Fallujah and the Media
"We headed to the area where we live and saw some bodies lying about the streets. I entered my neighbor’s house and found him lying on the ground, nothing left of him but some bones."
Abd al-Rahman Salim, Fallujah resident
"The role of a free press is to be the people’s eyes and ears, providing not just information but access, insight and, most importantly, context."
Jon Stewart, from "America" (The Book)
The extent of America’s war crimes in Falluja is gradually becoming apparent. On December 24, approximately 900 former residents of the battered city were allowed to return to their homes only to find that (according to BBC) "about 60% to 70% of the homes and buildings are completely crushed and damaged, and not ready to inhabit. Of the 30% still left standing, there’s not single one that has not been exposed to some damage."
The siege, which began on November 8, was intended to rid the city of an estimated 5,000 insurgents who were using it as a base of operation. The results have been devastating. Over 250,000 people have been expelled from their homes and the city has been laid to waste. The US military targeted the three main water treatment plants, the electrical grid and the sewage treatment plant; leaving Fallujans without any of the basic services they’ll need to return to a normal life. Many believe that this was done intentionally so that major US corporations and constituents of the Bush administration can rebuilt the city at some future time.
Most of the city’s mosques have been either destroyed or seriously damaged and entire areas of the city where the fighting was most fierce have been effectively razed to the ground.
So far, the army has only removed the dead bodies from the streets; leaving countless decomposed corpses inside the ruined buildings. A large percentage of these have been devoured by packs of scavenging dogs. The stench of death is reported to be overpowering.
The displaced families who returned on Thursday were hoping to escape the cold weather and lack of food and water at their improvised tent cities. Many of those who have inspected their homes say the damage is too great and they don’t expect to stay.
The siege of Falluja was planned to send a message that the US would take a "get- tough" approach with the burgeoning resistance. They wanted to demonstrate that defiance was futile in the face of the world’s most powerful military. The full force of America’s arsenal, including F-16s, C-130s, Abrams tanks, and Apache Helicopters were unleashed on a few thousand rebels in a civilian enclave. The stupidity of that action is now apparent.
Two weeks into the campaign, the military claimed victory saying they had "broken the back of the insurgency", but the truth has proved to be far different. In reality, the assault has only dispelled the illusion of US invincibility. Pockets of resistance still maintain a tenacious grip on parts of the city and the guerilla-style tactics have negated the overwhelming force of their adversary. If anything, the siege has only emboldened the resistance and broadened its sphere of influence. Violence has now spread throughout the Sunni triangle; ending last week with a devastating mortar attack that killed 22 in a mess tent outside Mosul. Now, the occupation forces are in a defensive mode; having to spend much of their energy simply trying to protect supply lines and oil facilities. Insurgents are increasingly able to "operate at will".
A number of recent government reports indicate that the widespread insurgency cannot be defeated and that the stated goals of the invasion will not be achieved. Maj. Isaiah Wilson III, who served as an official historian of the Iraq war and later as a war planner in Iraq, states in a Washington Post article that, "those who planned the war suffered from stunted learning and reluctance to adapt. the ‘western coalition’ failed, and continues to fail, to see Operation Iraqi Freedom in its fullness the U.S. military remains perhaps in peril of losing the ‘war,’ even after supposedly winning it." Wilson’s comments are a powerful indictment of imperial hubris and the stubborn unwillingness to accept the parameters of brute force.
The obliteration of Falluja makes the prospects of "losing the war" all the more likely. The pointless murder of 6000 civilians (Red Cross estimate) will only galvanize the resistance and hasten the inevitable defeat of America’s misguided crusade. The Administration has added to their dilemma by establishing a prison camp-style regimen for returning Fallujans. By requiring retina scans, ID papers displayed on one’s arm, curfews and work crews, the Administration is showing that it has abandoned all pretense of creating a "free" Iraq and is trying to install police state in its place. If the military succeeds, life in Falluja will become very similar to life in the West Bank; a demeaning daily struggle with the brutish enforcers of occupation.
