Media
06/04/04 Fallujah: THE MORE THEY SAY, THE LESS THEY KNOW

The "News Dissector Weblog": Danny Schechter's dissections of the day's news.
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Then there was the Chris Matthew show (transcript not posted at release time) and he was yakking about Iraq along with neo-con Andrew Sullivan and a crew of fellow beltway babblers who were mouthing off about what happened in Fallujah. There weren‚t enough adjectives available to for them to condemn the horror—and a horror it was. They all had opinions-it was Al Qaeda, it was a minority of Iraqis in a country where most of the people love us, etc. etc. True to form, war critics and actual Iraq experts were in short supply and the level of discourse was predictably uninformed, long on emotion, and just as short on facts and knowledge. But did it ever sound authoritative! This is the just another example of why Americans remain so uninformed about events in Fallujah and most of the rest of the world.

Obviously, the spectacle of an orgy of delight over the killings of four Americans — who were not civilians but, in effect, mercenaries—is not something to justify. It was gruesome. But, maybe, just maybe, we can put the easy demonization aside for a minute and try to look at this incident in context, as part of a chronology, and as one link in an ever-lengthening chain of events.

In an environment of attack and response, of violence begetting violence and forced occupation, you have to try to analyze what is happening from a diverse range of sources. So let me try, just on the basis of the incomplete information I have. But before returning to Fallujah, as the US Marines have this morning, let's look at a more serious development. Here‚s what was apparently happening as Chris and company were having their makeup applied in the MSNBC Green Room while gulping down their Sunday morning lattes.

IT IS NOW "OFFICIAL": TIMES REPORTS 'UPRISING'

The New York Times was reporting yesterday that an "uprising" is underway. Not an incident. Not an attack here and there, but an "uprising." And it continues today, spoiling what Walt Rodgers of CNN called "Washington‚s plan." He looked glum.

Al Jazeeera calls the Shia "the key to Iraq." Yesterday eight more American soldiers were killed battling Shia forces. AP reported: "At least 22 Iraqis, eight U.S. troops and one Salvadoran soldier died. Sunday's violence – along with the unrelated killings of two Marines in Anbar province – pushed the U.S. death toll to at least 610."

This is a first and quite possibly a turning point. A long time news watcher and Network news veteran says "this is it." Things will now truly go out of control. Think of what is going to happen very soon, probably tomorrow: the US will begin its promised offensive in Fallujah in response to the mutilations of last week. So the true absurdist nightmare — Americans trying to kill Sunnis when they — the Americans — are being killed by Shiites (along with Sunnis, of course, which has been happening all along.)

"Iraq was wracked today by its most violent civil disturbances since the occupation started, with a coordinated Shia uprising spreading across the country, from the slums of Baghdad to several cities in the south." Now that‚s the Times, always good on the what — not so good on the why was saying.

20 DEAD, HUNDREDS WOUNDED

Closer to the scene, IslamOnline.net was reporting:

"At least 20 Iraqi Shiites were killed and a hundred others wounded Sunday, April 4, when occupation troops opened fire randomly at thousands of supporters of Shiite leader Moqtada Sadr in this southern holy city in the most dangerous confrontation between the occupation and Iraq's majority community.

The Spanish-led occupation troops fired at the marchers, who were peacefully protesting the crushing of two fellowmen by a U.S. tank on Saturday, April 3, the arrest of Sadr's top assistant sheikh Mostafa Al-Yaqoubi and the ban on Al-Houza newspaper, the mouthpiece of Sadr, Aljazeera satellite channel reported."

If you read that again, you will find here what is so often missing—an explanation of why the marchers were marching, a rather key fact in the chain of events that help us make sense of them. The problem is that once again we are in the news cycle where a story can be simply summed up by a body count: so many dead, so many wounded. Hundreds wounded is a lot of wounded. But still, this is accounting, not analysis.

THE VIEW FROM THE RIVERBEND: WHY BAGHDADS‚S BURNING

To help us understand the texture of the events from an Iraqi perspective, let's revisit my friend River‚s blog, Baghdad Burning. Here‚s the take from someone on the scene:

"There have been demonstrations by Al-Sadr's followers in Baghdad and Najaf. In Baghdad they are gathered near the Green Zone and the Sheraton hotel by the thousands- a huge angry mob, mostly in black. In Najaf, they were just outside of the Spanish troops' camp. The demonstration in Najaf was shot at by the soldiers and they say that at least 14 are dead and dozens are wounded. An Iraqi friend in Diwaniya was telling me that they had to evacuate the CPA building in Najaf because it was under attack. He says there‚s talk of Jihad amongst the Shi‚a.

