears.

Speaking of gleaning intel, I got some from this quote:

"The number of participants that took part in the event ranged from 5,000 to 7,000, based on aerial photographs"

1. "ranged" tells me that they might have made estimates throughout the day.

2. "photographs" tells me that they took more than one picture.

CNN's article from late last night provides numbers from two sources but apparently places more weight on those provided by the U.S. Army (emphasis mine):

Thousands of anti-U.S. protesters marched in the Shiite holy city of Najaf on Monday to mark the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad.

Powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called for the demonstration, which Najaf police said included tens of thousands of protesters.

The U.S. Army estimated the crowd size at closer to 5,000 to 7,000 participants based on aerial photographs, said military spokesman Col. Steve Boylan.

"The picture also doesn't show the crowds of people to the left and right of the square."

That's a pretty round square, don't you think?

No, the picture doesn't show the crowds of people which you imagine must be to the left and right of the *square*. It also doesn't accurately represent the teeming throngs cheering from the skyscrapers around the *square*.

Here's what Omar (ITM) has to say (and BTW there's clearly something BIG going on in Baghdad today - go read his whole communiqué - this is just a tiny paragraph):

Speaking of the Sadrists' pitiful demonstrations. His aides were hoping to gather a million marchers for yesterday but all they could manage were less than ten thousands, that's even when they bussed people from Baghdad and Basra.
The Arabic-speaking al-Alam Iranian channel claims the number was "hundreds of thousands" but that's just al-Alam, other channels and the footage we saw all put the number between 5 and 10 thousand.
I had personally been to a demonstration of 10 thousands once and what I saw yesterday was definitely smaller.

Update at HotAir: Does this photo prove Sadr’s protest in Najaf was poorly attended?

*****
"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." ~~~Dr. Seuss

Two of the articles, the WaPo and CNN-IBN do not quote the US military at all.

It is to the The US military's interest that Iraqis as seen as not upset about the war. Why do you scold media outlets that did not cite the US military?

 
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