US aircraft and artillery bombarded Fallujah yesterday in one of the heaviest assaults of the Iraqi town since the US siege three weeks ago. We go to Fallujah to get a report from a journalist embedded with U.S. troops and we speak with CorpWatch’s Pratap Chatterjee, recently returned from Iraq, about Iraqi resistance, private military contractors and the kidnapping of his cameraman. [includes rush transcript]
US aircraft and artillery bombarded the Iraqi town of Fallujah yesterday in one of the heaviest assaults of the resistance stronghold since the US siege three weeks ago. In an intensive uses of firepower by US forces, artillery barrages were accompanied by the deployment of a heavily armed AC-130 gunship.
US commanders besieging the town said the assault was in response to several breaches of the local ceasefire. Tuesday night’s bombardment was shown live on television networks around the world, including al-Jazeera, which is seen widely in Iraq and throughout the Arab world.
There is no word yet on casualties in the town, which lies 30 miles west of Baghdad. Guerillas in Fallujah didn’t turn in their heavy weapons by yesterday’s deadline, but the U.S. says it still doesn’t plan on a full-scale attack.
It was the second time in two days that they had used the AC-130, a converted cargo plane nicknamed Spooky or Specter which spews concentrated cannon and machinegun fire over the ground. U.S. officers said an AC-130 killed some 64 Shiite militiamen loyal to radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr at Kufa, near the holy city of Najaf in southern Iraq.
A spokesman for Sadr told the London Guardian: "[The Americans] are agitating the situation. Mr Sadr demands that the occupation should end all over Iraq. The Americans hate him because he refuses to bargain with them."
- Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor correspondent. He joins us on the phone from Fallujah where he has been embedded with US troops for the past several days.
- Pratap Chatterjee, managing director of CorpWatch.org. He just returned from an extended period in Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: As we turn to Iraq. Artillery bombarded Fallujah in one of the heaviest assaults in the last few days. Artillery barrages were accompanied by the heavily armed AC-130 gunship. U.S. Commands besieging the town said the assault was in response to the breaches of the local cease-fire. Tuesday night’s bombardment was shown on television networks around the world, including al-Jazeera, which is seen widely in Iraq and throughout the Arab world. No word yet on casualties in the town which lies 30 miles west of Baghdad. Guerrillas did not turn into the heavy weapons by yesterday’s deadline, but the U.S. Says it doesn’t plan on a full-scale attack. Second time in two days that the they used the ac-130, a converted cargo plain nicknamed Spooky or Specter, which spews concentrated machine gun and cannon fire over the ground opinion they say they killed 64 Shia militiamen loyal to Muqtada al Sadr. A spokesman told the London Guardian, the Americans are aggravating the situation. The Americans hate him because he refuses to bargain with them. We go right to Fallujah, to Scott Peterson. He is a correspondent with the Christian Science Monitor joining us on the phone where he has been embedded with the U.S. troops for the last several days. Welcome to Democracy now! Scott.
SCOTT PETERSON: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you describe what is happening in Fallujah from your vantage point embedded with the troops?
SCOTT PETERSON: Well, at the moment in the past hour or so, there have been many more explosions that have been taking place in the southwest of the city this time, as opposed to the northwest, which is what we saw overnight. We had the Specter gunships that you described in your report flying overhead as I speak. In fact, they’re flying and they have been around for more than an hour and hour-and-a-half. They fly very high. They’re effective. We have seen them in many theaters. It’s not clear what the target has been. Last night, they were specifically going after the two trucks that had been identified as being full of weaponry. And they also after blowing both of those up, which caused secondary explosion, they then struck a house next door to where the trucks were which proved to have been a weapons depot. That also caused quite a few of the fireworks that weigh saw last night.
AMY GOODMAN: What about people saying that it’s not that it is different what’s happening in Fallujah right now, it’s just in a al-Jazeera is broadcasting the images to the world, which is calling attention to it?
SCOTT PETERSON: Well, no, I think it’s not just al-Jazeera. I think the fact that there was al-Jazeera is only picking up the CNN pool camera which happens to be there and happened to be filming that last night. CNN ran with that live more than an hour-and-a-half I understand last night. Because it was a pool camera, it was picked up by television stations around the world. I think everybody saw what it was. It looked like, and I heard this from people who were interviews me at the time, it looked like the marines had launched their offensive on Fallujah, but there were no indications that in prior — during the day, and indeed, it turns out that it seems there was a window of opportunity that was taken by the marines when they spotted these vehicles, and apparently they had been trying hit this location and were suspecting it for quite some time.
AMY GOODMAN: Scott Peterson, what is it like to be embedded with the troops? What about your perspective there, as opposed to your independent reporting outside of that in the past?
