In April 2004, the United States launched its first assault on Fallujah, the Sunni town west of Baghdad that had come to symbolize Iraqi resistance to the U.S. occupation. The offensive came a few days after four American military contractors from the private security firm Blackwater were brutally killed in the city.
The siege was one of the bloodiest assaults of the US occupation. In two weeks that April, thirty marines were killed as local guerillas resisted U.S. attempts to capture the city. Some 600 Iraqis died and over 1,000 were wounded. While the U.S. military claimed at the time that the vast majority of those killed were members of the resistance, media reports from within Fallujah indicated a large number of civilians were among the dead.
Al Jazeera was one of the few news outlets broadcasting from inside the besieged city, and its exclusive footage was being broadcast by every network from CNN to the BBC. Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Mansur and his cameraman Laith Mushtaq were inside Fallujah, reporting unembedded from the streets for the entire siege. In this Democracy Now! exclusive, they speak about their experience for the first time in an in-depth interview. [includes rush transcript]
We sat down with them in Doha, Qatar earlier this month. The interview is translated by Al Jazeera interpreter Ali Matar. For our television audience, please be warned some of the images you are about to see are graphic.
- Ahmed Mansur, Al Jazeera Correspondent
- Laith Mushtaq, Al Jazeera Cameraman
AMY GOODMAN: Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Mansur and his cameraman Laith Mushtaq were inside Fallujah, reporting unembedded from the streets for the entire siege. In this Democracy Now! exclusive, they speak about their experience for the first time in an in-depth interview. We sat down with them in Doha, Qatar earlier this month. The interview is translated by Al Jazeera interpreter Ali Matar. For our television audience please be warned some of the images you are about to see are graphic. This interview begins with Ahmed Mansur Speaking about his days in Fallujah.
AHMED MANSUR: Because time is not sufficient to describe what happened those days, but let me talk about the 9th of April, 2004. It was really like the day of judgment in Fallujah. We were under siege for two days from the U.S. forces and the snipers. We were unable to move, and we decided to take adventure and go to the middle of the city at any price. And we consulted among each other. Some of us said, “No, let’s stay.” Then I said, “No, we have to move even if the snipers shoot us.”
When we left the place, we found that Fallujah entirely — children, women, elderly, all lifting white flags and walking or in their cars leaving the city. It was really a disastrous day for us. When we reached the heart of the city at the hospital, I almost lost my mind from the terror that I saw, people going in each and every direction. Laith was with me and also another colleague, and I felt like we need 1,000 cameras to grab those disastrous pictures: fear, terror, planes bombing, ambulances taking the people dead. And I was shouting and yelling for Laith and my other colleague, and I was shouting, “Camera! Camera!” so that we can take pictures here and there.
At the end, I felt that I have to control myself. The fear was bigger than we could ever handle, and bigger than our journalistic capabilities. There’s no reporters in the city. We were the only team that was able to enter the city; therefore, we have to transfer what’s happening to the whole world. It was an extremely difficult mission. That was the fifth or sixth day we went un-sleeping at all. I didn’t know how we were able to stand or move or talk. I used to look at Laith and feel that he is unable to even lift the camera because of the stress on him. Regardless, he was carrying the camera and going and coming. We were trying to move this picture to the whole world, and we felt that we are responsible for all these civilians being bombed from the planes and who are threatened with death, so we have to transfer this picture of suffering to the whole world. It was extremely difficult.
We wanted to be successful. We wanted to do our humanistic mission to move or transfer that picture to the whole world. And we were under a lot of stress, and Laith — maybe I was moving by myself with the mic, but Laith was lifting a heavy camera and moving from place to place. It was a very long day. I think this day in my life equals to my entire life, even though I covered Bosnia and Herzegovina war and Afghanistan. But that particular day was the longest in my journalistic view, even for me as a human being.
AMY GOODMAN: And the response of the U.S. military, you being there? Did they say that Al Jazeera leaving Fallujah, you leaving Fallujah, was a condition of a ceasefire?
