Friday, May 14, 2004

We Reject Al-Jazeera Interview; Seek Friendlier Press - The Sadr Lie: Militia Attacks Holy Sites to Incite Violence

14 May, 2004 2340 Camp Golf

It’s a quiet night, but it won’t be for much longer. A palace once belonging to Saddam is being occupied by Mahdi Army fighters on the west side of the Euphrates. At around 0200 our task force will launch an artillery and missile strike on the palace, completely destroying it. Normally that would arouse a great deal of excitement, but moods have been subdued and tense as the standoff between us and Sadr seems to be going nowhere. Over the past few days, street fighting has occurred, sometimes street battles between our troops and Sadr’s gangs.
The situation is confusing, because one report says Sadr is considering a ceasefire, and the next he is endorsing the kidnapping of female soldiers to be had as slaves. Sistani is supposedly negotiating a demilitarization of Najaf, the senior Shia leaders are against Sadr, and deadlines are set. Then, Sadr’s militia goes and loots IP stations with impunity and preaches violence against Americans today. That may be why the Army has chosen to conduct operations as normal. “Normal” meaning movement to contact, and until recently, deliberately trying to instigate fights in order to kill fighters. This is the Pancho strategy, move out and find trouble, start shooting, use overwhelming force, and leave before the fight gets too big. I’m just a bit upset we do this in neighborhoods, kill maybe 3 guys, but destroy property and wound or kill more innocents that fighters. It’s almost a form of mass punishment, as in Fallujah. Something deep inside says it’s wrong.
Today’s battles took place near the Ali Shrine and parts of the expansive cemetery. Of course, all of these “sacred” places are refuges for Mahdi fighters, so when these sites are even slightly damaged, it is our fault. I remember watching on the 6th of May as mortar rounds exploded in the town of Kufa. I saw it with my own eyes. Mahdi Army, or some other force other than U.S. Army, was dropping mortars on their own people, fellow Muslims at least (since the distinction is so important to them), so they could blame the Americans. Arab media, politicians, and religious figures – although not all – have tried to exaggerate and sometimes absolutely lie about what is going on here. What’s their goal? What is the end state? Even if the U.S. left today, they would still have the same problems. It’s almost as if there’s an Arab conspiracy to sink Iraq into chaos, and how that would benefit the Middle East, I do not know.
I do wonder how this came to be. Arab media is clearly against us, but in all fairness, we are clearly against Arab media (the chief outlets anyhow, like Al-Arabia and Al-Jazeera). I know there’s a near hatred of Al-Jazeera by the U.S. government, but I remember in Operation Enduring Freedom, we bombed their buildings in Kabul. I also remember their office in Baghdad was curiously bombed as well, by the U.S. Surely it was one of those unfortunate accidents under Bush’s vigilante-style leadership. Then, Al-Jazeera came to our compound and asked to speak with LTC Jagger for an interview here in Najaf a few days ago. We told them no, and to go away. I began to wonder if Arab media has a problem with us, or if we have a problem with it. Al-Jazeera is a major news outlet, very popular, and a good medium to communicate to the Arab world. I, personally, would have spoken to Al-Jazeera had I been LTC Jagger. You can’t blame a news agency for being anti-American if you refuse to talk to them or if they broadcast images from the terrorists’ perspective. That’s just as newsworthy as CNN riding around with the U.S. Army. FOX News could easily be viewed as anti-Arab. LTC Jagger not talking to Al-Jazeera was disappointing, but not because Al-Jazeera is a great news channel, but it’s a way to communicate to the Arab world. Talking to CNN is fine, but the West already knows what the Army is doing here, the Arabs may not be so sure. By turning powerhouse news media away, we left them insulted and more likely to report against us. And maybe I’m drawing a false correlation here, but I can’t help it. And when I see the same men that turned Arab media away complain that the same Arab media isn’t reporting fairly, I shake my head in frustration. They can’t see the forest for the trees.
“Hey,” Knight 6 said, “We need to get with PAO (Public Affairs Office) and have them arrange some Arab press to come to Najaf so these people understand what we are doing.” He said this today after Jane Sharif of CNN told him people in An-Najaf don’t really know why the U.S. Army is rolling around the city and getting into fights. Now the battalion wants to talk to Arab media. It seems we have a general disregard for relationship building and an inability to realize the benefits thereof. Now, some small media outlet will visit us, and we will have checked the block on another worthless, token gesture. Yeah, you can argue Al-Jazeera shows our soldiers getting attacked and dead, but our media does the same thing and did it as we rolled into Baghdad – live on TV. Who can forget the Marines shooting Iraqi soldiers down and cheering, or charred bodies on the “Highway of Death” from Gulf War I? It’s just reality, so let’s deal with it.


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