By Claude Lévesque
Le Nouvel Observateur - Read original article in French
Thursday 03 November 2005
Independent American journalist Dahr Jamail tries to relay another perspective on the war.
A young freelancer troubled by the kind of media coverage that prevails in the United States, Dahr Jamail decided to go to Iraq as an independent journalist in 2003. Free of any censorship, but also deprived of the protection enjoyed by journalists embedded with occupation forces, he visited that country four times between November 2003 and February 2005.
"On each trip, I felt like I was visiting a different country," he said in an interview with Le Devoir. "That gives you an idea how fast the situation has been deteriorating. In the absence of reconstruction, everything has gotten worse as far as infrastructure is concerned, and, of course, the security situation speaks for itself."
"Electricity and running water are more problematic than in 2003. Even more serious, a cruel lack of personnel in the hospitals has to be factored in today in addition to the dearth of medicine and equipment," Mr. Jamail notes. "Many doctors - in the majority those with the most experience - have left. In fact, all professionals run the risk of being kidnapped by criminal gangs looking for ransoms."
"In the United States," he continues, "there's a myth that American forces exercise a certain control over the situation, but in reality, the security is so bad that a few blocks away from the "Green Zone" road, in the center of Baghdad, neighborhoods are completely under the control of the different militias or of the resistance."
Dahr Jamail doesn't hide that he opposed the war in Iraq from the outset, not believing the official justifications. After hostilities began, he observed that independent European journalists produced reports very different from what he could read in the United States. He wanted to imitate them.
"It was my first experience in a war zone, and I was naive enough to believe that the big American media outlets were interested in telling the truth," he said, before explaining his disillusion. In January 2004, he sent "all the papers" in his country an article about an apparent case of torture, accompanied by photos of the marks left on a man by electric shocks and by a copy of the medical report written by the doctors of an American prison in Kirkuk. That document seemed suggestive that the doctors had been complicit in the abuse.
"No media published the article and not one thought it worth conducting its own investigation," Mr. Jamail recounts. That was four months before the Abu Ghraib scandal exploded.
Today, Dahr Jamail collaborates with many media outlets, including The Guardian and the BBC, as well as Internet news sites. Mr. Jamail believes that the violence would immediately decrease if American troops withdrew from Iraq. In this regard, he cites the statistics of the Iraqi Minister of Health, according to whom two thirds of civilian deaths are directly or indirectly attributable to the presence of foreign forces. (In January, the minister in question reported that terrorist attacks had caused 1233 civilian deaths and military operations, 2041, during the second half of 2004. Then the minister clarified that the second number included victims from American-British as well as insurgent fire, without specifying the proportions.)
"The news we hear in the United States makes us believe that only car bombs kill people," the journalist deems.
"Most civilian deaths are explained by bombings and by gunfire at check points," he continues. "American soldiers find themselves in a horrible position, like in Vietnam. They don't know who's going to attack them, or when."
At present, military operations take place principally in the vast Sunni-majority province of al-Ambar and in the "triangle of death" south of Baghdad.
In this latter region, the Shiite militia of Moktada Sadr fights alongside the (primarily Sunni) resistance, ever since it was attacked by another Shiite militia, the Badr organization, the armed wing of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution, which is associated with the coalition in power. A situation that induces Dahr Jamail to comment that we are witnessing "a civil war sponsored by the government."
"Ironically, the United States is dealing with a pro-Iranian government that they are losing control over and its Iran-trained militia," he adds.
Translation: t r u t h o u t French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.