AHMED MANSUR: Yes, it was the first condition. And the same day, General Mark Kimmitt, the spokesman of the U.S. forces in Iraq, and he accused me directly by my personal name. This was the first time that a journalist is accused by name from a military spokesman, and he said, “Ahmed Mansur transfers lies from Fallujah.” So our colleague Hamoud Krishen asked him, “Ahmed only transfers pictures. Do pictures themselves lie, that accompany his reports?” He did not answer him. Kimmitt did not answer him. We always said pictures, and I told you previously, and I assure you now, we did not transfer the truth, but what we transferred is not even equivalent to 100% of what happened.
Laith, I think Friday or Saturday morning, the 9th or 10th of April in the morning, he left because he was unable to even stand. Seven days, no sleep, continuously, and he was under a lot of stress. We recognize that the negotiating team from the people of Fallujah, when they went to negotiate with the U.S. forces, we were told that the first condition to the ceasefire is Ahmed Mansur to exit the city. In the beginning, I said I will not leave the city unless I’m doing my duty. I cannot leave the city by this command, but when we consulted — Al Jazeera administration talked to me and I consulted with my team, we came here for peace. If our leaving the city will bring about peace, then I will leave immediately. Indeed, when we were sure that the pressure for me to leave the city for the ceasefire, so I decided to leave the city and I indeed left the city at the same time.
AMY GOODMAN: What date was that?
AHMED MANSUR: 10th of April.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking at my colleague Jeremy Scahill’s piece in The Nation. He said on April 11, senior military spokesperson Mark Kimmitt declared the stations that are showing Americans intentionally killing women and children are not legitimate news sources. That is propaganda, and that is lies. And two days later, or four days later, on April 15, Donald Rumsfeld said that Al Jazeera’s reporting is, quote, “vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable. It’s disgraceful what that station is doing.”
AHMED MANSUR: They did not stop those accusations leveled against us, but at the end we presented pictures for tens of kids and elderly and women killed and injured in that war. We reported pictures about hundreds of civilians lifting white flags, among children, calling upon the U.S. forces to stop firing until they leave the city. And we presented pictures, and Laith himself photographed it with his other colleagues for corpses of families of children and women. We presented it to the whole world. We did not bring anything. We were just reporting part of the truth, as I told you. We reported pictures and presented pictures to the world. If there’s anyone who lies, then it is the person who belies those pictures that we presented to the world. Indeed, there was grave in Fallujah, about 500 civilian dead. The stadium for soccer also became a graveyard. If you go to Fallujah now, you will find the stadium as a graveyard for martyrs, women, children, elderly and civilians.
AMY GOODMAN: Laith Mushtaq, you were the cameraman that Ahmed is describing, holding your camera. When did you get to Fallujah?
LAITH MUSHTAQ: We went to Fallujah, I think, it was the 3rd of April. We went to Fallujah, and we were able to enter Fallujah before it was completely besieged. After we entered the city and before the siege took place, our feeling has become more eminent of responsibility, because there was no press there in the city. First, my going to Fallujah was voluntarily on my part as a photographer, and we were asked who was willing to go to Fallujah, so I did that, because I’m keen to transfer and report and picture and photograph. And secondly, I was anxious to work with Mr. Ahmed Mansur, because he is a prominent journalist in the Arab world, and it was my first experience to work with him in Fallujah.
When we entered Fallujah and the siege started of Fallujah, we were doing some consultative meetings as a team, that we distribute the duties amongst ourselves, and how we will move and go around because we were in a very difficult situation. The area we were in was the closest to the U.S. forces, because we were besieged, and we were able to move only for one day during the daytime. And we left and photographed after the clashes, and we tried to take pictures of the aftermath rampage.
And the first shot I took with my camera and the first photo as, Ahmed remembers, it was for a human being fired or burned completely. He was a wounded person. His family were transferring him to a hospital, which was close to the U.S. forces position, and it had the Red Crescent symbol and the Red Cross, because they put him in a pickup, so they put him in the outside in the pickup, and that was under fire. And I saw this person, the wounded person is torched, fired, burned. Even smoke was coming out of him. I was unable to go and see that scenery.
