Commentary Magazine


Topic: Fallujah

The Uncomfortable Commander in Chief

Obama gave a speech yesterday at the Disabled Veterans of America Conference. It was another disturbing example of Obama’s refusal to embrace fully his role as commander in chief. On the Iraq war, in what should have been a moment of triumph, a high point in our war against Islamic terrorists, he still could not bring himself to use the term victory or to explain the long-term significance of a unified, democratic Iraq. The best he could do was this:

As a candidate for President, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end. (Applause.) Shortly after taking office, I announced our new strategy for Iraq and for a transition to full Iraqi responsibility. And I made it clear that by August 31st, 2010, America’s combat mission in Iraq would end. (Applause.) And that is exactly what we are doing — as promised and on schedule.  (Applause.)

Already, we have closed or turned over to Iraq hundreds of bases. We’re moving out millions of pieces of equipment in one of the largest logistics operations that we’ve seen in decades. By the end of this month, we’ll have brought more than 90,000 of our troops home from Iraq since I took office — more than 90,000 have come home. (Applause.)

Today — even as terrorists try to derail Iraq’s progress — because of the sacrifices of our troops and their Iraqi partners, violence in Iraq continues to be near the lowest it’s been in years.  And next month, we will change our military mission from combat to supporting and training Iraqi security forces.  (Applause.)  In fact, in many parts of the country, Iraqis have already taken the lead for security.

Obama was very concerned about reminding the crowd that he had kept his campaign promise. He was far less interested in explaining that a great victory had been achieved. And he was even less interested in explaining how we won. He preferred to credit the troops rather than the strategy or the president who championed it (over Obama and the left’s objections): “When invasion gave way to insurgency, our troops persevered, block by block, city by city, from Baghdad to Fallujah.” No, he didn’t use the word surge or even mention Gen. Petraeus’s name. Shocking, really.

Then on Afghanistan, he was surprisingly brief. He explained — in contrast to his muteness on Iraq — why we are there and what is at stake. That’s commendable. But on the fighting itself, he said only this:

We will continue to face huge challenges in Afghanistan. But it’s important that the American people know that we are making progress and we are focused on goals that are clear and achievable.

On the military front, nearly all the additional forces that I ordered to Afghanistan are now in place. Along with our Afghan and international partners, we are going on the offensive against the Taliban — targeting their leaders, challenging them in regions where they had free reign, and training Afghan national security forces. (Applause.) Our thoughts and prayers are with all our troops risking their lives for our safety in Afghanistan.

And on the civilian front, we’re insisting on greater accountability. And the Afghan government has taken concrete steps to foster development and combat corruption, and to put forward a reintegration plan that allows Afghans to lay down their arms.

The best he could come up with is “achievable goals”; he is apparently allergic to the word victory.

The major part of his speech had to do with veterans’ benefits. Even the Washington Post noticed the imbalance:

White House officials billed Obama’s remarks to the veterans group as a significant Iraq policy address, but a relatively small part of the roughly 20-minute speech was devoted to the subject. The president spoke most passionately about veterans benefits and received the most applause when he did.

Veterans’ benefits is an important topic. But it is all too apparent that this president is most comfortable when talking about social services and quite uncomfortable talking about victory in war. For those who hoped he would grow into the job of commander in chief, this is yet another sober reminder that he still doesn’t comprehend or excel at the most critical aspect of his job.

Obama gave a speech yesterday at the Disabled Veterans of America Conference. It was another disturbing example of Obama’s refusal to embrace fully his role as commander in chief. On the Iraq war, in what should have been a moment of triumph, a high point in our war against Islamic terrorists, he still could not bring himself to use the term victory or to explain the long-term significance of a unified, democratic Iraq. The best he could do was this:

As a candidate for President, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end. (Applause.) Shortly after taking office, I announced our new strategy for Iraq and for a transition to full Iraqi responsibility. And I made it clear that by August 31st, 2010, America’s combat mission in Iraq would end. (Applause.) And that is exactly what we are doing — as promised and on schedule.  (Applause.)

Already, we have closed or turned over to Iraq hundreds of bases. We’re moving out millions of pieces of equipment in one of the largest logistics operations that we’ve seen in decades. By the end of this month, we’ll have brought more than 90,000 of our troops home from Iraq since I took office — more than 90,000 have come home. (Applause.)

Today — even as terrorists try to derail Iraq’s progress — because of the sacrifices of our troops and their Iraqi partners, violence in Iraq continues to be near the lowest it’s been in years.  And next month, we will change our military mission from combat to supporting and training Iraqi security forces.  (Applause.)  In fact, in many parts of the country, Iraqis have already taken the lead for security.

