On Wednesday, an American journalist for Al-Jazeera criticized the American news media's coverage of recent Iraqi elections and warned of a possible civil war in northern Iraq after the U.S. military withdraws most of its troops later this year.
Josh Rushing, a UT alumnus, spoke before a crowd of about 40 in the Texas Union.
Rushing recently returned from Iraq after reporting on the state of the country prior to its elections Sunday. He said that while there, he saw evidence that a civil war may soon break out in northern Iraq between Kurdish forces and the Iraqi military over control of major oil fields in the region.
"The reason the fighting hasn't happened already is because the U.S. is there, but the thing is, everyone knows the U.S. is leaving," he said.
Tarek El-Ariss, a Middle Eastern studies professor, said he invited Rushing to give insight into the U.S. involvement in Iraq.
"There is obviously great interest in the Iraqi elections for the American audience and the debate about the presence of our troops in Iraq," El-Ariss said. "Someone who has a firsthand account can help enrich the debate about the war on terror."
Rushing criticized the American news media for portraying the elections as successful. He said people in Iraq vote based on candidates' religion and race rather than on policy.
"There's seemingly no protection for the minority in their system, so everyone has to vote for their own group," Rushing said. "Any vote for someone other than your own group is seen as a vote for your future oppressor."
Rushing enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps when he was 18 years old, and in 2003, the military sent him to the Middle East to be one of its spokesmen at the start of the Iraq war.
He drew controversy in 2004 after his appearance in a documentary about media
coverage of the Iraq war. He said his superior officers let him know that they did not approve of what he said in the film. After the documentary aired, he left the military to co-host the show "Fault Lines" on the Al-Jazeera English channel. Al-Jazeera is an international news organization funded by the government of Qatar.
"Basically, Josh Rushing's job as marine officer was to distribute propaganda," UT journalism professor Robert Jensen said. "He was critically self-reflecting on the nature of that propaganda and commenting on it in that film. That obviously put him at odds with the military that hired him to distribute that propaganda."
Al-Jazeera has been accused in the past of being biased against American involvement in the Middle East. Rushing said that after he joined Al-Jazeera, he had to hire bodyguards to protect his family and himself.
"There were death threats online," he said. "To this day, I'm still called a traitor and a turncoat."
Rushing said he hopes to establish a relationship with UT so he can come back periodically and talk about what he sees during his travels to the Middle East.
Glenn Washburn, a UT alumnus, said he attended the event to learn more about Iraq than what American news outlets report.
"I do think that we, as Americans, do not get a lot of good international news," Washburn said. "To have someone who has been there and can speak with that kind of authority is very refreshing."