I left him to go alone, and I stood far, and my sight was really bad and terrible because on that day, when we went to the hospital, there was a lot of children in the hospital that were wounded. Some children were brought, and their families were dead already. Their fathers and parents were not accompanying them. That day made a terrible shock to me and shocked me extremely. I covered many wars, but every time you cover a war and you see corpses and dead people and children, believe me, every children I looked at, I remember my younger daughter.
I’m sorry, but in the end, I am a human being, and I have children. Every time I look at a wounded girl or who lost her family or is killed, I always remember my own little daughter. And I remember that I have to be here to protect those children. I have to report this to the whole world, so that the killing of all these children will stop, and all these vulnerable and simple people. This feeling destroyed myself, destroyed me completely. And I was overwhelmed, and I tried to separate between my career and my humanity, but sometimes I could not do that.
AMY GOODMAN: Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Mansur and his cameraman Laith Mushtaq. They were unembedded in Fallujah in April of 2004.
AMY GOODMAN: We return to our interview with Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Mansur and his cameraman Laith Mushtaq that we conducted in Doha, Qatar earlier this month. The two reported from inside Fallujah during the first U.S. siege of the city in April 2004, one of the bloodiest assaults of the occupation, 30 U.S. Marines and some 600 Iraqis killed. This is their first time speaking out about their experience in Fallujah. The interview is translated by Al Jazeera’s Ali Matar. Laith Mushtaq, the cameraman, continues to tell the story.
LAITH MUSHTAQ: This was the first day. I stayed until the end of the siege of Fallujah. I left on the 10th, and I came back on the 12th, and I stayed inside the city. The 9th, which Ahmed spoke about, was similar to the day of judgment in Fallujah. It was a very harsh day, very hard, because we were coming out from a terrible experience of the two days of the siege. The first day of the siege — the first two days, rather, we were unable to go even to the bathroom, because in Fallujah, the city is West Iraq, the bathroom is usually outside the rooms, so whenever we opened the door to go to the bathroom, we see the laser pointed at us, the sniper guns, and there’s only 50 meters between us and them. Even some tapes, I photographed them from a window, and they were moving around in the street.
When we went to the hospital and reached the hospital, you cannot even imagine what my feeling was. First of all, I’m a human being. Second, I see corpses of children. I feel a responsibility, that a photographer or as a team, the only one here working, we are the only one who will write the history of what happened, and that’s a great burden, and I was really tired. Ahmed was tired. The whole team was tired, but at the same time, who will photograph these people? And it was really amazing. The pictures come one after another.
I saw myself a lady — I was sitting to smoke for a moment, and I saw an elderly lady coming with her children, going in a big truck to leave Fallujah or try to leave Fallujah. After a quarter of an hour, she came back as pieces, and even people, the — when they opened the ambulance and I was photographing that, the minute the medics saw the body, they took us back stand from the gruesomeness of the scenery. One of them, I remember, was standing by. He said, in typical a Iraqi dialect, he said, “Be brave. Be honorable people. Imagine this is your mom. Will you leave her alone? Will you abandon her?” So people took her, and they tried to bury her.
The same day, I saw — I’m sorry, after three days, it was the most difficult scene for me in my whole life. In Fallujah was the family of Hamiz. Hamiz is a person living in the neighborhood of al-Julan, which the U.S. forces tried to penetrate into it to go to the heart of the city. The family of Hamiz were gathered in the house of Hamiz, his sister and their family and their daughters. There was about four families in one place, children and ladies and women. Usually men leave to leave the — some privacy for the children and the ladies. The planes bombed this house, as they did for the whole neighborhood, and they brought the corpses and bodies to the hospital. I went to the hospital. I could not see anything but like a sea of corpses of children and women, and mostly children, because peasants and farmers have usually a lot of children. So, these were scenes that are unbelievable, unimaginable.