Obama was very concerned about reminding the crowd that he had kept his campaign promise. He was far less interested in explaining that a great victory had been achieved. And he was even less interested in explaining how we won. He preferred to credit the troops rather than the strategy or the president who championed it (over Obama and the left’s objections): “When invasion gave way to insurgency, our troops persevered, block by block, city by city, from Baghdad to Fallujah.” No, he didn’t use the word surge or even mention Gen. Petraeus’s name. Shocking, really.

Then on Afghanistan, he was surprisingly brief. He explained — in contrast to his muteness on Iraq — why we are there and what is at stake. That’s commendable. But on the fighting itself, he said only this:

We will continue to face huge challenges in Afghanistan. But it’s important that the American people know that we are making progress and we are focused on goals that are clear and achievable.

On the military front, nearly all the additional forces that I ordered to Afghanistan are now in place. Along with our Afghan and international partners, we are going on the offensive against the Taliban — targeting their leaders, challenging them in regions where they had free reign, and training Afghan national security forces. (Applause.) Our thoughts and prayers are with all our troops risking their lives for our safety in Afghanistan.

And on the civilian front, we’re insisting on greater accountability. And the Afghan government has taken concrete steps to foster development and combat corruption, and to put forward a reintegration plan that allows Afghans to lay down their arms.

The best he could come up with is “achievable goals”; he is apparently allergic to the word victory.

The major part of his speech had to do with veterans’ benefits. Even the Washington Post noticed the imbalance:

White House officials billed Obama’s remarks to the veterans group as a significant Iraq policy address, but a relatively small part of the roughly 20-minute speech was devoted to the subject. The president spoke most passionately about veterans benefits and received the most applause when he did.

Veterans’ benefits is an important topic. But it is all too apparent that this president is most comfortable when talking about social services and quite uncomfortable talking about victory in war. For those who hoped he would grow into the job of commander in chief, this is yet another sober reminder that he still doesn’t comprehend or excel at the most critical aspect of his job.

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Media Attack on Israel

Mainstream media coverage of the Gaza flotilla incident is predictably incomplete, misleading, and anti-Israel. If you peruse the news pages of the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, you will learn that IHH is a “charity” but not read about its connections to terrorist groups. The usually reliable Journal would have us believe that with this incident, Turkey has turned on a dime — from friend to critic of the Jewish state. Perhaps the quite obvious tilt toward Islamism and the Davos war of words between Shimon Peres and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan were early hints of Turkey’s disposition. And one has to read deep into the print stories to learn that Israeli commandos were set upon with metal poles and bats.

Mona Charen has a must-read reality check. It should be read in full, but just a sample confirms how distorted the mainstream media coverage is:

Fact: Upon learning of the intentions of the Gaza flotilla, the Israeli government asked the organizers to deliver their humanitarian aid first to an Israeli port where it would be inspected (for weapons) before being forwarded to Gaza. The organizers refused. “There are two possible happy endings,” a Muslim activist on board explained, “either we will reach Gaza or we will achieve martyrdom.” …

Fact: The flotilla’s participants included the IHH, a “humanitarian relief fund” based in Turkey that has close ties to Hamas and to global jihadi groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Chechnya, and elsewhere, and which has also organized relief to anti-U.S. Islamic radicals in Fallujah, Iraq. A French intelligence report suggests that IHH has provided documents to terrorists, permitting them to pose as relief workers. Among the other cheerleaders — former British MP and Saddam Hussein pal George Galloway, all-purpose America and Israel hater Noam Chomsky, and John Ging, head of UNRWA, the U.N.’s agency for Palestinian support.

Beyond the “news” reporting, the mainstream press has already decided that Israel acted excessively and will be responsible for an increase in tension in an already tense Middle East. The way to “fix” this is to give the Palestinians their state. The Washington Post editors pronounce:

As for Mr. Netanyahu, the only road to recovery from this disaster lies in embracing, once and for all, credible steps to create conditions for a Palestinian state.

Hmm. Haven’t the Israelis repeatedly offered the Palestinians their own state? And after all this was an incident concerning Gaza — do the editors expect Bibi to recognize a Hamas state? Well, let’s not get bogged down in facts.

The task of rebutting the lies and distortions is huge. Having been too meek on too many fronts for too long, it’s a good opportunity for American Jewry to step up to the plate and take on that task — and be prepared to also take on the administration should Obama be less than fulsome in his support of Israel’s right of self-defense.

