A Bombing in Baghdad: First-hand News vs. CNN

January 6th, 2004 - by admin

by Dahr Jamail / Electronic Iraq –


BAGHDAD (December 31, 2003) — Today on Palestine Street near Mustanceria University, a car packed with explosives was detonated as a US patrol passed. I saw at least one Humvee flipped upside down and another sitting nearby, completely incinerated. Soldiers, tanks, Bradleys, and Hummers had the area completely sealed. Razor wire was strung across the street, keeping the area clear.

Meanwhile, soldiers went building to building pulling out all the men. Inside their sealed perimeter stood a group of at least 25-35 men, all most likely to be detained. I stood by the razor wire watching them taking men with their hands tied with plastic ties out of buildings. The young soldier near me saw an Iraqi man staring at him, and yelled, “What the fuck are you looking at motherfucker!?” He points his gun at him. “Get the fuck out of here. You like what you see? I said fuck off!” My translator asks the Iraqi to please just walk away, as he stands glaring at the soldier.

We are told soldiers went through the dorms of the nearby university and pulled many young men out in order to detain them. Each scene I’ve visited like this has revealed a policy that seems to be that the military will seal off the area for several blocks around where a patrol has been hit, then go house to house, building to building, and just pull men out for either questioning, or more likely, detaining them.

’What Do You Think? Many People Are Dead’
We were hoping to take pictures and find out what happened. But the usual policy of the military here of preventing photos of US military hardware wreckage was in force. The first soldier we’d come upon said to us, “Sure you can take pictures. Then I’ll take your camera.”

Our translator said that some Iraqis nearby said they’d watched soldiers take the camera from a man and smash it on the ground.

We move to the other side of the street and another young soldier is watching the crowds, very tense. He only speaks to us with one-sentence responses, but even more with one- or two-word responses. His eyes constantly scan for threats.

I speak with several soldiers, all of them very down. An Iraqi man asks one of the troops if people were hurt, a rather silly question. The response was, “Yes. What do you think? Many people are dead.”

As mentioned above, one Hummvee has been flipped completely upside down by the blast. At least three soldiers are dead, maybe more. Certainly civilians are killed, as the entire front of a nearby building is ripped off by the blast, pieces of plaster and ceiling dangling limply in the air from the second floor of this usually crowded shopping area near the college campus.

We move to another area near the border of razor wire to try to get a better view of the wreckage. We stand talking with the soldiers. They are not talking much, other than asking one of us, “You bang an Iraqi chick yet? Can you get good hash here? Go to Europe, they got the really good shit there man.”

Another soldier pointed out the group of soldiers who were sent to the scene first to clear the area and take detainees, and said of his fellow troops, “Those are the war criminals.”

The mood is extremely tense and, needless to say, morose. One of the soldiers tells us they won’t be letting any journalists inside the perimeter until they clear the wreckage — so we decide to head back home.

Back at the hotel I check the news and see that CNN has reported on the strike on the patrol. On CNN, according to Brig. Gen. Martin Dempsey, commander of the US Army’s 1st Armored Division speaking of this attack, “An explosion near a US military convoy in a crowded area of Baghdad wounded five US soldiers and three Iraqi civil defense personnel.”

The soldiers on the scene had gloomily told me, first hand, quite a different story while we gazed at the two incinerated Humvees in front of a nearby building with the side of it blasted into tatters.

Dahr Jamail is a freelance journalist and political activist from Anchorage, Alaska. He has come to Iraq to bear witness and write about how the US occupation is affecting the people of Iraq, since the media in the US has in large part, he believes, failed to do so.

Conflicting Numbers & Surreal Press Conference
More Info on Attack on US Humvee Patrol in Al-Dora
Dahr Jamail / Human Shields

BAGHDAD (January 4, 2004) — Statements taken from three boys and five men who witnessed the US military clean-up and medical evacuations all reported the same story: The US military flew in medical choppers to air lift 2 wounded soldiers from the scene. They all witnessed at least five bodies loaded into US vehicles and driven from the scene.

These statements were taken from the scene of the incident the day after it occurred, as well as from [interviews with] several men from other areas of Al-Dora.

A phone call from the scene of the incident to the Coalition Public Information Center (CPIC) provided information that the US military reported two dead and three wounded soldiers. This is confirmed by accessing the following information:

According to press release 04-01-03C on 2 January, US Cent Com reports 2 dead, 3 injured Task Force 1st Armored Division Soldiers Killed in Ambush in Al Rashid district at about noon when their convoy was struck by an IED, then the soldiers taking small arms fire after the explosion.

The full press release may be seen here

The same press release can be found on the Combined Joint Task Force seven website, release #040103g, with the same dead and injured count here

Thus, the usual conflict in the number of US soldiers killed and injured rests between the figures given by CENTCOM and Combined Joint Task Force 7 and the many Iraqis who witnessed the scene during the US cleanup and medical evacuations.

