Dahr Jamail’s MidEast Dispatches are essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what is happening in Iraq. (You can sign up on the site to receive his reports via email.) Dahr has spent a total of 8 months in occupied Iraq as one of only a few independent US journalists in the country. In the MidEast, Dahr has also has reported from Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Jamail writes for the Inter Press Service, Asia Times and many other outlets. Dahr Jamail’s current book, Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq, can be purchased on-line or in book stores.
Kevin Zeese: Compare you experiences in Iraq with how the media generally described the events. Do you think most people, Americans in particular, are getting an accurate picture of what has occurred in Iraq? Is occurring in Iraq?
Dahr Jamal: From the invasion until now, with few exceptions the so-called mainstream media in the West has portrayed a drastically different picture of what Iraq is really like under U.S. military rule. We regularly see stories from the military point of view, and rarely, if ever, how catastrophic the occupation has made life for the average Iraqi. Thus, most people are in no way getting an accurate picture of what has occurred, or what is occurring today. For example, how many mainstream outlets cite the only scientific survey which has been done to tally the number of Iraqis killed? Known as the Lancet report, and conducted by scientists from John’s Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health in conjunction with Iraqi doctors from al-Mustanceriya University in Baghdad, it found that 655,000 Iraqis had died as the direct result of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation. Over 90 percent of the people they tracked had death certificates provided by family members to the researchers. Yet the mainstream media does not cite this survey, which was authenticated by British Government. Why not? This is but one example of countless examples.
KZ: You were in Fallujah, describe how long, when and under what circumstances. I understand you were there right after the four Blackwater operatives were killed in Fallujah? I’ve heard commentators describe the U.S. role in Fallujah in heroic terms, like something out of a World War II movie. How do you see the role of the U.S. military in Fallujah?
DJ: I went into Fallujah several times; first-before the siege to see that the military had an ongoing policy of collectively punishing the cities residents by cutting water and electricity everytime they were attacked.
Then during April I went as the siege was in progress. After the siege ended I returned several times in May to chronicle what happened. Later, during the November siege, I covered it by interviewing doctors and refugees from the city.
What the U.S. military did in that city, under orders from the White House, likens it to a modern Guernica. Most of the city was destroyed during the second attack-70% of it was destroyed. Restricted and illegal weapons like cluster bombs and white phosphorous were used by the military. Marine snipers were shooting anything that moved in the city.
Horrible war crimes took place there. Yet, again, the corporate media portrayed it as a heroic action to free the people of the city from fighters, yet it was mostly the people from the city themselves fighting to defend their homes, and their city, from the military. Of all I saw in Iraq, Fallujah stands as the worst action the U.S. military took, aside from the initial invasion of the country.
KZ: Were women, children and the elderly being killed? Was it accidental? Intentional? The U.S. military talks about precision bombs, what kinds of weapons was the U.S. using?
DJ: From what I saw in April, at a small clinic inside Fallujah, it was mostly women, children and elderly being shot by marine snipers. Everyone I saw coming to the clinic, people from different parts of the city coming at different times, were all telling the same story. That snipers were shooting everything that moved since they were being kept out of the city by the resistance. It definately appeared to be intentional, and soldiers later verified this. Later, during the November siege, military leaders declared the entire city a “free fire zone,” meaning they gave soldiers license to shoot anything they wanted.
As far as “precision” bombings-there is no such thing. Just the blast radius alone for many of the munitions means that by definition there will be damage to nearby locations, which usually means civilian homes.
This has been true since the initial invasion.
KZ: During the last presidential campaign I was with Ralph Nader when he was being interviewed on an international television show and a woman called from Fallujah, this was after the first battle when Bush pulled back from attacking the city, and the woman expressed pride that they had pushed back the U.S. military. At the same time I recall Senator Kerry, who was running for president, mocking George Bush for backing down on Fallujah. His comments gave Bush the green light for the second attack on the city where many more died. Now, I see the top Democratic presidential candidates saying they cannot promise to get out of Iraq by 2013 and all keep a military action against Iran on the table. All this is occurring when the vast majority of Americans want the U.S. out of Iraq and do not want a war with Iran. What do you make of the political situation in the U.S. and the electoral choices that peace voters have?
DJ: The silver lining of this dark cloud we are now living under in our country is that the true colors of the mainstream candidates in both the Democratic and Republican parties have the same mindset about U.S. policy in the Middle East. I urge people to read the National Security Strategy, along with the Quadrennial Defense Review Report. These give a pretty clear picture of U.S. policy in the Middle East-which is essentially to control the natural resources and the shipping lanes. Until those are addressed in open debates with politicians, whatever their party, we cannot expect to see any policy change regarding Iraq, Iran, and the Middle East. Our political system has been corrupted, and most of the representatives, aside from a handful, are embedded within that system. It is a systemic problem, thus, requires solutions which address the system. This means that voting for one candidate or the other isn’t going to address the real problem.
KZ: What would be the key false impressions that Americans have about Iraq and how would you correct them?
DJ: That the occupation has an end date, that if the U.S. leaves things will worsen in Iraq, and that by staying they are preventing the civil war from widening. The occupation, as per the current U.S. strategy supported by all of the mainstream politicians on either side of the isle, has no end date. Period. Drawing down the number of troops, if-when it happens, has nothing to do with moving towards a total withdrawal until the policy is changed.
The bogus idea that if the U.S. leaves things will worsen is both inherently racist and ignorant. Iraq is where western civilization began, and the Iraqi people are more than capable of sorting out the problems within their country. In addition, the majority of those current problems were caused by and continued to be propagated by the foreign occupation forces. When the occupation ends, thus begins the first step towards solving all of the problems within Iraq.
The rhetoric that the U.S. is preventing a worsening of the civil war by staying is also erroneous. Via arming Sunnis and politically supporting Shias, along with facilitating the death squads, the U.S. presence in Iraq only exacerbates the sectarian tensions they helped to foster in the first place. Again, total U.S. withdrawal will be the first step towards reconciliation and peace.
KZ: What advice would you give the U.S. peace movement and Americans opposed to the Iraq occupation at this difficult time?*
DJ: I feel the two single greatest things people can do to help end the occupation are to support Iraq Veterans Against the War, and to continue to organize locally. IVAW is the spearhead, I feel, of any movement that will be effective in ending the occupation, and organizing locally for local, national, and international issues is paramount for building the infrastructure necessary to radically change the collapsing system we find ourselves in today. (If you want to get involved in local organizing contact the author at SU.gnisiRycarcomeDnull@eseeZK.)
KZ: I understand you have participated in deep ecology workshops with Joanna Macy who is a long-term activist and is now involved in what she calls “The Great Turning” from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization. Do you see connections between the Iraq occupation and issues like climate change and the ecological crisis?
DJ: They are inseparable. The runaway train that is this Late Stage Capitalism, of infinite growth at the cost of human rights and our ecology, brings us the latest symptom, which is Iraq. The U.S. military is one of the largest polluters on the planet-thus the direct link of the ambitions for U.S. global empire, using the military to enforce this, runaway corporatism and all the destruction to the ecology that that growth entails, and thus, our global climate change crisis.