I was taking photographs and forcing myself to photograph, while I was at the same time crying, because I used to move the camera from one picture of a child to the father Hamiz, who was still the only one left alone from that family. He was speaking with his children, and they had an infant, and the children was named Ahmed. He used to speak to him, so he used to use a nickname Hamudi as a nickname for Ahmed. So he used to talk to this child who was sleeping, and in his hand was a toy of a shape of a car. Half his head was gone. So he used to speak to him, “Come back, my beloved. Come to my lap. I am your father,” and talking to the other daughter. I could not really find any one human being in one piece or intact. They were cut up. It’s bombing of airplanes. You can imagine what could happen. It was a very saddening scene.
At the same time, I say it honestly and frankly, that people were there feeling a lot of responsibility. I did not see the civilians with this high spirit. There was no armed people or military, but the people were really strong. I think that we, the people of the city — I am from Baghdad and from a known family. We used to imagine that we, the people of the urban cities, are more cultured, more educated, and we have prestigious personality. I saw some examples of Fallujah, of the people present at the time, that I’m just a small student, in patience, in dealing in a cooperative manner. A woman leaves the city of Fallujah to cook some food for the wounded.
The scene that’s really amazing was one man, an elderly, he was — his back was leaning forward. His job was, because of the targeting of the ambulances from the U.S. forces, whenever an ambulance goes to move the wounded, there was firing on the ambulances. He used to leave at night, and he’s 65 years old. He used to go to the bodies and try to move the bodies. He may even spend a whole night to pull one wounded person, and he will move this body to put it in the car and to come to the middle of the city, according to Islamic traditions, that he will be wrapped in clothing and be buried as a sign of respect.
And by the way, as my colleague Ahmed said, the stadium of soccer became a graveyard, but at the same time, in Hay Nazzal, the neighborhood of Nazzal, which is adjacent to the area, people also were buried in their own homes, in the gardens of their houses. A man would leave to take a sneak peek to see a safe place that he can go into, and the sniper shoots him, and he falls dead. Nobody was daring to leave outside, so they would pull them from their legs and dig in the ground and bury them. Therefore, after the battle, many of the people of Fallujah dug again in their own houses and took the bodies to the graveyard.
I saw a child. I even forgot to tell you this, Mr. Ahmed. I saw a woman in the Hai [inaudible], or the industrial neighborhood, under the control of the U.S. forces, had an infant. She’s breast-feeding him. The baby died maybe because he’s sick or other reason. They were forbidden from leaving and to go to the city. She is the wife of a guard who used to work in one of the plants in the neighborhood. I even saw leftovers of food of the U.S. forces, and I photographed that. After that, when I was able to reach the area, her son died, and they asked to go to the heart of the city to bury him in a graveyard. They said, “No. You cannot leave this place. There are battles taking place.” So they buried their own infant daughter in the plant. And I saw the hole that this child was buried in.
And another thing, when I left Fallujah, our office in Baghdad, our bureau in Baghdad, took an initiative to cover both sides, so the U.S. forces requested that a photographer and journalist go with the U.S. forces, with the besieging forces of Fallujah. I went for a rest for two days, so I went at night to that place. I was in the heart of the city, then with the U.S. forces outside the city, with the Marines besieging this place, so we went in a Chinook plane from the Green Zone, and we went to the camp, and the second day there was a press conference for the leader of that division besieging Fallujah. I think it’s the First Division — First Infantry Division, and they had a press conference with some journalists from news agencies, Americans, Europeans and otherwise. So they were sitting, and he said literally, “We are making advances positively in the battlefield, and we accomplished victories to kill the terrorists and the fighters present in the city.” And I had a journalist, so we asked him, “What about the civilians?” He said, “Oh, there isn’t civilians. There’s no civilians. The people whom you see their corpses on Al Jazeera TV and on the media, it is for fighters wearing civilian clothing.”