Mainstream media coverage of the Gaza flotilla incident is predictably incomplete, misleading, and anti-Israel. If you peruse the news pages of the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, you will learn that IHH is a “charity” but not read about its connections to terrorist groups. The usually reliable Journal would have us believe that with this incident, Turkey has turned on a dime — from friend to critic of the Jewish state. Perhaps the quite obvious tilt toward Islamism and the Davos war of words between Shimon Peres and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan were early hints of Turkey’s disposition. And one has to read deep into the print stories to learn that Israeli commandos were set upon with metal poles and bats.

Mona Charen has a must-read reality check. It should be read in full, but just a sample confirms how distorted the mainstream media coverage is:

Fact: Upon learning of the intentions of the Gaza flotilla, the Israeli government asked the organizers to deliver their humanitarian aid first to an Israeli port where it would be inspected (for weapons) before being forwarded to Gaza. The organizers refused. “There are two possible happy endings,” a Muslim activist on board explained, “either we will reach Gaza or we will achieve martyrdom.” …

Fact: The flotilla’s participants included the IHH, a “humanitarian relief fund” based in Turkey that has close ties to Hamas and to global jihadi groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Chechnya, and elsewhere, and which has also organized relief to anti-U.S. Islamic radicals in Fallujah, Iraq. A French intelligence report suggests that IHH has provided documents to terrorists, permitting them to pose as relief workers. Among the other cheerleaders — former British MP and Saddam Hussein pal George Galloway, all-purpose America and Israel hater Noam Chomsky, and John Ging, head of UNRWA, the U.N.’s agency for Palestinian support.

Beyond the “news” reporting, the mainstream press has already decided that Israel acted excessively and will be responsible for an increase in tension in an already tense Middle East. The way to “fix” this is to give the Palestinians their state. The Washington Post editors pronounce:

As for Mr. Netanyahu, the only road to recovery from this disaster lies in embracing, once and for all, credible steps to create conditions for a Palestinian state.

Hmm. Haven’t the Israelis repeatedly offered the Palestinians their own state? And after all this was an incident concerning Gaza — do the editors expect Bibi to recognize a Hamas state? Well, let’s not get bogged down in facts.

The task of rebutting the lies and distortions is huge. Having been too meek on too many fronts for too long, it’s a good opportunity for American Jewry to step up to the plate and take on that task — and be prepared to also take on the administration should Obama be less than fulsome in his support of Israel’s right of self-defense.

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From Middle East Journal: The Liberation of Karmah, Part II

This is the second in a two-part series. Read Part I here.

KARMAH, IRAQ — The small city of Karmah sits between Fallujah and Baghdad, two Iraqi cities that have suffered more insurgent and terrorist violence than most. Karmah, however, was more hard-hit than either. It’s right on the bleeding edge of Anbar Province where the outskirts of Baghdad taper away. Unlike Fallujah, it has no hard perimeter to defend, nor was it considered a top priority for counterinsurgency operations. Surge forces in Baghdad drove Al Qaeda in Iraq members out of the capital’s neighborhoods and straight into Karmah during most of 2007.

Al Qaeda in Iraq did in Karmah what they have done everywhere else – intimidated and murdered civilians into submission. They decapitated police officers and placed severed heads all over the city. They destroyed the homes of anyone who opposed them. The message was clear: This is what will happen to you if you work with the Americans.

The story in Karmah should be familiar by now. Iraqis said no. We will work with the Americans and drive you out of our country. So many Stateside Americans still wonder aloud why mainstream Muslims refuse to stand up to terrorists, so apparently the story in Karmah – which is hardly unique to Karmah – isn’t familiar enough.

I joined Lieutenant Jasey Alleman on a foot patrol in the city at dawn when the air was still cold and the sun cast long shadows.

Fewer Iraqis were out on the street. Many were still sleeping or cooking breakfast at home. Most stores were open, though, and the lieutenant ducked into a hardware store and bought several cans of blue spray paint. I didn’t ask what they were for because I assumed I’d find out.

Even this city, of all cities, has gone quiet. Saturation patrolling by Marines who live embedded in the community’s neighborhoods stanched the terrorist outflow from Baghdad and purged the local insurgency’s remnants. The main market area downtown was recently re-opened to much ceremony and fanfare. Marine veterans who had served in Karmah before can hardly believe their own eyes – a year ago Karmah was thought to be as dark as Mordor.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

This is the second in a two-part series. Read Part I here.

KARMAH, IRAQ — The small city of Karmah sits between Fallujah and Baghdad, two Iraqi cities that have suffered more insurgent and terrorist violence than most. Karmah, however, was more hard-hit than either. It’s right on the bleeding edge of Anbar Province where the outskirts of Baghdad taper away. Unlike Fallujah, it has no hard perimeter to defend, nor was it considered a top priority for counterinsurgency operations. Surge forces in Baghdad drove Al Qaeda in Iraq members out of the capital’s neighborhoods and straight into Karmah during most of 2007.

