What to Call the Enemy in Iraq?
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
US officials say their intelligence information about insurgents has sharply improved since the start of the fighting, but it can still be hard to get a fix on the enemy or even to settle on the politically charged question of what to call them. Zaki Chehab's book, for example, refers to the resistance. That is not a word you'd likely hear on US government broadcasts in the Middle East. Last year, we met Muaf Akhan(ph). He's news director of a new US-funded television network which planned to avoid that word, resistance.
Mr. MUAF AKHAN: Maybe if you read an English-language dispatch about the Iraqi resistance today, if you translate the word `resistance,' a literal translation into Arabic, it means (foreign word spoken). (Foreign word spoken) has a nuance in it, in the Arabic language as `heroic.'
INSKEEP: We asked the author Zaki Chehab why he called his book "Inside the Resistance." He answered that the enemy is resisting an occupation, so in his view, resistance is simply what they are.
In the US media, a different term is much more common. To American reporters, insurgents seems widely accepted and relatively neutral. At least it had until this week when Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said he'd had an epiphany about the word `insurgents.'
Secretary DONALD RUMSFELD (Department of Defense): I've thought about it, and over the weekend, I thought to myself, you know, that gives them a greater legitimacy than they seem to merit. Why would you call Zarqawi and his people insurgents against a legitimate Iraqi government with their own constitution?
INSKEEP: By yesterday, President Bush himself appeared to offer a linguistic alternative to insurgents. The president's language reflected an increasingly sophisticated American view of the kinds of people US troops are facing. In his speech on the war, the president divided the enemy into three groups. He called them rejectionists, Saddamists, and terrorists.
Still, any effort to eliminate the word in `insurgents' may face resistance. At the same news conference where Secretary Rumsfeld critiqued the word `insurgents,' General Peter Pace got stuck as he stood right beside the secretary of Defense.
General PETER PACE: Just seeing the combination of US coalition and Iraqi forces working side by side, many times with the Iraqi armed forces in the lead, taking cities from the--have to use the word `insurgents' because I can't think of a better word right now. Take...
Sec. RUMSFELD: Enemies of the legitimate Iraqi government.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Gen. PACE: What the secretary said.
INSKEEP: General Pace predicted that he is likely to slip back into using the word `insurgents.'
You do have to call the enemy something. That's a dilemma that Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, recently faced and artfully solved. In a statement this month, Talabani said that if it would help, he would be willing to meet face to face with, quote, "those who call themselves the Iraqi resistance."
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
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