I could not handle myself, and I said, “What about the child? Is he a fighter disguised in civilian clothes?” We asked him. So he really tried to assure us that there is no presence for the civilians. My lady, we did not take photographs. We could not report, except one just tiny piece. Even if I was an octopus taking photographs of what is happening around me, it was a terrible scene. I could not move between the neighborhoods anytime. We were unable to sleep. Believe me. The days that I spent over there, 40 days, and I had 55 hours of recording of what has taken place over there, so what has really gone out to the media is a very tiny portion of reality.
AMY GOODMAN: And did you get the video out while you were in Fallujah or when you left?
AHMED MANSUR: The photographs you took, Laith, did you take them after you left?
LAITH MUSHTAQ: No. We took those photographs inside Fallujah, and after the siege was over, we took our videotapes, and we went to our bureau.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to point out that after Donald Rumsfeld said that your reports were — his words — “vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable. It’s disgraceful what that station is doing.” It was the next day, again, my colleague Jeremy Scahill pointed this out in a piece he did, according to the Daily Mirror, that Bush told Blair of his plan, quoting a source telling the Mirror, “He made clear he wanted to bomb Al Jazeera in Qatar and elsewhere. There’s no doubt what Bush wanted to do, and no doubt Blair didn’t want him to do it.” That quote in the Daily Mirror as this memo, the Downing Street memo that we haven’t seen. Ahmed Mansour, I think when people heard the report of this memo that is yet to be published, reportedly some have seen a synopsis of it, we did not have the context of this period when this was said in the midst of April 2004, in the midst of the siege of Fallujah. Your thoughts, Ahmed Mansur?
AHMED MANSUR: Of course, until now, Al Jazeera requested from the British government to unveil or to publish this document so that we get the bottom of the information. There are many reports that have been pointed to Al Jazeera. There’s an anger from the U.S. administration toward Al Jazeera. I cannot really go into the credibility of this document, because the administration of Al Jazeera requested the British government to unveil or uncover this issue or disclose it.
What I can say is that we did our duty as journalists. If this battle took place on the land of the U.S. and I was the one covering it and American civilians were vulnerable to killing, I would not have done any little than what I have done at Fallujah. This is our duty towards humanity in general, as journalists, to report the truth from any place that we are in, regardless of this place and the people therein, except that they are civilians. Our role was to present the truth to what is happening to the civilians. We did that with documents and pictures, and no one could deny this, but the whole world reported and transferred this truth and these facts, and as Laith said and as I did, this is just a slight portion of reality.
I want to say, why did the Americans refuse the entering of any journalists or medias or TV stations to Fallujah in the second battle and they only limited to those who are embedded with them? Is it professionalism that the journalists wear U.S. clothing and they go with them in the planes and tanks to cover this and report this? The battles have to be reported from both sides. We were among the civilians, and we reported, and they had embedded journalists with those who launched this attack from the U.S. forces who occupied Iraq, and they reported what they wanted. We were trying to create an equilibrium or a balance, so that the truth is not lost.
AMY GOODMAN: Laith Mushtaq, you also saw your friend shot off the roof? When was this?
LAITH MUSHTAQ: That happened in Karbala, the fifth month. After I left Fallujah by 15 days, there were still skirmishes between the Army of Mahdi in Karbala and the U.S. forces. There was negotiations but also skirmishes and attacks on a daily basis. The U.S. forces tried to advance toward the big mosque in the middle of Karbala, and the Army of Mahdi was trying to take refuge in that mosque, and they were surrounding it. The U.S. forces were advancing at night to annihilate completely the remnants of the Mahdi Army, and so the Mahdi forces used to come back during the daytime, and it was going back and forth. We were in a middle ground between the U.S. forces and the army of Mahdi, in a hotel, and I was with Abdel al-Dim, our journalist and reporter and with the engineers.
We were like a big team, and I had the assistant — my assistant, who was a friend of mine named Rashid. We were every day, Amy, as a photographer in hot areas, hot spots. I used to go to the roof of the building every day at night to sit and try to listen, despite the darkness, to listen. Is there any voice or sound of advancement of some forces that maybe I can predict a battle so that I’m ready to take pictures? So I went to the roof, and there was a big explosion that happened near our hotel, and I heard artilleries or tanks moving toward the big mosque, so I went down to the room, and I informed the team that there is a battle coming up.
