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Fallujah, the Guernica of Our Times, Part 4

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Fallujah, the Guernica of Our Times

Part 4: An Uneasy Truce

By Mac McKinney

Around noon on April 9, the Marines, at the direction of Paul Bremer, the top American official in Iraq, unilaterally suspended combat in Fallujah. The rationale was not only to relieve the hospitals in Fallujah, but also to facilitate meetings between the Iraqi Governing Council and both the local Sunni and insurgent leadership in Fallujah, as well as permit the delivery of crucial humanitarian supplies to its citizens, and to allow them to treat their wounded and bury their dead.

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The Marines also allowed thousands of frightened women, children and elderly residents to now leave Fallujah for safer ground, as well as allowing, apparently, males of military age to leave, something they would not permit in later hostilities. Meanwhile, the bulk of Coalition forces pulled back to the outskirts of the city while local Fallujan leaders reciprocated the ceasefire to a degree, but fighting did not end completely. A sort of low-intensity, tit-for-tat combat routine developed, with guerrillas conducting hit-and-run raids on Marine positions and supply convoys, and the Marines counterattacking, patrolling and conducting smaller scale operations without the continuous air support. And Marine snipers were still actively engaged.

A large influx of aid from throughout Iraq now began flowing into the city, after passing through hastily setup Marine checkpoints. To quote form the Associated Press:

"Up to 100 vehicles have been ferrying aid into Fallujah every day since Friday, when U.S. forces halted major attacks on Sunni Muslim insurgents after five days of fierce fighting, (Marine 1st Lt. David) Denial said. U.S. forces have set up checkpoints on all roads leading to the city, 35 miles west of Baghdad.

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"Iraqis, many outraged by the bloody Marine siege of the city, have been sending donations of food, fuel, medical supplies and other aid in convoys organized by relief organizations, religious groups and private individuals.

"But rebels have been exploiting the relative calm to smuggle in the supplies they will need if fighting resumes, Marines say. Inside the city, insurgents have been using ambulances to transport weapons between neighborhoods, Marine Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne said.......'We have to be careful because ambulances are being used for legitimate purposes, but we are also treating them with suspicion,' Byrne said.

"Troops at the roadblocks barred many military-aged men from entering, fearing they were coming to join the battle against Marines as the fight for Fallujah becomes an anti-American rallying cry......Most people waiting at the roadblocks to get into the city were there to bring much-needed supplies to Fallujah's residents.

"Jamah Abdullah, 42, an ambulance driver for the Red Crescent Society, said he had been into the city several times in the past few days delivering aid.

"'There are many people dead. Many wounded. Houses destroyed, damaged. I am doing this to help,' he said.

"More than 600 Iraqis, mostly civilians, have been killed in the past week of fighting in Fallujah and scores more wounded, according to Rafie al-Issawi, the head of the city's hospital. At least five Marines have been killed, the military says."
(From a report by Lourdes Navarro, Associated Press Writer, 4/12/2004)

Reporting From Inside Fallujah

The embedded, corporate media did not focus much on the suffering inside Fallujah during the siege other than via film footage shot by Al Jazeera, the independent Arab broadcasting organization the White House demonizes daily for presenting less than flattering news about the American occupation of Iraq. The rest of the reporting was under the umbrella of the American military and was somewhat limited, to say the least, reflecting the military's main talking-point that civilians were being respected and only "bad guys" being slain. Only embedded reporters were officially permitted in Fallujah at all and they were certainly not allowed to wonder around unattended in off-limits areas.

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Embedded reporters are basically on a leash, figuratively speaking. To become embedded in the first place, they all have to sign a Pentagon form agreeing to have their reporting censored, "if necessary", by the military, which already plants subtle inhibitions in reporters' minds before they even pick up a mike or pen. So whether or not a command officially censors anything, reporters already basically know there are limits. Then there is the innate self-censorship many corporate reporters have to practice to meet the expectations of their editors and publishers as well, who may or may not want to confront or embarrass the official Cheney/Bush/Rumsfeld cartoon versions of reality. If you work for Fox News, which has an obvious pro-Administration bias, you are not going to be interviewing many Iraqis who condemn the American occupation. This will usually not get through Fox's top-down censorship.

So how do we know anything about the other side of the story in Fallujah? Because it is, first of all, pretty hard to censor several hundred thousand people who want and need to tell their stories, for the truth will always out eventually, and secondly, because a few independent, unembedded reporters actually managed to sneak into the city either just before or during the siege. Two of these were Al Jazeera correspondent, Ahmed Mansur, and his cameraman, Laith Mushtaq, who both stole into the city on April 3, 2004. It was Mushtaq's shocking images that were being broadcast to the world during the first week of the siege. Predictably, this brought down the wrath of both Gen. Mark Kimmitt, official military spokesman in Iraq, who excoriated Mansur by name, and Secretary Rumsfeld, who waxed indignant at Al Jazeera's purported villainy as propagandists. One of the first conditions of the ceasefire, believe it or not, was that Mansur and Mushtaq leave the city, so antithetical were their images to the sanitized Pentagon version of events.

Just what did this team see? I quote Mansur from an interview with Amy Goodman of democracynow.org on February 22, 2006 regarding the situation within Fallujah on April 9, 2004, in the hours before any ceasefire was called:

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