Red Cross officials in Iraq are now estimating 800 Iraqi civilians have been killed during the siege on Fallujah. We go to Baghdad to speak with independent journalist Dahr Jamail who broke the story. [includes rush transcript]
Independent journalist Dahr Jamail is reporting that Red Cross officials in Iraq are now estimating 800 Iraqi civilians have been killed during the siege on Fallujah. Jamail quotes an unnamed Red Cross official who insisted on remaining anonymous out of fear of US military reprisal. The US military has claimed that no civilians have been killed in the city even though the city of 300,000 has recently witnessed some of the most intense fighting of the Iraq war. The military has estimated 1200 fighters have been killed.
- Dahr Jamail, an independent journalist currently based in Baghdad. He is one of the only independent, unembedded journalists in Iraq right now. He publishes his reports on a blog called DahrJamailIraq.com.
AMY GOODMAN: Dahr Jamail joins us now from Baghdad. Welcome to Democracy Now!
DAHR JAMAIL: Thanks again, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you tell us what you have found out?
DAHR JAMAIL: Well, as the report states, the official with the Red Cross does claim that the 800 number is the most conservative estimate they would put out to the media at this time. However, he did go on to say in that interview that this is extremely conservative, that this doesn’t take into account people buried under the rubble of homes, and other horrendous things that have happened there. This was a number taken solely from people coming out. This is just what they have tabulated so far from refugees coming and reporting to them, and keeping track of the names and tabulating it that way. So, of course, he expects that number to be far, far higher. This is continuing to be confirmed by accounts being told by refugees that I have been interviewing who continue to stream out of Fallujah or the camps set up in the desert around the city. One man in particular reported that there were so many dead bodies on the ground, no one could bury them and the stench was unbearable. He said — he claimed that U.S. soldiers were dropping some of the — excuse me — some of the bodies into the Euphrates River that runs right nearby Fallujah and that other bodies were being pulled by tanks to the soccer stadium and left there. So, as time drags on, as the siege drags on in Fallujah, we expect more of these type of stories to be coming out.
AMY GOODMAN: The official that you quote in your piece, the Red Cross, estimating 50,000 residents remain trapped in Fallujah, that is nothing like the reports that we get from the mainstream press that makes it sound like a ghost city with some insurgents left, that’s basically been occupied by the U.S. military.
DAHR JAMAIL: Right, which is the exact report that the military is giving, which is exactly why the U.S. military is reporting — or I’m sorry, the U.S. media is reporting it, because most of these reporters are embedded with the military there, and even if they did attempt to send out a more accurate picture of what’s going on there, of course, their reports are subject to military censorship.
AMY GOODMAN: Which brings up the issue of what kind of news is getting out of there. You have got embedded reporters with the U.S. military, and then the two major Arab satellite networks, Al Arabiya, the reporter detained by the U.S. military, and Al-Jazeera, forbidden to report from Fallujah. Could you explain what’s happening and what you know of this Al Arabiya reporter, what has happened to him?
DAHR JAMAIL: Well, as you mentioned, he did go to Fallujah to try to get inside the city, to report on what was really happening, and he was promptly detained by the military, and he is still being held. That’s all the news that we have. He’s essentially disappeared at this point, which is the typical case when anyone is detained here. They vanish. There is no contact with them. And so he’s had — no one has been able to contact him, nor him anyone else. I should add also that as of yesterday, U.S.-backed Prime Minister Allawi made a statement that any Al-Jazeera journalists caught trying to report in Iraq will be detained. So, they remain under the gun, and the media crackdown here has really been beyond belief. They have made announcements prompting media to report, quote-unquote, "accurately," meaning they only want the U.S. military side of the story. And this crackdown on the Arab media has been very pronounced because stations like Al-Jazeera have consistently done a very good job of reporting extremely accurately what is happening here on the ground in Iraq. They do very good war reporting. They do show the graphic images, as they should, because this is a war, and this is what’s happening here. This is why they continue to catch so much flack from the United States, particularly Defense Minister Rumsfeld. This is why their office in Baghdad was bombed during the initial invasion of Iraq, even though they specifically gave their coordinates to the Pentagon to avoid that happening. So, it keeps continuing on into the occupation. Of course, when the fighting rages and reports come out that don’t play in the best interests of the U.S. military here, or the U.S. government, of course, the hammer gets dropped once again on the media that’s doing their job.
AMY GOODMAN: Last question about the U.S. forces, also arresting the deputy speaker of the interim Iraqi National Council, a move that is raising questions about the sovereignty of the Iraqi government, Naseer Ayaef, a leading Sunni politician, one of the highest ranking in the interim government, coming a week after the Iraqi Islamic party, his party, pulled out of the Iraqi government protesting the attack on Fallujah.
DAHR JAMAIL: Right. And this also followed the fact that one of another leader of the Islamic party, Ayed Arief was also detained. Also just the other day down in Karbala, a prominent Shiite Ayatollah there, Hasan al-Sarqi, also had his office raided because he had called to boycott the election, because he did not feel the interim government was going to hold them fairly. So the crackdown continues almost on a daily basis now. We have an official from some party or some religious sect that is being detained. People — when these offices are raided, in fact, the individual I just mentioned, Hasan al-Sarqi, when his office was raided, two of his followers were killed before he was actually detained himself. So, the crackdown on the media here as well as the so-called democracy, and having — being able to have some sort of elections with parties that people do want to represent them it’s just not happening, and quite the contrary, this is looking more and more like the regime of Saddam Hussein by the day. It’s really an astounding thing to watch.
AMY GOODMAN: Dahr Jamail, reporting to us from Iraq, unembedded, independent journalist. He publishes his reports in a blog called dahrjamailiraq.com.