Everybody went up to the roof, and I was taking refuge by a small wall, and I was wearing shields, and I was taking photos, wearing my armor. I asked everybody to go down, because they may be targets, so everybody went down, but my assistant was standing behind me, maybe with half a meter only, and I was taking photographs. The area that I was picturing or photographing was very dark, so I tried to reduce the shutter of the speed of the camera, so to get a clear picture as much as possible, and I used to photograph, and at that time there was a bullet that just passed by near me, and even I photographed that shot.
So I used to talk to Rashid, telling him, “Rashid, I think they are firing against us.” I did not know that Rashid had already fallen down. Rashid fell down, but I did not know that, and I kept taking photographs and pictures. After that, immediately, the wall in front of me, which I was taking protection with, it was fired upon extensively. That is, very highly intense, so I took refuge, and I laid down on the ground holding my camera and looking, and then I saw Rashid smoldered in blood, and there was extensive firing. I could not even shout and call the rest of the crew, our team, and for a moment, I felt I cannot do anything. I tried to advance, then I go back because of the firing. Red firing on the roof. And after that was lightened a little bit, I held his leg, and I shook it, and I said, “Rashid! Rashid!” And he did not answer me, so I went toward his face and saw three bullets in his head in those areas. He had five kids. The older is nine years old, the eldest.
After that, the rest of the crew came, and we could not take his body from the roof, because of the firing against us, until the next morning, so he stayed from 12:30 a.m. until 6:00 a.m., and we waited for daylight to come, and the U.S. forces maybe withdraw. We were afraid that they fire against us, because we had to stand up when we carry him. We stayed in the hotel, and the firing against the hotel was also continuous. The hotel was empty, so we divided ourselves. In each floor was one person. I was on the highest level, and underneath me one reporter and the one below that, the assistant, and there was a generator and electricity. We turned off the lights, and we were unable to move because the ladder connecting — the ladder was made from glass, so anyone can see us from outside if they have special machines,
So I ask, I wonder why journalists are targeted? Why Mr. Ahmed Mansur is attacked for his reporting? Why such-and-such journalist is subject to arrest because of a specific reporting? My lady, Ahmed Mansur carries a pen and Laith Mushtaq carries a camera. We don’t have guns — machine guns and artillery. When you see documentaries from the Second World War of besieging, Stalingrad, you come to the area, and the reporter, you said, “Oh, you used to be with Hitler or you were with the communists in Stalingrad?” The reporter is not part of this. He only reports what happens. Believe me, if we were there and we saw the U.S. forces planting roses in the streets, we will also report that. Believe me!
AMY GOODMAN: Laith Mushtaq, the cameraman, and Ahmed Mansur of Al Jazeera, describing their situation in 2004.
AMY GOODMAN: We continue our exclusive interview with Al Jazeera’s Laith Mushtaq, a cameraman, and Ahmed Mansur. I asked Ahmed Mansur if he thought that the U.S. troops were targeting him.
AHMED MANSUR: People told us that the U.S. tanks are the ones who fired upon us. All the people in the area, and the firing came from their direction.
AMY GOODMAN: And do you think that the U.S. military knew who you were, where you were?
AHMED MANSUR: They were able to monitor our spot. We were going live and from this roof, from this place. And we had three telephones, and we were doing satellite signals, so they could have monitored that. And we told people we are under — in the hospital area, and everything was live, and we photographed the battles in the al-Julan neighborhood, because this was the highest building in the area and it’s well known. Everybody knows that in this area is Al Jazeera team. So we photographed the battles of Fallulah, of airplanes bombing and cars taking bodies to the hospitals. And we were live with Al Jazeera, and the whole world was seeing that. And General Kimmitt came at night and said, “Ahmed Mansur spreads lies.” After that we were fired upon. I think they know exactly where their tanks were firing upon. It wasn’t something that is unknown or erratic. But it was direct, and because our lives has not ended yet, we stayed alive.