US Military Suspected of Under-reporting US Casualties
The US military in Iraq has been under constant scrutiny for under-reporting US casualty figures from attacks throughout Iraq. The effect of this is to give the impression to both the media and people of Iraq, as well as people in the US that the degree of loss of life by US military personnel in Iraq is lower than it may actually be.

Thus, the sense of urgency the US military is faced with in Iraq isn’t being conveyed to the public. For example, I just moments ago returned from a CIPIC press conference by General Kimmit where he stated there are 25 attacks per day on coalition forces.

Nor are people being allowed the opportunity to grasp the seriousness of the mounting US casualties in Iraq as a result of the occupation.

This being an election year in the US only brings more doubt about the actual figures being reported by the military here as compared to the numbers provided by Iraqis witnessing the attacks and/or the medical operations which ensue.

Virtually every investigation I’ve conducted on events of this nature has provided a disparity in the numbers of US dead and wounded between those reported by CPIC and Iraqi witnesses; be they civilians, hospital staff, or figures from the morgue.

Military Misstated Truth in ‘Battle of Samarra’
This point is further underlined by the incident in Samarra at the end of November when the US military claimed a convoy came under attack by a highly organized group of Fedayeen fighters and responded by killing 54 of them.

Upon further investigation by myself and several other journalists who visited the hospital and morgue, and conducted several interviews in Samarra, the highest Iraqi body count recorded was eight. The US military never adjusted their figures to reflect this, despite the fact that no more than eight bodies have ever been found as a result of this battle.

Not only has the US casualty rate in Iraq continued unabated since the capture of Saddam Hussein, it has increased.

On a daily basis US soldiers are dying here, as well as being severely wounded. When one looks at a general headline on a news website and reads: 1 US soldier killed, 2 wounded, it is not shown the degree to which these soldiers are wounded. Many have suffered permanent brain damage, loss of feet, legs, hands, and arms. Their lives are changed forever by permanent disabilities while reports in the mainstream media leaves the impression that they have been injured by cuts and bruises.

Paul Bremer Adopts Saddam-like Tactics on Public Gatherings
The system of information control runs deep in Iraq today. The CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) has recently released a law stating that no public demonstrations are allowed without their approval and consent. If a demonstration occurs without said, the people will be detained promptly.

During the aforementioned press conference this evening, attended not only by media but the additional 15 US soldiers in the room, I paid close attention to the words used by General Kimmit and the very uptight man in the suit standing next to him assisting him in answering questions posed by the media.

After laughing and looking at one another on two different occasions during a press conference report on the attacks on US troops, the two men at the podium used several interesting terms to avoid the term “resistance.” Resistance fighters were thus referred to as “anti-coalition fighters,” “anti-coalition suspects” (detainees) and, of course, the mainstay, “terrorists.”

Storming a Mosque
We are shown a slick video taken by military personnel of a raid conducted on the Ibn Taimiyah Mosque last Thursday. This raid brought great scrutiny on the CPA for disrespecting the traditions and culture here, due to the fact that US soldiers raided the mosque wearing their combat boots and wielding weapons. They rolled up the prayer rugs while looking for tunnels hiding weapons caches. (They come up empty on the tunnels.)

While the raid did yield many weapons, TNT, and grenades, the method in which it was conducted may be more detrimental to the occupiers efforts than the fruits it yielded. They arrested Shaikh Mahdi Salah al-Sumaidi, a member of the Supreme Council for Religious Guidance, along with 20 of his assistants. General Kimmit went out of his way to point out in the video, how the Sheikh was bound and handled as fairly as all the other detainees.

My Iraqi friend sitting next to me holds her hand to her forehead, holding her head and shaking it slowly while watching the bound Sheikh, as well as the soldiers wearing boots in the mosque, carrying weapons, and rolling up the rugs. She is in shocked disbelief.

While US soldiers may need to conduct raids on mosques, wouldn’t a better policy be to let Iraqi Police (IP) or Iraqi Civil Defense (ICD) personnel handle this culturally sensitive operation?

General Kimmit went out of his way to stress that IPs and ICDCs were “fully integrated” in the force that raided the mosque. If so, why didn’t these men conduct the raid? Why were only US soldiers seen in the mosque on the video?

During the rattling off of statistics of numbers of raids, detainees, and weapons caches found, there is never any mention of Iraqi civilian casualties. Instead, they discussed a “whole new group” of Iraqis stepping forward to help the coalition since the capture of Saddam Hussein. They divided these two groups into the “Hopefuls” (those who want to help now that he is gone) and the “Fearfuls” (those who were too afraid to help while his shadow was still at large).

After the carefully conducted press conference came to a close, I walked out of the surreal atmosphere of the CPIC’s fancy conference hall, back into the insecure streets of Baghdad to return home. The usual sporadic gunfire from various parts of the city echoed off the buildings as night fell over the land of the “Hopefuls” and “Fearfuls.”

Dahr Jamail is a freelance journalist and political activist from Anchorage, Alaska. He has come to Iraq to bear witness and write about how the US occupation is affecting the people of Iraq, since the media in the US has in large part, he believes, failed to do so.