SCOTT PETERSON: Well, at the moment, it’s not possible for western correspondent, anyway, to report independently from Fallujah, simply because it is too dangerous. Of course, you are aware of the hostage situation that has been occurring in recent weeks in Iraq. So, that has limited our movement anyway. In terms of working with the marines, in this case at the moment, I’m on a base several miles east of Fallujah itself, but I will be in the next day or two heading out to a battalion, one of the units right on the city. There are several journalists that are in such locations. That’s where the camera footage came that we all saw last night. But, I mean, at the moment however there’s very little contact that I have, or any journalists have with Iraqis, who are in Fallujah, anyone who is with the marines is not in very close contact with too many Iraqis.
AMY GOODMAN: And what are the marines saying?
SCOTT PETERSON: Well, their morale. They have taken a lot of hits in the last month. I mean, this has been the most bloody month for U.S. forces in their history in Iraq. That’s including the first gulf war, plus the invasion last year. So, they have taken a lot of casualties. Most of those were in Fallujah during the last month. So, I think they’re eager to do whatever they are ordered to do, and they’re more than willing to roll into the city, but I think the top brass and the command have made it clear to us that that is not their first option and they’re exercising other options that they are opening will lead to a more peaceful solution.
AMY GOODMAN: Is there concern about the Iraqi civilian population in Fallujah?
SCOTT PETERSON: Well, last week, the U.S. Marine commanding general said that he might demand that non-combatants leave the city as a prelude to an actual marine assault. At the moment, the assault does not look imminent and we’re hearing lots of voices suggesting that it may not happen, at least not for a while. I think that the marines are very aware that there are a lot — tens of thousands, perhaps as many as 200,000 more civilians in the city at the moment and this is a serious obstacle to any military solution they might try to attempt. I think they’re aware of that. It’s one of the reasons why they’re pursuing this so-called diplomatic route at the moment. And they’re aware also and that awareness is probably growing about the political and military ramifications of moving into Fallujah and taking control, but really not carrying any Iraqis with them.
AMY GOODMAN: Scott Peterson with the Christian Science Monitor in Fallujah, embedded with the U.S. Marines. In our studio Pratap Chatterjee who was just returned from Iraq. He is managing director of corpwatch.org. He is one of the few editors that got into Iraq, talking to Iraqis there.
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: It was actually my cameraman who went in. I was meeting with the people coming out of Fallujah, and also by ambulance and by N.G.Os to the hospitals in Baghdad where the U.S. Army then invaded the hospitals, took down the names and arrested people in the hospitals in flouting of the Geneva Convention. So, there are possibilities to get in, but you need to travel with the local people and people are doing that. N.G.O s are doing that. The journalists — the military for the first time in six months is asking people to embed because they’re not getting enough people to embed with the troops. So, it is possible, if you travel with the local people, to have a perspective that — I think the food footage that I have been seeing and the voices that I am hearing and news that I’m watching today does not show the other side of the fact that the marines shoot — the moment they declare a cease-fire and the moment somebody steps in the street, they start shooting. One of the things that my cameraman witnessed is the fact when they were traveling in an ambulance, a clearly marked ambulance, it says in English with the blue siren going. The marines shot into the vehicle through the windshield at the driver. Did you see if you look at the footage, you can actually see the hole in the windshield above the driver’s face. They shot the wheels out. They shot the engine out. So, there’s a lot of provocation by the military. The idea there’s no siege. That’s what happens last night. The pounding of the city. These images and these people come being back to the hospitals as they arrive, people are spiriting them away into the city, because they’re afraid the military following them in each place. In each place the military is shutting down hospitals.
When I was at the Karama hospital in Baghdad, I met a doctor who was sent from Najaf. They shut down the main hospital in Najaf. This is not a story that has not made it into the media. The problem from the point of view of somebody who is embedded with the military is there’s no way, as Scott Peterson said, to know what’s actually happening on the other side. The fact that people cannot get to any medical aid. So, this is a problem. What’s happening meanwhile is the journalist — there was a CNN journalist who was going to go to Fallujah independently two weeks after the offensive started. Once he got half an hour outside of their hotel, the heavily guard hotel, they saw a burnt military convoy and they came right back. We were laughing because that convoy was burnt two weeks ago. They were completely afraid of going inside.
So, Scott Peterson’s right in a sense, none of the western media outside of al-Jazeera is actually going inside to see the footage that we took in Fallujah shows that person after person that’s coming into the clinics, and these are makeshift clinics that have been set up, are women and children. That’s what people understand and feel and hear on the ground throughout Iraq. So, the imagination of the military is there’s a fixed number of insurgents or terrorists or whatever that they can kill, but they don’t understand is that every day, as they kill somebody, they are creating two more people angry. You have to go to the Friday prayers in the Shia mosques and the Sunni moving to see people coming together. You know, in the Amalquron mosque, the biggest Sunni mosque in Baghdad, you can see people shouting for Muqtada. He happens to be marginal and not well respected cleric in the Shiite community. The fact that thousands of people among the Sunnis are calling to support him, the fact that every mosque is filled to overflowing with bags of food. There was a woman who came in with the last food that she had and 4,000 dinars, $3, that she couldn’t lift it. They are pouring out the aid and they see it as a symbol of resistance.
