Fallujah: BBC whitewash of war crimes
Monday 1st November 2014
Ian Sinclair accuses Paul Wood of propaganda journalism over mass civilian deaths in the Iraq war
“The truth,” US historian Howard Zinn once wrote, “is so often the reverse of what has been told us by our culture that we cannot turn our heads far enough around to see it.”
A recent article by the BBC’s Paul Wood titled “Iraq’s hardest fight: The US battle for Fallujah 2004” perfectly illustrates Zinn’s truism.
Wood, an award-winning foreign correspondent, was writing about the 10th anniversary of the US assault on Fallujah, when he was embedded with US marines attacking the Iraqi city.
For Wood the story begins on March 31 2004, when four US private security contractors were ambushed in the centre of the city, killed, burned and strung up from a bridge.
In response the US launched its first attack in April 2004, killing approximately 800 people, including around 300 women and children, before its forces were ordered to pull back in the face of protests across Iraq and the world.
What Wood doesn’t mention is tensions in the city had been running high since April 2003 when US soldiers killed 17 protesters during a demonstration about US troops being stationed in a school.
In the days before the lynching of the private security contractors the US military had conducted a “sweep” through the city. During this operation, the Observer reported that at least six Iraqi civilians were killed, including an 11-year-old boy.
Speaking about the aftermath of the first US attack, Wood repeats the official narrative of the US military, claiming that “Fallujah became a safe haven for al Qaida.”
In contrast Fadhil Badrani, an Iraqi journalist and resident of Fallujah who reported regularly for Reuters, wrote an article for the BBC News website in which he noted: “I am not aware of any foreign fighters in Fallujah.”
Turning to the second US assault in November 2004, Wood makes the following, highly misleading, statement: “Most of the people had left Fallujah … the image of a city packed with non-combatants being pounded with artillery and white phosphorus was wrong.”
In reality, when the US attack began on November 8 2004 the American Forces Press Service reported that out of a total population of 300,000 “officials estimate that between 50,000 and 60,000 people are left in the city.”
According to the New York Times, just before the US forces moved into Fallujah “heavy artillery could be heard pounding positions in or near the city every few minutes. An entire apartment complex was ground to rubble. A train station was obliterated in a hail of 2,000-pound bombs.”
The Washington Post reported the US military used white phosphorus during the fighting, a fact confirmed by a 2005 edition of Field Artillery magazine, the official publication of the US Army Field Artillery Corps.
While Wood’s words are a classic example of a journalist echoing US propaganda, arguably it is what he chooses not to mention that is most shocking.
Contemporary news reports and subsequent commentary confirm that the US committed a number of war crimes in Fallujah. Prior to the attack, the Washington Post reported that US forces cut off Fallujah’s water and electricity supply.
This contravened the Geneva Conventions which states the “starvation of civilians as a method of combat is prohibited” and led to predictable results. Rasoul Ibrahim, who fled the fighting, said: “There’s no water. People are drinking dirty water. Children are dying.”
The New York Times reported that within an hour of the start of the ground attack, US troops seized the Fallujah General Hospital: “Patients and hospital employees were rushed out of rooms by armed soldiers and ordered to sit or lie on the floor while troops tied their hands behind their backs.”
Quoting an Iraqi doctor, the Independent reported that a US air strike had destroyed an emergency clinic killing 20 doctors. The Geneva Conventions state that medical establishments “may in no circumstances be the object of attack, but shall at all times be respected and protected by the parties to the conflict.”
US forces blocked aid convoys from reaching Fallujah, only letting them enter after five days of fighting. “From a humanitarian point of view, it is a disaster, there is no other way to describe it,” Firdoos al-Ubaidi from the Iraqi Red Crescent Society said on November 10 2004.
“We have asked for permission from the Americans to go into the city and help the people there but we haven’t heard anything back from them.”
At the same time they were stopping help getting to the city, US forces were preventing military-aged males from leaving.
“Hundreds of men trying to flee the assault on Fallujah have been turned back by US troops following orders to allow only women, children and the elderly to leave,” the Associated Press reported.
James Ross, senior legal advisor to Human Rights Watch, said that returning unarmed men to the war zone “would be a war crime.”
Those unable to escape Fallujah had to contend with US forces implementing “a strict night-time shoot-to-kill curfew” with “anyone spotted in the soldiers’ night vision sights … shot,” according to the Times.
Patrick Cockburn, the Independent’s veteran Middle East correspondent, wrote: “US commanders largely treated Fallujah as a free-fire zone to try to reduce casualties among their own troops.”
The outcome of this unrestrained violence was 800 dead in the first week of fighting, according to one Red Cross official. In January 2005, the director of the main hospital told the UN that 700 bodies — including 550 women and children — had been recovered from just a third of the city’s neighbourhoods.
Local authorities said about 60 percent of all houses in the city were totally destroyed or seriously damaged while the Fallujah Compensation Committee reported that 9,000 shops, 65 mosques, 60 schools and a heritage library had been demolished. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced.
In the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf war US academic Edward Herman penned his seminal essay The Banality of Evil about the normalisation of “ugly, degrading, murderous and unspeakable acts.”
According to Herman “there is usually a division of labour in doing and rationalising the unthinkable, with the direct brutalising and killing done by one set of individuals,” while “it is the function of the experts, and the mainstream media, to normalise the unthinkable for the general public.’’
We in the West should be deeply ashamed and angry about what our armed forces did to Fallujah in 2004 — described as “our Guernica” by the Guardian’s Jonathan Steele and independent journalist Dahr Jamail.
Instead what we get is Wood’s embedded puff piece complete with a sub-heading referring to when “US troops and coalition forces fought their deadliest battle since the Vietnam war.”
If Emily Thornberry MP has to step down from the shadow cabinet for tweeting a photo of a house decked out with English flags, then Wood should definitely go for his whitewashing of US war crimes in Iraq.
Ian Sinclair is the author of The March That Shook Blair, published by Peace News Press.
THE new Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi has announced that an investigation has uncovered that the Iraqi state was paying the wages of 50,000 ‘ghost soldiers’ whose wages were being pocketed by corrupt senior officials. This revelation will come as no surprise either to Iraqis, or to the US and UK governments. The US in particular has spent hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq, first of all to remove the Saddam Hussein regime, and then to put in place, and keep in place the most corrupt regime in Iraq’s recent history: here.