The Fallujah carnage you haven't seen


Mark Follman
November 16, 2004 2:56AM (UTC)

After a week of fierce fighting, the U.S. military is claiming victory in Fallujah. "American forces overran the last center of rebel resistance in Falluja on Sunday, after a weeklong invasion that smashed what they called the principal base for the Iraqi insurgency," the New York Times reported today.

But to what degree do Americans know of the awful cost of the battle? From the start of the war, the Bush administration -- with a complicit mainstream media shuffling along behind it -- has done whatever it can to keep the vivid images of the war out of view, from banning pictures of flag-draped coffins carrying fallen U.S. soldiers, to almost zero public discussion of Iraqi civilian casualties. For the latter, one recent estimate had the death toll at more than 100,000 since the war's beginning.

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But with the digital era's unblinking eye and ever-growing bandwidth, even the furtive Bush White House can't keep all the bad stuff locked away. (Abu Ghraib, of course, being one prime example.) One blogger (whose identity is not readily apparent on the site) has collected some recent images at Fallujah In Pictures, most of which come from Reuters, AP, AFP and Al Jazeera. For those seeking more documentary evidence of what's happened there -- and not for the faint of heart.

Meanwhile, though the U.S. military has again proven its awesome ability to dominate and destroy its enemies, some security experts are continuing to wonder about the strategic imperative in Iraq.

Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the New York Times this weekend that Fallujah aside, the insurgency will continue to thrive in multiple areas of Iraq. He also commented on the notion that the U.S. can destroy Fallujah and then rebuild it in order to win support for the Americans and the interim Iraqi government. That's a belief, he said, that is "absurd."

Update: Little or no coverage of civilian casualties in Iraq is one issue -- missing evidence of more than a thousand dead insurgents is another. Looking back over the day's coverage of Fallujah, we noted one strange disconnect (from the Times story linked above): "American commanders said 38 American servicemembers had been killed and 275 wounded in the Falluja assault, and the commanders estimated that 1,200 to 1,600 insurgents -- about half the number thought to have been entrenched in Falluja -- had been killed."

And later in the piece:

"The absence of insurgent bodies in Falluja has remained an enduring mystery. Roaming American patrols found few on Sunday in their sweeps of the devastated landscape where the rebels chose to make their last stand, the southern Falluja neighborhood called Shuhada by the Iraqis and Queens by the American troops."

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So: embedded reporters, no mention of civilian casualties after a week of fierce fighting (it seems doubtful that all of Fallujah's quarter million residents would have fled prior to the assault) -- and little evidence of the swarms of insurgents said to have been wiped out. Are we getting an accurate story?


Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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