Let me make it very clear right now that I am *not* a supporter of Al-Sadr. I do not like clerics who want to turn Iraq into the next Iran or Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, but it makes me really, really angry to see these demonstrations greeted with bullets and tanks by the troops. Why allow demonstrations if you're going to shoot at the people? The demonstrators were unarmed but angry- Al-Sadr's newspaper was shut down recently by Bremer and Co. and his deputy is said to have been detained by the Spaniards down south (although the Spanish troops are denying it). His followers are outraged, and believe me— he has a healthy number of followers. His father was practically revered by some of the Shi'a and he apparently has inherited their respect.

Today Bremer also announced the fact that we now have an official 'Ministry of Defense'. The irony of the situation wasn't lost on Iraqis- the head of the occupation announcing a `Ministry of Defense.' To defend against what? Occupation? Ha, ha — or maybe it's to secure the borders from unwelcome foreigners carrying guns and riding tanks? "

WHERE ARE THE REPORTERS?

That adds a dimension to the news that is mostly missing—but why is it missing? Dahr Jamail writes about that in a ZNET commentary. What he says goes beyond critiquing the Sunday chatter gang as he proceeds to indict many of the reporters on the ground.

"I recently spent nine weeks in Iraq working as a freelance independent journalist. On a daily basis, I witnessed first-hand the corporate media either mis-reporting or not reporting stories as they arose.

The signs were glaring — from the parking lot full of parked white SUVs in the middle of the day, supposedly used by the CNN and Fox news crews, to the absence of ABC, NBC, or CBS media crews at any of the sites of the news stories I was covering. Even stories that were on the front pages stateside are regularly being covered from the press room and not the field.

It's no wonder the corporate media rarely reports on the torturing of many of the over 10,000 detained Iraqis by the US military, the constant home raids, or the infrastructure in nearly complete disrepair as we begin the second year of the occupation. For most of the corporate media tend to stick closer to their hotels, rather than where the stories are occurring and being lived every day — out amongst the Iraqi people."

FALLUJAH REVISITED

So what, in particular, was missing from the coverage of the events in Fallujah??

First, accounts of any prior incidents that might have particularly outrged the local population. Ghazwan Al-Mukhtar, a retired Iraqi engineer was on the radio show "Democracy Now!" and said

"Two days before [this incident], the American army shot many many people, women and children, on the streets [of Falluja], and, in a bizarre shooting incident that was unjustified, killing many people."

We never heard about that (if it is accurate).

ALIENATING THE PEOPLE

Second, what has been the modus operandi of the U.S. occupying force in that area? Again, Ghazwan Al-Mukhtar:

"Falluja has been a place where the US Army has actually used brutal force to suppress the people there, including using the F-15s, and F-16s to attack villages and place where they think the resistances are, which is unjustified to use high explosives against individuals. This resulted in many, many casualties in the province. Added to it, they have detained, for 50 or 60 days, hundreds of people on and off, which alienated the people against the American forces and the American contractors or the American security contractors, which are really a private army, uncontrollable by the US. This is part of the privatization of the war."

SHOOT TO KILL

Third, what about these private armies like Blackwater security, which lost men in this incident? There have been reports of them using highly lethal new weapons and bullets not approved for regular military use. The Army Times reported on one such incident involving a "private" contractor:

"He hit the man in the buttocks, a wound that typically is not fatal. But this round appeared to kill the assaillant instantly. It entered his butt and completely destroyed everything in the lower left section of his stomach … everything was torn apart, Thomas said.

"Thomas, a security consultant with a private company contracted by the government, recorded the first known enemy kill using a new 5.56 controversial bullet. The bullet is so controversial that if Thomas, a former SEAL, had been on active duty, he would have been court-martialed for using it. The ammunition is 'non-standard' and hasn‚t passed the military‚s approval process."

FROM CHILE‚S DEATH SQUADS THEY COME

And now the US is reaching out to killers from around the world like some of the men who served Chile‚s vicious Pinochet regimes, Yellowtimes.org reports:

"Ex-Chilean commandos are the latest batch of recruited mercenaries forming a growing private military presence in Iraq. Gary Johnson, president of USA Blackwater, told the Guardian UK's Jonathon Franklin that former commandos training in North Carolina will be sent to Iraq for a year and a half. Their job will be to guard oil wells from saboteurs.

"We scour the ends of the earth to find professionals – the Chilean commandos are very, very professional and they fit within the Blackwater system,' said Johnson. The Guardian story notes that several of the 60 recruits served during Augusto Pinochet's brutal military government."

For more on these so-called private armies see:

Xymphora blog
The Washington Post: "Iraqi facilities and oil pipelines" Barry Yeoman on The New York Times Op-Ed page:"Need an Army? Just Pick Up the Phone"
>From the Times "Week in Review": "Modern Mercenaries on the Iraqi Frontier"

NOT TO BE OUTDONE

And if that‚s not bad enough, guess what other country is sending musclemen? Answer: South Africa. A South African friend told me last night that South African police are quitting and signing up for more lucrative positions on the frontlines of securing Iraq.

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