Al Qaeda in Iraq did in Karmah what they have done everywhere else – intimidated and murdered civilians into submission. They decapitated police officers and placed severed heads all over the city. They destroyed the homes of anyone who opposed them. The message was clear: This is what will happen to you if you work with the Americans.

The story in Karmah should be familiar by now. Iraqis said no. We will work with the Americans and drive you out of our country. So many Stateside Americans still wonder aloud why mainstream Muslims refuse to stand up to terrorists, so apparently the story in Karmah – which is hardly unique to Karmah – isn’t familiar enough.

I joined Lieutenant Jasey Alleman on a foot patrol in the city at dawn when the air was still cold and the sun cast long shadows.

Fewer Iraqis were out on the street. Many were still sleeping or cooking breakfast at home. Most stores were open, though, and the lieutenant ducked into a hardware store and bought several cans of blue spray paint. I didn’t ask what they were for because I assumed I’d find out.

Even this city, of all cities, has gone quiet. Saturation patrolling by Marines who live embedded in the community’s neighborhoods stanched the terrorist outflow from Baghdad and purged the local insurgency’s remnants. The main market area downtown was recently re-opened to much ceremony and fanfare. Marine veterans who had served in Karmah before can hardly believe their own eyes – a year ago Karmah was thought to be as dark as Mordor.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

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From Middle East Journal: The Liberation of Karmah, Part I

KARMAH, IRAQ – Just beyond the outskirts of Fallujah lies the terror-wracked city of Karmah. While you may not have heard of this small city of 35,000 people, American soldiers and Marines who served in Anbar Province know it as a terrifying place of oppression, death, and destruction. “It was much worse than Fallujah” said more than a dozen Marines who were themselves based in Fallujah.

“Karmah was so important to the insurgency because we’ve got Baghdad right there,” Lieutenant Andrew Macak told me. “This is part of the periphery of Baghdad. At the same time, it is part of the periphery of Fallujah.”

Lieutenant Macak is not a veteran of Karmah, but Sergeant Jason Howell is. He was deployed in the city from March through October in 2006. “People weren’t out in the streets,” he said. “They were very reserved. They were afraid to talk to us. They had the feeling that, especially in the smaller towns, they were constantly being watched. They were in real jeopardy if they interacted with coalition forces and, especially, the Iraqi Police.”

Lieutenant Macak arrived in Karmah in the middle of July 2007 when the city was still a war zone. “It was moving in the right direction, but it was still active,” he said. “2/5 [Second Battalion, Fifth Regiment], who we relieved, was part of the surge effort. Karmah was still a very dangerous place. The lollipop over here was a big deal.”

“You mean the traffic circle?” I said. The Marines refer to a large traffic circle down the street from the police station at the entrance to the market as the “lollipop.”

“Yeah,” he said. “It was basically IED Alley. The whole road out here in front of the station was just covered in IEDs. No one even went down the roads leading to the north of here. It was an insurgent stronghold. Before 2/5 came in there weren’t many patrols. They didn’t do a whole lot. The Iraqi Police didn’t have any confidence. Their numbers weren’t big and there wasn’t a whole lot of organization. 2/5 came in and started patrolling, started doing what Marines do. They identified local leaders and started engaging them. Sheikh Mishan came back at about the same time from Syria.”

Sheikh Mishan Abbas, like many other sheikhs in Anbar Province, fled to Syria shortly after the U.S. invaded.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

KARMAH, IRAQ – Just beyond the outskirts of Fallujah lies the terror-wracked city of Karmah. While you may not have heard of this small city of 35,000 people, American soldiers and Marines who served in Anbar Province know it as a terrifying place of oppression, death, and destruction. “It was much worse than Fallujah” said more than a dozen Marines who were themselves based in Fallujah.

“Karmah was so important to the insurgency because we’ve got Baghdad right there,” Lieutenant Andrew Macak told me. “This is part of the periphery of Baghdad. At the same time, it is part of the periphery of Fallujah.”

Lieutenant Macak is not a veteran of Karmah, but Sergeant Jason Howell is. He was deployed in the city from March through October in 2006. “People weren’t out in the streets,” he said. “They were very reserved. They were afraid to talk to us. They had the feeling that, especially in the smaller towns, they were constantly being watched. They were in real jeopardy if they interacted with coalition forces and, especially, the Iraqi Police.”

