Scott Horton Interviews Steve Connors and Molly Bingham

Scott Horton, September 15, 2008

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Steve Connors and Molly Bingham discuss their movie “Meeting Resistance” about the Sunni occupation resistance, how Saddam Hussein’s capture freed more Iraqis to fight against the Americans, the psych-ops aimed at America framing the insurgents as social outcasts instead of the normal citizens they are, the complex interplay between the Iraqi, Iranian and American factions in Iraq, the similarity in the way the West and Islamic traditions venerate war dead and the difficulty they had in getting the film made.

MP3 here. (42:18)

Steve Connors was born in Sheffield, England. He began taking photographs while serving as a British soldier in Northern Ireland in the early 1980s. After leaving the military in 1984 he worked for London newspapers and housing charities, but maintained a preference for photographing the quirkiness of British life.

At the end of 1989 Connors started traveling – first to Czechoslovakia as the communist government fell and then into Sri Lanka in 1990. Connors spent the early1990s covering the wars following the break-up of Yugoslavia and later spending time in Russia and the former Soviet Union as the euphoria of a new age gave way to the miserable realities of economic meltdown. Connors has worked for most of the worlds’ newspapers and magazines including Time, Newsweek, The New York Times in the United States; The Guardian, The Observer and The Telegraph in London and in Europe he has worked for Der Spiegel, Stern and Paris Match among others. Connors spent fifteen months from November 2001 on in Afghanistan. Starting during the invasion, he went to Iraq, and spent fourteen months there total, working ten months solidly on Meeting Resistance, Connors’ directorial debut.

Molly Bingham was born in Kentucky and graduated from Harvard College in 1990. She began working as a photojournalist in earnest in 1994, traveling to Rwanda in the wake of the genocide. She spent a good amount of her energies for the following four years focused on the regional fallout of that event. Aside from her photojournalistic work, Bingham has also completed two special projects for Human Rights Watch – one on Burundi and another on small arms trafficking in Central Africa. From 1998 through 2001 Bingham worked as Official Photographer to the Office of the Vice President of the United States.

In 2001 Bingham returned to work in Central Africa, producing a story for the New York Times Sunday Magazine (published in August 2001) on the mineral “coltan” that is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Washington on September 11 Bingham got some of the only close up pictures of the Pentagon, and followed the story of America’s response to the 9/11 attacks to Afghanistan later in the fall. 2002 found Bingham in the Gaza Strip and Iran before heading to Iraq shortly before the US attack in March 2003. Bingham was detained for eight days by the Iraqi government security services and held in Abu Ghraib prison with four other westerners during the war, and released to Jordan in early April 2003. Bingham’s first major written story – on the Iraqi resistance – was published in Vanity Fair in July 2004. Bingham teamed up with Connors in August of 2003 to begin a film about who was behind the emerging post-war violence in Iraq.

15 Responses to “Steve Connors and Molly Bingham”

  1. Their site is nice. You certainly don’t read things like this among all the propaganda here: Some of the people we interviewed were Shia – fighting alongside their Sunni colleagues – and the idea that has recently become common currency, that Iraq is a country riven by ancient sectarian hatreds, is a claim for which we found little evidence. In fact we found several of the individuals engaged in the resistance that we spoke to were in mixed marriages or were from mixed families. &

    Indeed, the research we did for Meeting Resistance indicates that any existing fissures in Iraqi society at the time of the 2003 invasion were exploited and exacerbated by coalition forces and administrators in order to enable the success of the occupation. &

    But to put the civil war violence down to ‘ancient sectarian hatreds’ is to miss the fact that while some attacks are of a sectarian nature the force driving the civil war is a political one – a fight for the future of Iraq and whether the country will continue to be held together by the nationalists, or divided up by the partitionists. There are Sunni and Shia on each side of that political and social struggle, and the stakes are high.

  2. Sure you do. All the time. What you don’t read here is that all AQI members are really CIA and that all violence between all factions there is an inside job. Sorry to continue to disappoint you Cous.

