Alleged Marine Killings Ripple Through Arab Media

U.S. Marines are under investigation for allegedly shooting and killing about two dozen Iraqi civilians in November. The deaths in the town of Haditha were not seriously investigated until March. Steve Inskeep talks to Rami Khouri, an editor at The Daily Star in Lebanon, about the Arab world's coverage of the story.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We're also tracking the response to a piece of grim news out of Iraq. U.S. Marines are accused of killing two-dozen civilians. It happened last November in Haditha, where the Marines had just lost one of their own to a roadside bomb.

To learn how closely the Arab world is following that story, we've called Rami Khouri. He is editor-at-large of the Daily Star newspaper in Beirut and a frequent guest on this program.

Welcome to you once again.

Mr. RAMI KHOURI (Editor-At-Large, Daily Star): Thank you. Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: I know that the story about the killings in Haditha has been big news in the Arab world, off and on, for some months. Correct?

Mr. KHOURI: Well, it's yeah, on and off. I mean, it has gained a little bit more coverage recently as the news has come out, especially in the American press. So people are kind of plugging this into their general perception of what the Americans are doing in Iraq. And most people in the region are critical of that, and this has added to that criticism.

INSKEEP: It doesn't sound like you feel it's the biggest story on Arabs' minds.

Mr. KHOURI: No, it's not. It's not a huge story. It's getting a lot more coverage in the United States, obviously. The thing here is that most people in the Arab world are against what the United States did in Iraq. And they will take incidents like this to show how even when, you know, the United States says it is trying to bring freedom and democracy, it's bringing about the opposite. It's killing people in cold blood.

But in the broader political sense, it just adds fuel to the fire. People saying, well, this was a complete catastrophe from the beginning. And we're not surprised that this is happening. And they kind of take it in stride, because everything the U.S. is doing in Iraq is seen to be morally and politically unacceptable.

INSKEEP: Given that perception, how are people describing two other pieces of news from Iraq? There's been a huge string of killings in recent months of Iraqis, but at the same time, there has been the establishment, finally, of a new government.

Mr. KHOURI: Well, I think people look at the government in the wider context of the illegitimacy of the political process that was sparked by the American invasion. So there's a certain genetic illegitimacy problem with the Iraqi government. The same time, people are happy that the Iraqis are trying to take control of their lives and restore sovereignty to their country, instead of having it run by an Anglo-American military setup. But they're also hesitant to cheer a process that is seen to be the consequence of American invasion and military dictates.

INSKEEP: We've learned so many times that the headlines that seem to obsess the Arab media may be different from the headlines that seem to obsess the Western media. Is there a story, or a couple of stories, that are obsessing the Arab media right now?

Mr. KHOURI: Well, yes. I think the main story is what's going on - I mean, in Iraq is an ongoing story. Afghanistan, of course, is getting much more problematic again for the Americans and the foreign troops there, and the Karzai government.

But the issue in Palestine and Israel - the situation of the boycott of the elected government led by Hamas in the Palestinian territory - that's a huge issue that people are following very closely. Because again, it seems to contradict what the Americans and the British are saying, that they want to bring democracy and elections to the region. But the reality that people see is quite opposite.

The reality that they see is the Americans fostering a process that is de-legitimizing the election victory in Palestine. They're boycotting a government that was democratically elected. So I think there's a lot of confusion in the minds of the Americans, and certainly in the minds of Arabs who are looking at the Americans.

INSKEEP: Rami Khouri is editor-at-large of the Daily Star in Beirut.

Thanks very much.

Mr. KHOURI: Thanks for having me. My pleasure.

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