Lieutenant Macak arrived in Karmah in the middle of July 2007 when the city was still a war zone. “It was moving in the right direction, but it was still active,” he said. “2/5 [Second Battalion, Fifth Regiment], who we relieved, was part of the surge effort. Karmah was still a very dangerous place. The lollipop over here was a big deal.”

“You mean the traffic circle?” I said. The Marines refer to a large traffic circle down the street from the police station at the entrance to the market as the “lollipop.”

“Yeah,” he said. “It was basically IED Alley. The whole road out here in front of the station was just covered in IEDs. No one even went down the roads leading to the north of here. It was an insurgent stronghold. Before 2/5 came in there weren’t many patrols. They didn’t do a whole lot. The Iraqi Police didn’t have any confidence. Their numbers weren’t big and there wasn’t a whole lot of organization. 2/5 came in and started patrolling, started doing what Marines do. They identified local leaders and started engaging them. Sheikh Mishan came back at about the same time from Syria.”

Sheikh Mishan Abbas, like many other sheikhs in Anbar Province, fled to Syria shortly after the U.S. invaded.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

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From Middle East Journal: In the Slums of Fallujah

FALLUJAH, IRAQ – Captain Steve Eastin threw open the door to the Iraqi Police captain’s office and cancelled a joint American-Iraqi officer’s meeting before it could even begin. “Someone just shot at my Marines,” he said. “We can’t do this right now.”

I following him into the hall.

“What happened?” I said.

“Someone just shot at my guys at the flour mill,” he said. “A bullet struck a wall four feet over a Marine’s head. We have to go in there and extract them.”

“They don’t extract themselves?” I said.

“They’re on foot,” he said, “and we’re going in vehicles. They don’t extract themselves on foot.”

And I was getting comfortable and even bored in post-insurgent Fallujah. Complacency kills, and Fallujah isn’t completely free of insurgents just yet.

“Can I go with the extraction team?” I said.

“They’ve already left in Humvees,” he said.

But he did send a patrol to the flour mill less an hour later, and I went with them.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

FALLUJAH, IRAQ – Captain Steve Eastin threw open the door to the Iraqi Police captain’s office and cancelled a joint American-Iraqi officer’s meeting before it could even begin. “Someone just shot at my Marines,” he said. “We can’t do this right now.”

I following him into the hall.

“What happened?” I said.

“Someone just shot at my guys at the flour mill,” he said. “A bullet struck a wall four feet over a Marine’s head. We have to go in there and extract them.”

“They don’t extract themselves?” I said.

“They’re on foot,” he said, “and we’re going in vehicles. They don’t extract themselves on foot.”

And I was getting comfortable and even bored in post-insurgent Fallujah. Complacency kills, and Fallujah isn’t completely free of insurgents just yet.

“Can I go with the extraction team?” I said.

“They’ve already left in Humvees,” he said.

But he did send a patrol to the flour mill less an hour later, and I went with them.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

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The Dungeon of Fallujah

“This is not Norway here, and it is not Denmark.” – Lebanese Forces militia leader Bashir Gemayel.

FALLUJAH – Next to the Joint Communications Center in downtown Fallujah is a squalid and war-shattered warehouse for human beings. Most detainees are common criminals. Others are captured insurgents – terrorists, car-bombers, IED makers, and throat-slashers. A few are even innocent family members of Al Qaeda leaders at large. The Iraqi Police call it a jail, but it’s nothing like a jail you’ve ever seen, at least not in any civilized country. It was built to house 120 prisoners. Recently it held 900.

“Have you seen that place yet?” one Marine said. “It is absolutely disgraceful.”

“The smell,” said another and nearly gagged on remembering. “God, you will never forget it.”

I hadn’t seen or smelled it yet, but I was about to.

“Come on,” American Marine Sergeant Dehaan said to me. “Let’s go take a look.”

I picked up my notebook and camera.

“Leave the camera,” he said. “The Iraqis won’t let you take pictures.”

“Don’t you have any say in it?” I said. This was the first and only time during my trip to Fallujah that somebody told me not to take pictures.

“Nope,” he said. “The jail is completely run by Iraqis. They’ll freak out if you show up with that camera. If it were up to me, yeah, you could take ‘em. But it’s not.”

If the Marines wouldn’t mind if I took pictures, I think it’s safe to say the No Photograph policy is not a security measure. The Iraqis, it seems, don’t want you to see what I saw.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com

“This is not Norway here, and it is not Denmark.” – Lebanese Forces militia leader Bashir Gemayel.