  3. I’d love to see some links to articles here today where it’s clearly stated that ”the civil war is a political one…with Sunni and Shia on each side” and “that any existing fissures in Iraqi society at the time of the 2003 invasion were exploited and exacerbated by coalition forces and administrators in order to enable the success of the occupation.”

    Excluding Dahr and a few others this site rarely, if ever, links to anything like that. However, the site does link to countless articles howling about the fictional ‘sectarian civil war’ and telling absurd lies about Iraq which you dutifully parrot. The gibberish that “Baathist” is a synonym for “Sunni”, when they were mainly Shia. Your utterly ridiculous ‘magic bomb theory’ where markets and mosques can be bombed in an intermarried society and somehow only kill people from a specific religious group. The historically insane insistence that the ‘ancient sectarian hatreds’ have been happening forever and that the occupation is working to prevent it. The completely absurd belief that the guerrillas are desperately attacking the civilian population in order to prolong the occupation (because they’d be doomed if the occupation ever ends haha!).

    Speaking of Dahr, here’s a great article by Dahr Jamail that anti(?)war.com didn’t want anyone to read: The myth of sectarianism – The policy is divide to rule. It may be worthwhile to consider that prior to the Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq there had never been open warfare between the two groups and certainly not a civil war. In terms of organization and convention, Iraqis are a tribal society and some of the largest tribes in the country comprise Sunni and Shia. Intermarriages between the two sects are not uncommon either.

    Soon after arriving in Iraq in November 2003, I learned that it was considered rude and socially graceless to enquire after an individual’s sect. If in ignorance or under compulsion I did pose the question the most common answer I would receive was, “I am Muslim, and I am Iraqi.” On occasion there were more telling responses like the one I received from an older woman, “My mother is a Shia and my father a Sunni, so can you tell which half of me is which?” The accompanying smile said it all.

    Large mixed neighborhoods were the norm in Baghdad. Sunni and Shia prayed in one another’s mosques. As the rest of the article makes clear, the reason it has changed is because the “Americans thought they would decrease the resistance attacks by separating the people of Iraq into sects and tribes”.

  4. “Excluding Dahr and a few others this site rarely, if ever, links to anything like that. ”

    Cous, I think that just isn’t true. As far as I can tell, all the people we run regularly like Bob Dreyfuss, Juan Cole, Patrick Cockburn, Dahr and all his co-authors, Nir Rosen, etc. have been agreed about these things all along.

    You focus so much on intermarriage and so forth, but just seem to imply that for example the (nationalist, Shia) Sadrists and the (it was predominately) the “Sunni” resistance are all one big group of nationalists with no other competing interests. And conversely that anyone who says otherwise – especially me – is simply parroting the Bush line that they’re fighting over whose religion is better or some bullshit.

    But that isn’t right. The Sadrists have almost the entire time since August ’04 followed his orders to not fight the occupation. He joined the coalition with Da’wa and SCIRI for at least a couple years there and helped the Badr Corps (the Iran-backed, more or less, “separatist” Shia) “cleanse” Baghdad of most of its Sunni population. The “Ba’athists” have made up a significant portion of the resistance as we could see when Bush temporarily recognized general whatshisname as ruler of Fallujah in late 04-early 05 – the same Fallujah where David Enders reported massive streams of Shia refugees “cleansed” from Anbar and headed for Sadr City.

    Ayatollah Sistani insisted on one man one vote, and is much more in line with the SCIRI view of strong regional governments, rather than the nationalists.

    So my crime then is just noticing these and not just chalking Everything that’s happened there since 03 to a divide and conquer Black Op?

    Was there a time when I pretended not to have read David Wurmser or Richard Haas? Has there been a time where you think the Americans doing the occupying just fucked up because they have no idea what they’re doing?

    The first show I did for Antiwar Radio in Dec 06 was Bob Dreyfuss talking about how despite a lot of bad blood built up of the last couple years, Sadr was reaching out to the Sunnis and Kurds to create a “Government of National Salvation” which would agree on two main points: a strong central state – details were to come later I suppose – and the immediate withdrawal of American troops. But this is what I’m, what?, helping to cover up or… I guess I don’t get it.