The Disappearing Media
The role of the media in the siege of Falluja has been nearly as extraordinary as the battle itself. The siege began on November 8, but by Nov. 15 the military had declared "victory" and the story disappeared from all the major media. It was as if the Pentagon had simply issued an edict forbidding any further coverage of the conflict, and the press left without protest.
The fact is, the siege is ongoing and the final results are far from certain. A city of 250,000 has been evacuated; as many as 20,000 American servicemen have been engaged in the operation with "the largest concentration of heavy armor in one place, since the fall of Berlin". The military is proceeding with house-to-house searches and bombing raids are still being conducted on a regular basis. The siege of Falluja continues to be a huge story, despite the fact that the establishment media is nowhere to be found.
How do we explain the sudden and complete desertion of the media from the largest operation since the fall of Baghdad? Did Rumsfeld simply tell them to pack their cameras and go home?
Actually, the siege helps to expose the real nature of corporate media. Clearly, an authentic "free press" would cover the details of a massive military confrontation that has lasted for nearly two months. Not so, for the corporate press. The curtain has been drawn on Falluja; allowing the military to pulverize the city beyond the scrutiny of the world community. The only news to emerge is from the eyewitness accounts of independent journalists. Everyone else has complied with the "total news blackout".
Normally, media tries to maintain the facade of objectivity. After all, their livelihood depends on credibility, so it doesn’t pay to show that they are a fully-owned franchise of corporate America. Regrettably, the selective coverage and calculated omissions of the Falluja story proves that to be the case. "For profit" media operates by the same standard as any other business and can’t be expected to function in the public interest. In Falluja the goal of informing the public has been subordinated to the more powerful objectives of ownership, who want to create a narrative of "benign American intervention" to democratize a Muslim nation. It’s an absurd idea and (as the polls show) fewer Americans are finding it credible. Despite the virtual uniformity of news promoting our involvement, support for the war is steadily eroding.
The incestuous relationship between media and the state is rarely displayed as plainly as it has been in Falluja. Both institutions are working in complete harmony like the spokes on a wheel. The deregulation of media has proved to be a great boon to the war mongers in Washington. They,re free to quash a civilian enclave of 250,000 in an orgy of terror while the press diverts attention the tawdry details of the Scott Peterson case.
Falluja illustrates what happens when the nation’s information delivery system is controlled by a handful of corporate plutocrats. Media becomes the bullhorn for butchery and adventurism. All hope of rekindling democracy in America depends on eradicating the current media paradigm.
The Forces Behind the Occupation
The collective punishment and wholesale savagery of the Falluja campaign cannot be understood without recognizing the economic forces that are driving the repression. The military is nothing more than the enforcement arm of American commercial interests. As Emad Mekay reports for Inter Press Service, "The United States is helping the interim Iraqi government continue to make major economic changes, including cuts to social subsidies, full access for U.S. companies to the nation’s oil reserves and reconsideration of oil deals that the previous regime signed with France and Russia." The first of these changes will involve the privatizing of the Iraqi National Oil Company so that Iraq’s prodigious oil wealth will be directly owned by foreign corporations. Iraqi oil will remain "national" in name only. Iraqi oil receipts will remain entirely under US control, tariffs will stay ridiculously low, all public assets and services will be privatized, and subsidies for Iraq’s malnourished and unemployed people will be dramatically cut. All the usual suspects (The IMF, the World Bank, the US Treasury, Big Oil, USAID, U.S. Export-Import Bank etc) are complicit in this systematic and ruthless plundering of Iraq’s national assets.
The impetus for the Iraq war originated with these organizations. Operating through their foot-soldiers in the media and right-wing think tanks, they have fabricated the rationale for attacking a defenseless nation and stealing its resources. Even the political apparatus in Washington (of which George Bush is a mere figurehead) is only a manifestation of this stateless corporate regime that now dictates American foreign policy. The bloodletting in Falluja is as much their responsibility as the confiscatory, neo-liberal tyranny they’re applying to the Iraqi economy. Any final judgment on war crimes in Falluja will have to take into account the corporate big-wigs who led the charge to war.
MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He can be reached at: email@example.com