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2004-11-19

U.S. Continues Air Strikes and Ground Assault On Fallujah Despite Claims of Victory

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The U.S. is claiming victory in Fallujah 11 days after it began its ground assault. 51 U.S. soldiers and as many as 1,600 Iraqis were killed in the offensive. Up to 800 civilians lost their lives. We go to Baghdad to speak with Pulitzer prize-winning Washington Post reporter, Anthony Shadid. [includes rush transcript]

The U.S. military is claiming victory in Fallujah a week and a half after it launched its ground offensive into the Sunni city west of Baghdad. US Lieutenant-General John Sattler told reporters Thursday his forces had "broken the back of the insurgency." He added that US troops killed an estimated 1,200 Iraqis and had taken over 1,000 prisoners. He said there was no information about civilian deaths. The Red Cross has estimated that as many as 800 civilians have been killed and warned of a humanitarian disaster in the city where there is no running water or electricity, and wounded people are unable to reach medical care. 51 US soldiers were killed in the 11-day assault.

Despite the claims of victory, the US is still carrying out aerial bombing raids and US forces continue to encounter resistance on the ground.

Meanwhile, marine intelligence officials have issued a report warning that any significant withdrawal of troops from Fallujah would strengthen the resistance. The report–which is distributed to senior Marine and Army officers in Iraq–was leaked to the New York Times on Thursday.

It said that despite heavy fighting with US forces, the resistance would continue to increase in number, carrying out attacks and fomenting unrest. The report appears to contradict the US government’s victorious account of the Fallujah assault.

  • Anthony Shadid, foreign correspondent for the Washington Post. He won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting. He joins us on the phone from Baghdad.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we go now to Baghdad to speak with Anthony Shadid. He is the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter with The Washington Post. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Anthony. Anthony, can you talk about what is happening right now in Iraq and responding to those reports?

ANTHONY SHADID: Quite a bit of fighting going on across the country. That’s in the regions north and west of Baghdad, the area that is sometimes referred to as the Sunni triangle. It’s clear that the rebels wanted to open different fronts once the fighting of Fallujah began. We have seen quite a few clashes going on in towns like Ramadi, further north in Mosul and Beji and Baquba, closer to Baghdad. It’s obviously probably too early to tell whether the general’s comments were correct or not, but it is one thing that people here are looking at, how resilient the insurgency will prove. So far, it’s proved it’s out of Fallujah, whether that goes on longer, or whether in fact the Americans by entering Fallujah did — were able to — what’s the word — to break the back of the leadership, or however they referred to it, it’s still too early to tell that.

AMY GOODMAN: And your assessment as we look from Fallujah around the country of Iraq, whether there will be other Fallujahs?

ANTHONY SHADID: Well, that’s a good question. You know, I think it’s still a little too early to say. You do keep hearing Iraqis predict that we will see Mosul become more tense, and things will erupt in Ramadi or perhaps in the area south of Baghdad. It’s become dangerous. You know, these — the regions are precarious it’s too dangerous for foreigners and Iraqis to travel on some of these roads. Whether they become virtually independent of Fallujah for several months, that’s hard to say. The security situation I guess the situation in terms of safety or stability, it’s very unsettled in those regions.

AMY GOODMAN: Anthony Shadid, this is your first time back in Baghdad after quite a while. Can you talk about the change you see?

ANTHONY SHADID: Yeah. Baghdad is a very somber city right now. I got back on the last day of a major Muslim holiday, which is usually a time — a festive time in most of the Arab and Muslim world. It wasn’t in Baghdad. I think there’s a lot of fear and anxiety right now. If anything I’ve picked up on, there’s almost a weariness and probably a more intense weariness than I have noticed in the past. People seem to be fed up to a large degree and exhaustion over the direction that the insurgency has taken with the car bombings and beheadings. Neither the Americans nor the Arab government can do anything about it. You don’t hear a lot of optimism. I think people are going to be looking to the elections as a turning point, and when I was in Sadr City today and talking to people, there’s, they have a sense — you do hear some people — Iraq is a remarkably resilient place and I think Iraqis are remarkably resilient. Just as we saw after the beginning of the occupation, there was some hope. With the appointment of the interim government this summer, again there was some hope, although those hopes were later dashed. I think we’re seeing that same hope that the elections will be a breakthrough and this will bring a more stable government and a government that is able to exert control in Iraq. But I think what more what you hear is frustration and a deep kind of — what’s the word I’m looking for — an apathy to a certain degree that nothing is going to really get better any time soon.

AMY GOODMAN: Anthony Shadid, the U.S. military, one of the rationales for going after Fallujah was to, well, break the insurgency’s back, so that people in Fallujah would be able to participate in the elections. It is a Sunni City, and this week, 47 political parties announced they will boycott the elections because the U.S. military waged this assault on Fallujah. What about this, and do you think that the elections will take place? Will Sunnis participate? Will they be legitimate?

ANTHONY SHADID: I’m sure it will take place. I think the Americans and their allies here in Iraq have too much invested in the elections. You know, there’s a high degree of support for the elections among some religious Shiite factions, particularly Ayatollah Sistani to the groups. They are seen as the vehicle they — that the majority will finally be represented in Iraqi politics and by the majority they define it as the Shiite majority in Iraq. You know, will the elections have a legitimacy, and that’s a crucial question. If they bring legitimacy, there may be a way out of the quagmire that’s going on right now. The legitimacy is going to be difficult to reach. If you look at cities like Fallujah and the unrest right now it’s hard to see it becoming that secure any time soon, as well. If we see more fighting in the other cities, it’s — you know, people that I have talked to, I was speaking to a political science professor this morning, who is also an activist. His sense is you will not have much participation in the Sunni area out of fear and out of resentment or maybe out of perception with the elections are part of the American project here. I think you could see a situation you do have Shiite participation, particularly in the south. You have maybe, you know — maybe not a formal Sunni boycott necessarily, but just not a high degree of voting. And that would imperil the outcome. That would make it more difficult to say that the government that results can enjoy nationwide legitimacy.

AMY GOODMAN: Would it fuel an ongoing violent insurgency resistance?

ANTHONY SHADID: I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.

AMY GOODMAN: Would it fuel a violent resistance if the Sunnis didn’t participate in the elections?

ANTHONY SHADID: Yeah, I think when you talk to people here, at least it is hard to see the resistance of the insurgency or it’s difficult to see that ending as long as there’s an American military occupation. I think using the American military would admit there’s going to be some — that although the intensity may decline somewhat, but people are not going to stop fighting in the areas. There’s too much that has happened in the past year. The resentment is too deep and I’m not sure that — I’m speaking personally here, but I don’t think there’s a military solution to the resentment. Would the election itself propel the insurgency forward, I’m not sure about that. I think there is a sense of — I think we do have an interview with one of the rebel leaders or one of the insurgents in Fallujah. And you get a sense that they’re working on their own timetable. Once there is an American withdrawal, they will have the upper hand, they will wipe the Americans out and they will keep fighting the Americans as long as they’re here.

AMY GOODMAN: Anthony Shadid, I want to thank you for joining us.

ANTHONY SHADID: My pleasure.

AMY GOODMAN: Be safe. Anthony Shadid is the foreign correspondent for The Washington Post. He won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for reporting.

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