Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Ring of Fire: The Fallujah Inferno

Originally published in The Moscow Times on November 19, 2004.

"The inferno…is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space."
-- Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities.

There is of course no space, nowhere to move or breathe in the sealed chamber of the American Infoglomerate – the vast entanglement of corporate media and government propaganda that smothers the body politic with hysterical outpourings of diversion, drivel and deadening white noise. Here, events occur in a total vacuum: they have no history, no context, no consequences. Stripped of the heft and scope of reality, they can easily be molded and distorted to fit the prevailing political and business agendas. Amnesia, ignorance, confusion and fear are left to rule the day: excellent fuel for the stokers of the inferno, who use the heat to work their alchemical magic – transforming human blood into gold.

"There are more and more dead bodies on the streets and the stench is unbearable. Smoke is everywhere. It's hard to know how much people outside Fallujah are aware of what is going on here. There are dead women and children lying on the streets. People are getting weaker from hunger. Many are dying are from their injuries because there is no medical help left in the city whatsoever. Some families have started burying their dead in their gardens."

This was a voice from the depths of the inferno: Fadhil Badrani, reporter for the BBC and Reuters, trapped in the iron encirclement along with tens of thousands of civilians. It was a rare breath of truth. The reality of a major city being ground into rubble was meant to be obscured by the Infoglomerate's wall of noise: murder trials, state visits, Cabinet shuffles, celebrity weddings – and, above all, the reports of "embedded" journalists shaping the "narrative" into its proper form: a magnificent feat of arms carried out with surgical precision against an enemy openly identified by American commanders as "Satan," the Associated Press reports.

One of the first moves in this magnificent feat was the destruction and capture of medical centers. Twenty doctors – and their patients, including women and children – were killed in an airstrike on one major clinic, the UN Information Service reports, while the city's main hospital was seized in the early hours of the ground assault. Why? Because these places of healing could be used as "propaganda centers," the Pentagon's "information warfare" specialists told the NY Times. Unlike the first attack on Fallujah last spring, there was to be no unseemly footage of gutted children bleeding to death on hospital beds. This time – except for NBC's brief, heavily-edited, quickly-buried clip of the usual lone "bad apple" shooting a wounded Iraqi prisoner – the visuals were rigorously scrubbed.

So while Americans saw stories of rugged "Marlboro Men" winning the day against Satan, they were spared shots of engineers cutting off water and electricity to the city – a flagrant war crime under the Geneva Conventions, as CounterPunch notes, but standard practice throughout the occupation. Nor did pictures of attack helicopters gunning down civilians trying to escape across the Euphrates River – including a family of five – make the TV news, despite the eyewitness account of an AP journalist. Nor were tender American sensibilities subjected to the sight of phosphorous shells bathing enemy fighters – and nearby civilians – with unquenchable chemical fire, literally melting their skin, as the Washington Post reports. Nor did they see the fetus being blown out of the body of Artica Salim when her home was bombed during the "softening-up attacks" that raged relentlessly – and unnoticed – in the closing days of George W. Bush's presidential campaign, the Scotland Sunday Herald reports.

What they saw instead were two loudly devout Christians, Bush and Tony Blair, clasping hands and proclaiming that Artica Salim had been torn to shreds in order to fight terrorism – specifically, the terrorism of Jordanian thug Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The city's alleged refusal to turn over Zarqawi was the ostensible reason for the attack; yet halfway through the assault, with dead civilian bodies already stinking in the streets, Coalition commanders finally admitted the truth: Zarqawi wasn't in Fallujah – and hadn't been there for weeks, perhaps months.

But then, Zarqawi leads a peculiarly charmed life. Three times before the war, U.S. forces were set to kill him and destroy his organization. It wasn't that difficult; after all, he was operating in Kurdish-held Iraqi territory, where the U.S. military had free rein. Yet each time, Bush called off the strike, the Wall Street Journal reports. He needed Zarqawi for his pre-war propaganda, so he could point to an "al Qaeda ally in Iraq" – even though Zarqawi was on Bush's Iraqi turf, not Saddam's. And Bush still needs Zarqawi, or someone like him – a killer whose lurid malefactions obscure the even larger crime that set all these atrocities in motion: an unprovoked aggressive war based on lies, whose only goal is the imposition of a regime that will enrich Bush's cronies while advancing American dominance of the world's resources.

Bush and Zarqawi are mirror-image enemies: foreign terrorists breaking into Iraq to spread indiscriminate death and ruin in pursuit of their brutal visions. Everywhere they go, everything they touch, everyone they draw to their cause becomes inferno.

"Inside Fallujah: One Family’s Diary of Terror [Artica Salim],"
Scotland Sunday Herald, Nov. 14, 2004

"Smoke and Corpses,"BBC, Nov. 11, 2004

"20 Doctors Killed in Strike on Clinic: Red Crescent,"
UN Integrated Regional Information Network, Nov. 10, 2004

"US Strikes Raze Fallujah Hospital,"BBC, Nov. 6, 2004

"Civilians Killed While Crossing Euphrates,"
Associated Press, Nov. 14, 2004

"Ghost City Calls for Help,"BBC, Nov. 13, 2004

"Questions Mount on Bush Failure to Hit Zarqawi Camp,"
Wall Streent Journal, Oct. 25, 2004

"Civilian Cost of Battle for Fallujah Emerges,"The Observer, Nov. 14, 2004

"Fallujah a Sea of Rubble and Death After Offensive,"
Reuters, Nov. 14, 2004

"A City lies in Ruins, Along with the Lives of the Wretched Survivors,"
The Independent, Nov. 15, 2004

"The Enemy Has Got a Face: He's Called Satan,"
Associated Press, Nov. 6, 2004

"Marlboro Men Kick Butt in Fallujah,"New York Post, Nov. 10, 2004

"Let Them Drink Sand: War Crimes in Fallujah,"CounterPunch, Nov. 13, 2004

"American Heroes,"
Baghdad Burning, Nov. 16, 2004

"Beyond Embattled City, Rebels Roam Free,"Los Angeles Times, Nov. 12, 2004

"Sy Hersh: The Relentless Bombing of Iraq,"
Editor and Publisher, Nov. 11, 2004

"A City in Ruins, Sky Full of Smoke: 'Let's Kick Ass the American Way!"
The Guardian, Nov. 14, 2004

"I Got My Kills; I Just Love my Job,"Daily Telegraph, Nov. 9, 2004

"Marine Kills Injured Prisoner in Falluhah Mosque,"MSNBC, Nov. 15, 2004

"'This One's Faking He's Dead.' 'He's Dead Now,"
The Independent, Nov. 16, 2004

"Running Out of Patients: Fallujah Hospital Bombing,"The Village Voice, Nov. 7, 2004

"Iraq Hospitals Could be Used as Propaganda Centers, says Pentagon,"New York Times, Nov. 8, 2004

"We're Not Focused on Zarqawi, General Says,"
Washington Post, Nov. 14, 2004

"A Wrecked Nation, a Desert, a Ghost Town. And This Will Be Called Victory,"
The Times, Nov. 17, 2004

"John Pilger: The Unthinkable Becomes Normal,"
New Statesman, Nov. 12, 2004

"Few Foreign Fighters Among Insurgents,"Los Angeles Times, Nov. 16, 2004

"US Suspects Many Insurgents Have Fled,"Washington Times, Nov. 12, 2004

"Fallujah 101,"In These Times, Nov. 12, 2004