AMY GOODMAN: So you were sending the images and the report, the video and the report, out by satellite?
AHMED MANSUR: Yes, direct. Live.
AMY GOODMAN: Direct. And that description, Ahmed Mansur just gave us, from your point of view, Laith, where you were in the building.
LAITH MUSHTAQ: When we were in the building on the roof, that day was the anniversary of passing one year of occupying Iraq or Baghdad. So we were supposed to do a live coverage that day, but the battles were intensified, so we used to put the camera on the roof and bring guests and do DTLs and interviews on the roof. Sometimes we would take the camera from one area and photograph the streets and the movement of people trying to flee the city and the ambulances. It was really like a day of judgment or day of reckoning. Even I wasn’t able to imagine what will I picture after that? What will I photograph? Mr. Ahmed Mansur was saying take a photo of that place. The minute I direct myself to take a photograph, an airplane passes by, and when I photograph that plane, another one comes by, and people running. There was a state of a lot of pressure. They can monitor our places very precisely, even if we didn’t have transmitters, only just from the signal of the phone, which is Al-Thuraya, the cellular phone which uses satellites, so how about the situation when we have live transmission or did live coverage that lasted for hours? So Ahmed, indeed, went down —
AMY GOODMAN: Ahmed Mansur.
AHMED MANSUR: When I went down, they told me — Waddah Khanfar, the director of Al Jazeera called, and he said General Kimmitt accuses you. We were not able to view Al Jazeera. We were in a different world. And one of my colleagues said, “Let’s go,” so that I stayed from morning until night without washing my face or washing my hands. So he told me, “Wash your face and go back again.” During that, the firing started.
LAITH MUSHTAQ: There were people with us on the roof. And they said from the U.S. forces, there was intensive firing, so we went downstairs, and we took refuge in the staircase. I carried the camera from the tripod, and I put it on the ground, and we were unable to reach our equipment, like the generator of electricity that we had or the SNG equipment, and we were afraid to go to the roof.
And me, personally, I do feel that we are targeted. That’s my personal feeling. Frankly, we are targeted in that condition. In many instances when I try to sleep at night. I imagine that if the U.S. forces come into the city and catch us, what will they do to us? And I was wondering, myself, what should I imagine, that I don’t really want to say any phrases, but I was afraid as a journalist. I was extremely frightened. I may be afraid from a bomb by mistake, but I shouldn’t be afraid to do my duty with professionalism. We were standing on the roof and taking pictures; they fired upon us.
We used to change the location that we were in eight or nine times we changed our places just so that we can reach with Ahmed Mansur from the place where we besieged in the first day to the heart of the city. Because of the snipers, we were forced to jump from wall to wall, and house to house, carrying a big box with big equipments and transmitters, and carrying it, lifting it from wall to wall and house to house. And I was carrying the two cameras with me and the tripod and the batteries and charger, and all of the other equipment. We were even unable to carry food with us. We did not have food.
AMY GOODMAN: Ahmed Mansur.
AHMED MANSUR: Talking about food, on that day, the 9th of April, a person came to me in the morning, and we were — I personally was calling Laith, “Take a photograph of this place,” and before he turns, I say, “No, take a photograph of another place.” I wanted to photograph everything, and everything is changing. One person gave me some cookies, so I that take my breakfast. He said, “Did you eat?” I said, “No.” He gave me some cookies. I put it in my pocket. At 1:00 at night, a.m., when I wanted to change my clothes, I put my hand in my pocket and I found the cookies, and I remembered I did not eat anything all day long. I wasn’t thinking about anything. I wasn’t thinking about death or my family, except when my little daughter calls me saying, “Dad, when will you come back?” I was only thinking about what’s facing me.