AMY GOODMAN: Pratap Chatterjee. We’ll be back with him in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy now! as we return to Iraq with Pratap Chatterjee, who was just returned from there. I want to go to a clip that you brought back.
CLIP: If you want to live in peace, Americans, forgive us for living. If you do not, every time we go there, we come here and you know next time with weapons. You always go and speak about human rights and respect, so, where is it? Where are your promises you? Talk about human rights? Where are they?
AMY GOODMAN: And that is scene from a street in Baghdad recorded by Prathap Chatterjee, managing director of corpwatch.org.
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: These are workers right outside the Baghdad convention sent here and outside the al-Rasheed hotel, the green zone. They are saying we have not been paid in months. We have not been paid back wages. Where are the jobs and human rights. If we don’t get paid, we will come back and kill people. The interesting thing is these contractors. Most of Iraq is now run by companies. Especially the security, a lot of the security, the scenes we have seen from Fallujah, the reason for this military offensive is the killing of these 3 tear contractors were paid up to $1,000 a day, Blackwater and people like that. These people have a luxurious salary for an Iraqi is $20 a day. The reason the people were attacked in Fallujah was because they were seen as C.I.A. They were coming through town when the o.p. Sunglasses, driving armored vehicles with gun blazing. What’s happening today in the escalation, the companies are banding together, Blackwater, Dooincorp. And people like that creating their own private army which is bigger than the British force. This is something that was reported in the Washington Post and people like that, and that on the one hand, people talk about the rag-tag army of the Mahdi, they forget this rag-tag mercenary armies cobbled together from people in South Africa and Pinochet’s regime who have been brought now to Iraq and cobbled together an army that’s going out and shooting people. This is what we’re paying for with our taxpayer dollars. So, really, what’s happening is this is a government by private contractors on behalf of the U.S. Government and we’re paying for it with our taxes.
AMY GOODMAN: When you say paying for it with our taxes, because it’s the U.S. Government who is paying for mercenary forces there?
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Absolutely. 100%. Every contractor that is let’s say rebuilding the electricity system, such as Bechtel or companies like Halliburton that are transporting food, their bills get paid for by the American military, and therefore the bills are sent to us and we pay whatever it is. There’s a company called science applications International Corporation in San Diego that was the company that hired 150 Iraqi Americans to run the country. And this company had another contractor run something called Iraqi Media Network, but was given a budget of $15 million. By the end of the year, they spent $82 million. Like the workers protesting outside, inside the green zone. Their workers protested three times and were being paid. The executives were flying in armored Humvees from outside the country in the chartered jets. This is the absurdity of the equation. Truck drivers from Texas being paid $8,000 a month and people flying in Humvees and they’re not paying the local workers. This is why there’s resentment. People realize there’s money. They don’t see them as Blackwater and dooincorp., they see them as CIA. So, every attack, every group that comes through Iraq with all of this money builds resentment among three out of four Iraqis who have no jobs.
AMY GOODMAN: Pratap Chatterjee, your cameraman, David Martinez, was kidnapped. Can you talk about that?
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: David was on his second trip to Fallujah two weeks ago, when he went there, on his way — he was there partly to do a humanitarian work, which is to travel in an ambulance and try to bring out dead bodies and local people trapped in the houses that the marines would not leave. He was not able to do that, because the marines continuously fired on them. He had to return, and on his way back out of Fallujah the marines blocked his departure. We are talking about three white Americans and British people speaking English who were banned from leaving Fallujah by the marines. They had to return and in that point, they were seen as coming from the marines, and they were captured by the resistance, the mujahadin there. They were taken for a day. They were treated very well. Once the people captured them realized they were not part of the American military force. They drove them to Baghdad at which point, they were able to with the help of David and his companions, Joe, were able to get people past the marine checkpoints. The marines wouldn’t let people out of Fallujah, women and children because they had a man driving the car. A lot of the women don’t know how to drive the car. If you are a male and you are under the age of 70. You need to stay in the civilian. The idea that the civilians need to leave the city. It’s only women and children on foot who can leave. Everybody else has to stay there. If they leave their houses, they’re fired upon. This is the massacre, the holocaust that we are seeing in Fallujah. It’s not reaction to insurgents. It’s punishment for killing of the mercenaries.
AMY GOODMAN: Pratap Chatterjee, thank you for being with us, and I’m thankful that you came back safe.