    This entire thing, whether you’re right that all the suicide bombings are a put-on by the Americans (do I have that right?) or not, every bit of this is taking place under American occupation, deliberate , accidental and incoherent policies all the same.

    Anyway, Cous, you’ll be glad to know you bother the hell out of me with this constant harping and you push me to try to understand, and attempt to explain, better, the details of the occupation about as much as just doing the damn show itself. So thanks.

    I whined all about your whining on the show with Dahr today. I hope I represented your views right. But then again, I perhaps have never understood what the distinction between what we say and what you want us to say is. As I said above, I think everybody who writes about this stuff this side of the Weekly Standard agree with both of us and I see the differences between your view and mine as 90% the same.

    But I’m sure you’ll fill me in on what I’m still missing here.

  5. Oh yeah, the “al Qaeda in Iraq” thing.

    I’ve always said that there was no such thing until after the invasion, that in fact, Zarqawi didn’t declare himself “al Qaeda” until the end of 04, that they were always the tiniest percentage of the insurgency, that the locals only tolerated them only while they were helping fight Americans and that if we left they would be gone overnight.

    We disagree about the degree to which his groups’ role was played up by pentagon propaganda – I think a hell of a lot, you think completely.

    And I think they did have an interest – they thought – in prolonging the war. That is still a far cry from I (or anyone at Antiwar.com) believe and recite every pentagon report about every attack attributed to them.

    I do believe Patrick Cockburn when he explains how they did exist, and were such tyrants with their rules for personal behavior and overreached so badly with the “Islamic State in Iraq” umbrella group that they’ve been run out of town even while the occupation continues.

    I wish I’d asked Dahr about that, sorry.

  6. Search Antiwar.com, SCIRI http://tinyurl.com/52u8t7

    371 returns. Who’s better on who’s backing who in Iraq than us?

  7. Great interview, Scott. That was quite an exchange. At times I felt as if I was sitting in on a conversation in a pub between people who actually know what they’re talking about.

  8. Thanks. They were great, weren’t they? Brave. They’ve really made one hell of an impressive film too.

  9. our country is bankrupt how in the hell can we keep fighting these wars

  10. I think that the differences are more than 10% and they started with the ‘sectarian civil war’ and the Zarqawi nonsense. The Zarqawi communiqué claimed that the occupation was winning and was going to leave soon, so they had to attack the Arab civilian population (but not the Kurds!) to incite a civil war and force them to stay. This is ludicrous on many levels, yet someone started bombing markets and mosques with massive media coverage soon afterwards. Oh, and the vehicles used in the bombings came from America. Strangely, the concept that America would use bombs to kill Arabs seems to drive you insane.

    Many Iraqis blame the occupation for the bombings:“I do not believe it is al-Qaeda any more,” a woman weeping near the scene of the bombing told IPS. “I do not care any more, I am just losing my loved ones. The last explosion hit my husband, and now he is disabled, and this one took my son’s life.”

    She referred to a similar bombing two-and-a-half months ago at the same market that killed 137 and wounded many more.

    U.S. leaders and Iraqi government officials again accused “terrorists and the Saddamists” of the bombing. But many people around Baghdad are blaming the occupation forces and the U.S.-backed Iraqi government.

    “I noticed that security officers did not carry out any site investigation,” a former police officer who lives in a neighboring area told IPS, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “I have also noticed that no such crime has been solved since the first days of the occupation.”

    Iraqis also doubted the existence and motives of “Zarqawi” The view on-the-ground in Iraq, among both Sunnis and Shi’ites, is worth noting. Sheikh Jawad al-Kalesi, the Shi’ite Imam of the al-Kadhimiyah mosque in Baghdad, told Le Monde: “I don’t think that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi exists as such. He’s simply an invention by the occupiers to divide the people.”

    Iraq’s most powerful Sunni Arab religious authority, the Association of Muslim Scholars, concurs, condemning the call to arms against Shi’ites as a “very dangerous” phenomenon that “plays into the hands of the occupier who wants to split up the country and spark a sectarian war.” In colonial terms, the strategy is known as “divide and rule.”