FALLUJAH – Next to the Joint Communications Center in downtown Fallujah is a squalid and war-shattered warehouse for human beings. Most detainees are common criminals. Others are captured insurgents – terrorists, car-bombers, IED makers, and throat-slashers. A few are even innocent family members of Al Qaeda leaders at large. The Iraqi Police call it a jail, but it’s nothing like a jail you’ve ever seen, at least not in any civilized country. It was built to house 120 prisoners. Recently it held 900.

“Have you seen that place yet?” one Marine said. “It is absolutely disgraceful.”

“The smell,” said another and nearly gagged on remembering. “God, you will never forget it.”

I hadn’t seen or smelled it yet, but I was about to.

“Come on,” American Marine Sergeant Dehaan said to me. “Let’s go take a look.”

I picked up my notebook and camera.

“Leave the camera,” he said. “The Iraqis won’t let you take pictures.”

“Don’t you have any say in it?” I said. This was the first and only time during my trip to Fallujah that somebody told me not to take pictures.

“Nope,” he said. “The jail is completely run by Iraqis. They’ll freak out if you show up with that camera. If it were up to me, yeah, you could take ‘em. But it’s not.”

If the Marines wouldn’t mind if I took pictures, I think it’s safe to say the No Photograph policy is not a security measure. The Iraqis, it seems, don’t want you to see what I saw.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com

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The Final Mission, Part III

ANBAR PROVINCE, IRAQ – The United States plans to hand Anbar Province over to the Iraqis next month if nothing catastrophic erupts between now and then. The Marines will stick around a while longer, though, and complete their crucial last mission – training the Iraqi Police to replace them.

The local police force would collapse in short order without American financial and logistics support. “The biggest problem they have is supply,” Corporal Hayes said to me in Fallujah. “They’re always running out of gas and running out of bullets. How are they supposed to police this city with no gas and no bullets?”

What they need more than anything else, though, in the long run anyway, is an infusion of moderate politics. Fallujah is in the heartland of the Sunni Triangle. The city was ferociously Baathist during the rule of Saddam Hussein. It is surly and reactionary even today. Even by Iraqi standards. Even after vanquishing the insurgency. Fallujans may never be transformed into Jeffersonian liberal democrats, but young men from New York, California, and Texas are taking the Iraqis by the hand and gently repairing their political culture.

I accompanied Lieutenant Andrew Macak and Lieutenant Eric Montgomery to an ethics class they taught to members of the Anbar Provincial Security Forces (PSF). PSF members are police officers who operate at the provincial level rather than the city level, much like state police in the U.S. The class was held at a station in Karmah, a small city wedged between Fallujah and Baghdad. Coursework included the ethical responsibilities of police officers, the importance of human rights, and the permissible rules of engagement in counterinsurgency operations. The material was the same as that taught by Marines everywhere in Al Anbar – in Fallujah, Ramadi, Hit, and Haditha.

“We’re teaching them about the Law of Armed Conflict,” Lieutenant Montgomery said. “If they become a police state, people are not going to support them.”

Post-Saddam Iraq is not a police state. Even so, while it’s orders of magnitude more moderate and humane than the genocidal and fascistic regime it replaced, many individuals in the government and police departments have rough authoritarian habits that are rooted in Arab culture itself as much as they are legacies from the previous era.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com

ANBAR PROVINCE, IRAQ – The United States plans to hand Anbar Province over to the Iraqis next month if nothing catastrophic erupts between now and then. The Marines will stick around a while longer, though, and complete their crucial last mission – training the Iraqi Police to replace them.

The local police force would collapse in short order without American financial and logistics support. “The biggest problem they have is supply,” Corporal Hayes said to me in Fallujah. “They’re always running out of gas and running out of bullets. How are they supposed to police this city with no gas and no bullets?”

What they need more than anything else, though, in the long run anyway, is an infusion of moderate politics. Fallujah is in the heartland of the Sunni Triangle. The city was ferociously Baathist during the rule of Saddam Hussein. It is surly and reactionary even today. Even by Iraqi standards. Even after vanquishing the insurgency. Fallujans may never be transformed into Jeffersonian liberal democrats, but young men from New York, California, and Texas are taking the Iraqis by the hand and gently repairing their political culture.

I accompanied Lieutenant Andrew Macak and Lieutenant Eric Montgomery to an ethics class they taught to members of the Anbar Provincial Security Forces (PSF). PSF members are police officers who operate at the provincial level rather than the city level, much like state police in the U.S. The class was held at a station in Karmah, a small city wedged between Fallujah and Baghdad. Coursework included the ethical responsibilities of police officers, the importance of human rights, and the permissible rules of engagement in counterinsurgency operations. The material was the same as that taught by Marines everywhere in Al Anbar – in Fallujah, Ramadi, Hit, and Haditha.