I wanted to report this reality to the whole world. I wanted the whole world to know what’s happening to those besieged people. I wasn’t thinking about leaving the city at all. I decided to stay and let my destiny be as those of people. If they die, I’ll be with them; if they escape, I’ll be with them. I decided not to think about any possibilities, what the U.S. forces will do with me if they catch me, and not to think about my family or anything. I only think about those people. All the time, I call the hospitals, asking, “Do you have new wounded people? Do you have new killed people?”
The bombing in that area or this area, even some people started saying, “Ahmed, do not move. You are being targeted. Anyone can kill you.” In the city there’s no protection for anyone. And whenever somebody meets me, he says, “Why you walk in the street?” Some of those who were afraid for our lives saying, “They will kill you. Anyone who has a gun can shoot you. There’s no protection here for anybody.” Despite all that, we were not thinking but about reporting the truth to people. Despite that, they accused us of lying, only because they don’t want to see the truth. They don’t want the world to see the truth and the reality.
AMY GOODMAN: Ahmed Mansur, do you have plans to return to Iraq?
AHMED MANSUR: I try, but our bureau or office — believe me, I left Fallujah when I had to leave Fallujah. I was leaving as a one who was carrying a funeral within himself. I did not want to leave those people, simple people, alone and abandon them. I wanted to stay with them. I covered many wars before, the one in Afghanistan for three years. I lived through the invasion of Iraq to Kuwait, and I stayed there two months with the Kuwaitis, helping them and reporting the truth about what’s happening to them in Bosnia, Herzegovina. I covered the war.
I feel a human responsibility in my job and my duties. And I love my job as a journalist more than my love — than someone who produces programs within the studio. I love to be with the people, among them, to live the events and feel that those people put responsibility on my shoulder to express them through my pen or my program or my reports. But the extreme stresses and pressures leveled against Al Jazeera because of my reporting of what happened in Fallujah made Al Jazeera unable to help me to go back one more time, and therefore, to close the office and the bureau in Iraq, and it is still closed in Iraq until today. But anytime and any day, and for any oppressed people subject to death, I am willing to go to report the truth and express those people anywhere in the world, even if it’s in the United States of America.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Laith Mushtaq, would you go back to Iraq?
LAITH MUSHTAQ: I hope to go back. When I left Fallujah, I left after two days, and there wasn’t anyone forcing me to do that. No one forcing me to work. Believe me, even as a station, nobody requested me to go back. I told them I want to go back because I have to do this. We have to continue. I want to go back, because it’s my country. I am from Iraq. This is the first time I leave Iraq when I came to Doha. I lived 35 years in Iraq. In every street and every neighborhood and every maze, every school in Iraq, I have memories and a complete life, and there’s a history. I yearn to my history and my country, which nothing has remained of it. Nothing. We did not get democracy. We did not get anything else. It’s a disaster.
As a photographer, I’m willing to work anywhere in the world. As a photographer, I consider myself working in hot spots or whatever you want to call it. I’m willing to go anywhere in the world. It doesn’t concern me in the issue that who are those or who are these? I’m just there to report the truth. I don’t talk. I don’t write. I just have an eye of the camera, the lens of the camera, and that’s my way of reporting what’s in front of me. I cannot create or fabricate the picture.
AMY GOODMAN: Laith Mushtaq and Ahmed Mansur of Al Jazeera in their first in-depth interview about covering the bloody siege of Fallujah, April 2004. Oh, and this note. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is reporting that the U.S. Military is building a so-called “Little Fallujah” here in the United States for soldiers to train in urban warfare. A streetscape is being modeled after Fallujah in East Arkansas, complete with bazaar, office buildings and a school. It even includes bomb blasts and flying bullets, as well as a two-mile track where drivers will learn to shoot out car windows, ram enemy vehicles and dodge simulated rocket-propelled grenades. Three blocks of the mock city are being opened this summer. According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, it won’t be the only foreign war zone open for business in Arkansas. At “Little Mogadishu” in North Little Rock, trainees rappel from a helicopter perched on a forty-foot stanchion and work through a maze of concrete huts and alleyways, shooting at targets and blowing open doors.