    The impetus to force the Arab population into concrete and barbed wire prisons with limited access to food, fuel, and electricity doesn’t come from the Arabs. It comes from the occupation. The exact same thing is done in Palestine for the exact same reason. It isn’t to protect them from ‘sectarian violence’ either. The ethnic cleansing is done with the active assistance of the American military: “They [death squads] evicted many of our good Sunni neighbors and killed many others,” Abu Riyad of the predominantly Shia Shula area told IPS. “We protected them for a while, but then we could not face the militias with all the support they had from the Iraqi government and the Americans. It is a terrible shame that we have to live with, but what can we do?”

    On the other hand, many Sunni Iraqis seemed unwilling to evict their Shia countrymen – for a while. But people in one mixed area of Baghdad described strange developments.

    “It is true that our neighbors did not evict us, but then the Americans swept the area and local fighters had to disappear from the streets,” Hussein Allawi, a Shia who lived in a predominantly Sunni neighborhood told IPS. “A group of masked strangers then entered the town right under American soldiers’ eyes. Only then did we realize that we must leave, and that our good neighbors could not help us any more.” Many such stories are told around Baghdad.

  11. First of all, I note that the evidence you provide for your argument comes in its majority from this site which you’re criticizing for never saying what it is you want us to say.

    Secondly, I don’t know what you’re referring to when you write “Strangely, the concept that America would use bombs to kill Arabs seems to drive you insane.” How’s that? Here I thought that’s what the whole show was about. (I admit I’m tired of going around and around with you over this, but then again I do it for the same reason I ask the questions to the guests – to learn it better for myself for later.)

    Even if it’s true that the pentagon set off bombs to frame the Sunni insurgency, you just imply that all bombs blamed on al Qeada in Iraq must then be the same. From the very beginning I saw through and called out the propaganda that all Sunni resistance is “al Qaeda terrorism” based on the Zarqawi myth. But you imply that for me to think that he ever existed and/or ever blew up any Shia in Iraq is to fall completely for the whole line of B.S., which I think is a red herring.

    I have plenty of reason to believe that it was Zarqawi’s strategy to prolong the war and occupation. As we all know, they did not, could not, exist in Iraq under Saddam, and as they knew, they would be out of a job if a state came into existence where his used to be. I take “discovered documents” with a grain of salt too, but it’s obvious isn’t it that if the occupation govt. had been able to bring in the leaders of the Sunni resistance, as they had the Sadrists, that their plan to attempt to create the “Islamic State of Iraq” over the Sunnis would be over before it started? (Turns out it was over shortly after it started, but still.) Zawahiri recently complained that he didn’t want to see us go until a few hundred thousand Americans had been killed so that we’d finally leave for good when we left. Now maybe a CIA puppet master was writing his lines for him – or doing the translating – but it makes sense.

    They always agree with what the Republicans want, but for different reasons. They wanted us to invade Afghanistan, Iraq, North Africa, because that’s where they can get close enough to shoot and bleed the empire dry. Osama explained the whole thing in October, 2004.

    You never address the fact that the insurgency was in fact predominately Sunni, just as their and Petraeus’s Concerned Local Citizens are now, nor the fact that they have, over the past couple of years, turned on and purged the very al Qaeda in Iraq you say never existed. Nor do you ever acknowledge that the Mahdi Army and Badr Corps are Shia and have their own interests. Everyone knows Iraqi Arabs were quite intermarried, but as you well know, purple fingers and opinion polls do not dictate the policies of the Badr Corps or Zarqawi style crazies any more than they do those of the American pentagon.

    So you say it’s a divide and conquer strategy, I say that there are Iraqis who play their parts to make it happen. So, I’m sorry, I guess.

  12. It is a dirty shame what the USA, UK, and Israel have done to Iraq.

  13. [...] of the conflict (you can get it from Netflix or buy it at their website). When interviewed by Scott Horton of AnitWar.com, they suggested that if the Americans leave Iraq, the al-Maliki government will [...]

  14. I replied in the Dahr Jamail comments.

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