“We’re teaching them about the Law of Armed Conflict,” Lieutenant Montgomery said. “If they become a police state, people are not going to support them.”

Post-Saddam Iraq is not a police state. Even so, while it’s orders of magnitude more moderate and humane than the genocidal and fascistic regime it replaced, many individuals in the government and police departments have rough authoritarian habits that are rooted in Arab culture itself as much as they are legacies from the previous era.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com

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The Other Fallujah Reporter

“The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” — Thomas Jefferson

I just returned home from a trip to Fallujah, where I was the only reporter embedded with the United States military. There was, however, an unembedded reporter in the city at the same time. Normally it would be useful to compare what I saw and heard while traveling and working with the Marines with what a colleague saw and heard while working solo. Unfortunately, the other Fallujah reporter was Ali al-Fadhily from Inter Press Services.

Mr. al-Fadhily is unhappy with the way things are going in the city right now. It means little to him that the only shots fired by the Marines anymore are practice rounds on the range, and that there hasn’t been a single fire fight or combat casualty for months. That’s fair enough, as far as it goes, and perhaps to be expected from a reporter who isn’t embedded with the military and who focuses his attention on Iraqi civilians. The trouble is that Mr. Al-Fadhily’s hysterical exaggerations, refusal to provide crucial context, and outright fabrications amount to a serious case of journalistic malpractice.

Some of what al-Fadhily writes is correct. The economy and infrastructure really are shattered. Unemployment is greater than 50 percent, as he says. It’s true that most Iraqis – in Fallujah as well as everywhere else – don’t have access to safe drinking water. But he proves himself unreliable, to put it mildly, after only one sentence: “The city that was routed in November 2004 is still suffering the worst humanitarian conditions under a siege that continues.”

There is no “siege” in Fallujah. He is referring here to the hard perimeter around the city manned by Iraqi Police who prevent non-residents from bringing their cars in. It’s an extreme measure, no doubt about it. But it keeps the car bombers and weapon smugglers out. Iraqis who live in Fallujah are free to come and go as they please. The non-resident vehicle ban is a defensive measure, like a national border or castle moat. Its purpose is to prevent a siege from the outside.

My colleague (of sorts) at least acknowledges that “military actions are down to the minimum inside the city.” He adds, however, that “local and U.S. authorities do not seem to be thinking of ending the agonies of the over 400,000 residents of Fallujah.”

This is nonsense on stilts. Marines distribute food aid to impoverished local civilians. The electrical grid is being repaired now that insurgents no longer sabotage it. Solar-powered street lights have been installed on some of the main thoroughfares and will cover the entire city in two years if the war doesn’t come back. Locals are hired to pick up trash that went uncollected for months. A new sewage and water treatment plant is under construction in the poorest part of the city. Low-interest microloans are being distributed to small business owners to kick start the economy. American civilians donate school supplies to Iraqi children that are distributed by the Marines. Mr. al-Fadhily would know all this if he embedded with the U.S. military. Whether or not he would take the trouble to report these facts if he knew of them is another question.

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“The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” — Thomas Jefferson

I just returned home from a trip to Fallujah, where I was the only reporter embedded with the United States military. There was, however, an unembedded reporter in the city at the same time. Normally it would be useful to compare what I saw and heard while traveling and working with the Marines with what a colleague saw and heard while working solo. Unfortunately, the other Fallujah reporter was Ali al-Fadhily from Inter Press Services.

Mr. al-Fadhily is unhappy with the way things are going in the city right now. It means little to him that the only shots fired by the Marines anymore are practice rounds on the range, and that there hasn’t been a single fire fight or combat casualty for months. That’s fair enough, as far as it goes, and perhaps to be expected from a reporter who isn’t embedded with the military and who focuses his attention on Iraqi civilians. The trouble is that Mr. Al-Fadhily’s hysterical exaggerations, refusal to provide crucial context, and outright fabrications amount to a serious case of journalistic malpractice.

Some of what al-Fadhily writes is correct. The economy and infrastructure really are shattered. Unemployment is greater than 50 percent, as he says. It’s true that most Iraqis – in Fallujah as well as everywhere else – don’t have access to safe drinking water. But he proves himself unreliable, to put it mildly, after only one sentence: “The city that was routed in November 2004 is still suffering the worst humanitarian conditions under a siege that continues.”

