Blogging Fallujah, and the US Air War against Iraqi Civilians
Thomas E. Ricks has a characteristically piercing examination of the way in which a single blogger has been able to challenge the public relations efforts of the entire US military with regard to the human cost of the Fallujah campaign. He contrasts the US military’s powerpoint slides of the fighting in Fallujah (linked to at Soldiers for Truth) with Fallujah in Pictures, a web site hosted by an anonymous individual in New York, which put up disturbing pictures from the fighting that were not printed in US newspapers or shown on US television, but which were widely seen in the rest of the world. Ricks interviews experts who universally conclude that the blogger’s presentation trumped that of the US military.
One part of the war where pictures can’t help stir controversy is the aerial bombardment of Iraq, which takes place in the midst of conflict, and often at night, such as to render it invisible to the cameras of journalists. Tom Engelhardt’s “Icarus (Armed with Vipers) Over Iraq” is a seminal piece of anti-war journalism, standing alongside the articles of Naomi Klein as among the more thoughtful interventions so far from that side of the aisle. Excerpts:
“The Old City of Najaf that abuts the holy Shrine of Imam Ali was largely destroyed in August, partially from the air in the midst of bitter fighting between American troops and relatively lightly armed, ill-trained but tenacious young Shiite men loyal to the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. (“Few in the shrine could sleep through the ominous rumble of American AC-130 Specter gunships, capable of firing 1,800 bullets per minute. When the bombs fell closer than ever, hundreds rose to march and chant in the courtyard, saying they hoped their voices boosted the morale of the Mahdi Army.”) In one of our last acts before a cease fire was declared, according to Dexter Filkins of the New York Times, we used “a 2,000-pound, laser-guided bomb to strike a hotel about 130 yards away from the shrine’s southwest wall, in an area known to American commanders as ‘motel row…’ [R]eports indicated the hotel was a redoubt for al-Sadr fighters… The official said the strike had been ‘100 per cent successful,’ demolishing the hotel.”
Filkins later described the post-truce moment this way: “[The rebels] stood in a scene of devastation. Hotels had crumbled into the street. Cars were blackened and twisted where they had been hit. Goats and donkeys lay dead on the sidewalks. Pilgrims from out of town and locals coming from home walked the streets agape, shaking their heads, stunned by the devastation before them.”
Similarly, much of the city of Falluja has just been devastated in fighting in which American fire power of every sort was called in. The razing of that city began with weeks of “targeted” air attacks on what were termed insurgent “safe havens.” Falluja is now a wasteland and, while fantasies about its reconstruction abound, the fighting only continues. (At least 20 U.S. troops have died there, to almost no press attention, since the city was declared secure and the operation deemed a “success.”) Falluja remains cordoned off; up to 250,000 Fallujan refugees are still unable to return; and American military strategists, who over the months since the first failed Marine attempt to take the city in April planned its eventual destruction, are now evidently planning to “ask” the “head of every household” (read: males) “to wear an identification badge” once back in the city.”
The use of air power in Iraq has been among the more troubling policies in the post-Saddam period. It appears to be the case, from the Lancet survey, that between 40,000 and 100,000 excess deaths have occurred among Iraqi civlians since the war began, and 85 percent of those deaths were because of US aerial bombardment (these statistics were gathered excluding Fallujah, lest it skew the national averages). That is between 34,000 and 85,000 Iraqis killed by US bombing, most of them civilians. Jeffrey Sachs and Tom Engelhardt are among the few American observers who even seem to be noticing the phenomenon.