Soldiers of misfortune: One story, two takes By William Bowles

4 April 2004

“Atrocity in Fallujah”

So went the headline in the Independent on 1 April 2004 and the story (penned by ‘anti-war’ journalist Robert Fisk) occupied the entire front page and ran onto page 2. The four Americans, described by Fisk in the article as “contractors” were actually mercenaries or Private Military Contractors who worked for Blackwater Security Consulting and whilst nobody can condone the manner of their deaths, or how they were treated after their deaths, atrocities occur on a daily basis in Iraq, the only difference being they occur to Iraqis and hence don’t warrant front page headlines.

“[T]wo days before [this incident], the American army shot many many people, women and children, on the streets [of Fallujah], and – in a bizarre shooting incident that was unjustified, killing many people.” – Ghazwan Al-Mukhtar, a retired Iraqi engineer

Blackwater Security Consulting describes its operations thus:

“Blackwater Security Consulting provides “mobile security teams” made up of former members of the U.S. special operations and intelligence communities that are ready for short-notice deployment around the world, it says.”

And described the events in Fallujah as follows:

“”The graphic images of the unprovoked attack and subsequent heinous mistreatment of our friends exhibits the extraordinary conditions under which we voluntarily work to bring freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people,” Blackwater said yesterday.””

Elsewhere in the media the mercenaries were described as:

“NC firm was providing mercenaries for food delivery in Iraq:
The four civilians killed in Iraq on Wednesday worked for a North Carolina security firm that hires former military members from the United States and other countries.”

Mercenaries delivering food? Yes, food delivery but to the ‘Coalition’ forces not to Iraqis, something the story fails to mention.

“U.S. general vows to ‘pacify’ Fallujah after American contractors killed:
A U.S. general vowed an ”overwhelming” response to the murder and mutilation of four American contractors”

Civilians, contractors or mercenaries? Had they been in uniform, it would have been clear what their roles were and the risks they ran as members of a volunteer professional army. The blurring of the line between professional soldier, mercenary and ‘civilian contractor’ enables the imperium to present the actions of Iraqis as no more than that of animals, who attack, mutilate and kill all foreigners, thus reinforcing the racist stereotype.

As per usual, massacring Iraqis from 30,000 feet up or from the safe confines of a remote targeting location doesn’t qualify for one of Fisk’s ‘atrocity’ headlines and is it the reality of what death really is, ‘up close and personal’ that makes the events in Fallujah so difficult for Westerners to take? Fisk may well think he is bringing the ‘reality’ of war home to the reader but it’s the headline that counts no matter how many qualifications Fisk makes in the body of the text. Is this the result of Fisk’s well-intentioned objective or merely more Western myopia? Or perhaps it’s the fact that it was four Westerners who died.

When will the Independent take up its entire front page with a report of the massacring of Iraqis and Afghanis by F-16s or remote-guided cruise missiles? Hard to do when nobody bothers to count the deaths of ‘ragheads’ or when a supersonic jet drops missiles on a defenceless village and there’s nobody around to witness the atrocity.

By comparison the interview with an Iraqi shows the full force of the anger and resentment that leads to events like the one that took place in Fallujah, events that have their parallel in occupied Palestine also between totally unequal forces.

Hotbed of Resistance: An Iraqi Discusses Fallujah Violence

Ghazwan Al-Mukhtar, a retired Iraqi engineer speaking from Baghdad.

AMY GOODMAN: Today we turn to Ghazwan Al-Mukhtar, a retired Iraqi engineer in Baghdad right now, recently in Fallujah. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ghazwan.


AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you describe the reaction in the streets to what took place in Fallujah?

GHAZWAN AL-MUKHTAR: This incident happened in Fallujah where two days before that, the American army shot many many people, women and children, on the streets, and – in a bizarre shooting incident that was unjustified, killing many people. Fallujah has been a place where the US Army has actually used brutal force to suppress the people there, including using the F-15s, and F-16s to attack villages and place where they think the resistances are, which is unjustified to use high explosives against individuals. This resulted in many, many casualties in the province. Added to it, they have detained, for 50 or 60 days, hundreds of people on and off, which alienated the people against the American forces and the American contractors or the American security contractors, which are really a private army, uncontrollable by the US. This is part of the privatization of the war. Two days ago, three days ago, there was a similar incident in Mosul, where two contractors were killed, under electricity. They were going to the electricity generating plant. The important – the thing that I know is in the media says that the contractors were involved in protecting the food supply. This is the food supply for the US Army, not to be confused with providing help to the local population or anything. It’s just a routine US convoy that may have food and may have on other occasions, armaments or anything. So, the resentments of the people of Fallujah are justified. What happens to them is – it’s a sad thing, but you know, brutality breeds brutality, and violence breeds violence, and he who started first should take the responsibility, and I think the US army has used an unjustified force against the people of Fallujah, and they have brutalized the people of Fallujah to the point where they had to respond with the same brutality.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, some of the commercial media here in the United States are claiming that Fallujah is a hotbed of resistance, that up to 70% of the people are supporting attacks or have voiced in opinion polls support for attacks on the US forces. Is there a continuing large presence of US military within – within the city itself, or have they largely pulled out to the outskirts of Fallujah?

GHAZWAN AL-MUKHTAR: They pulled out to the outskirts, but they keep intruding into the city. Ten days ago, I was passing through Fallujah, and in the middle of the city, they brought the main highway, and we saw inside the city a convoy of US military vehicles. So, they keep coming in and out. If they keep out, I don’t think they would have that many attacks on them, but don’t forget, those are an occupying force, and the people believe they have the right to resist an occupying force – a foreign occupying force. We – the closest we come to you is eight hours difference. That’s 8,000, 9,000 miles. That’s between us. You people have – you came to the east 8,000 miles to run a country you have no business in occupying.”

What is also completely missing from Fisk’s coverage is the issue of privatising war, in other words turning the war and occupation into a business. Moreover, I object most strongly to Fisk’s style that makes ‘literary’ capital out of death:

“A tide of burning petrol embraces the corpse and his hands are standing claw-like above his chest.”

And later we read:

“Cars and trucks can be seen hooting in impatience to overtake this obscene cortège as if such horrors were an everyday occurrence.”

The point is, they are an everyday occurrence, except they happen to Iraqis and as Fisk says in the same piece “As usual, Iraqi dead were not counted by the occupation powers.” How can Fisk justify these two takes on events in Iraq? Surely it’s obvious that a double-standard is at work in the reporting of events in Iraq. Iraqis remain faceless and nameless in their ignominious deaths (except of course to their loved ones) and clearly don’t have the same value as a Western life. Fisk may well be ‘well meaning’ in his intentions but the end product is to reinforce every pre-conception we have in the West that views Arabs (interchangeable with Muslims) as ‘fanatics’ and ‘terrorists’.

With news reports that de-contextualise events by placing them within that of the purely ‘humanitarian’, the occupation becomes depoliticised and one side equivilent to the other and the real issues, the illegal occupation of Iraq, gets lost.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.