There is no “siege” in Fallujah. He is referring here to the hard perimeter around the city manned by Iraqi Police who prevent non-residents from bringing their cars in. It’s an extreme measure, no doubt about it. But it keeps the car bombers and weapon smugglers out. Iraqis who live in Fallujah are free to come and go as they please. The non-resident vehicle ban is a defensive measure, like a national border or castle moat. Its purpose is to prevent a siege from the outside.

My colleague (of sorts) at least acknowledges that “military actions are down to the minimum inside the city.” He adds, however, that “local and U.S. authorities do not seem to be thinking of ending the agonies of the over 400,000 residents of Fallujah.”

This is nonsense on stilts. Marines distribute food aid to impoverished local civilians. The electrical grid is being repaired now that insurgents no longer sabotage it. Solar-powered street lights have been installed on some of the main thoroughfares and will cover the entire city in two years if the war doesn’t come back. Locals are hired to pick up trash that went uncollected for months. A new sewage and water treatment plant is under construction in the poorest part of the city. Low-interest microloans are being distributed to small business owners to kick start the economy. American civilians donate school supplies to Iraqi children that are distributed by the Marines. Mr. al-Fadhily would know all this if he embedded with the U.S. military. Whether or not he would take the trouble to report these facts if he knew of them is another question.

He claims seventy percent of the city was destroyed during Operation Phantom Fury, also known as Al-Fajr, in November 2004. This is a lie. If he really went to Fallujah himself, he knows it’s a lie. It’s possible that as much as seventy percent of the city was damaged, if a single bullet hole in the side of a house counts as damage. I really don’t know. It’s hard to say. But I saw much more destruction in nearby Ramadi than I saw in Fallujah. Even there the percentage of the city that was actually destroyed is in the low single digits – nowhere near seventy percent. And I spent triple the amount of time in Fallujah as in Ramadi. I didn’t personally see every street or house, but I followed the Marines on foot patrols every day and never once retraced my steps.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Look at Google’s interactive satellite image of Fallujah from space. You can clearly see which parts of the city were destroyed and which weren’t. Most of the damage is in the north. Some of the blanks spots you’ll see are empty lots, some are cemeteries, others are destruction from war. Even if all the blank spots in the city were sites of destruction, the percentage of the total area destroyed is far closer to zero percent than to seventy. Mr. al-Fadhily’s exaggeration is on par with the libelous claim that the Israel Defense Forces killed thousands of people in the Jenin refugee camp in April of 2002 when the actual number was a mere 52.

“All of the residents interviewed by IPS were extremely angry with the media for recent reports that the situation in the city is good,” he wrote. “Many refused to be quoted for different reasons.”

This is about as believable as his seventy-percent destruction claim. What media reports from Fallujah are the residents talking about? Fallujah is very nearly a journalist-free zone. Mr. al-Fadhily and I are practically the only ones who have been there for some time. Google News finds hardly any articles filed from the city aside from mine and his. Noah Shachtman published a Fallujah piece in Wired recently, but it’s unlikely that anyone there came across it. It’s also not very likely that the Arabic-language satellite channels Fallujah residents have access to are bursting with reports of good news from the former insurgent stronghold.

Anyway, the situation in the city isn’t good. Not at all. What it is is non-violent. It’s not a war zone anymore. The infrastructure and economy are only just now beginning to slowly recover because the war, until recently, made rebuilding impossible.

“Many residents told IPS that US-backed Iraqi police and army personnel have detained people who have spoken to the media,” al-Fadhily wrote.

Some Iraqis may well have said this. The idea that Americans were setting off car bombs was another theory that made the rounds in Fallujah not long ago. Only the most paranoid or irresponsible of reporters would bother to publish such claims without a dash of skepticism or evidence.

I have been to the Iraqi Police jail in Fallujah. It’s a terrible place that probably ought to be investigated by Human Rights Watch or the like. (The Marines I spoke to insist it is an abomination.) The Iraqi Police force gets, and deserves, a lot of legitimate criticism. But the idea that its officers arrest citizens for talking to journalists is about as plausible as the silly claim made by Iraqis in Nassiriya recently that the Americans dumped a shark in a Euphrates River canal to frighten people.

Mr. al-Fadhily quotes many disgruntled Iraqis. That’s all fine and good. I, too, heard lots of complaints. There’s plenty to gripe about. Fallujah is a broken-down, ramshackle, impoverished wreck of a city. It was ruined by more than three years of war. What else can you expect of a place that only stopped exploding this summer? But if the best possible scenario ever unfolds, if peace arrives even in Baghdad, if the government becomes truly moderate and representative, if rainbows break out in the skies and the fields fill with smiling children and bunny rabbits, somebody, somewhere, will complain that Iraq has been taken over by the imperial powers of Kentucky Fried Chicken and Starbucks.

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