Forgetting Fallujah

US airstrike, Fallujah, February 2006 (cc photo: James Gordon)

US airstrike, Fallujah, February 2006 (cc photo: James Gordon)

The Iraq War was back in the news again, with reports that Al-Qaeda-affiliated forces claimed control over the city of Fallujah. For many in the media, this was a time to recall a particularly important moment of the Iraq War. But their memory of Fallujah was extremely limited.

In the Washington Post (1/3/14), reporter Liz Sly explained that this was “one of the most crucial areas that US troops fought to pacify before withdrawing from Iraq two years ago.” She added: 

Roughly a third of the 4,486 US troops killed in Iraq died in Anbar trying to defeat Al-Qaeda in Iraq, nearly 100 of them in the November 2004 battle for control of Fallujah, the site of America’s bloodiest confrontation since the Vietnam War.

Events Friday suggested the fight may have been in vain.

On NPR‘s All Things Considered (1/4/14), Arun Rath explained:  

A little over nine years ago, American soldiers and Marines in Iraq endured the bloodiest combat since Vietnam to retake the city of Fallujah from Iraqi and foreign insurgents. It must be hard for the veterans of that battle to see the headlines today.

NBC‘s Richard Engel (Meet the Press, 1/4/14) told viewers that  “the gains that were achieved by US troops in Iraq, very hard-fought gains, have now been wiped out or are being wiped out. US troops fought in Fallujah; they invaded Fallujah twice to drive out Al-Qaeda extremists.” That left host David Gregory to say, “Critics already questioning whether some of our battles there–and the loss of life on the US side–whether that was in vain.”

So it’s clear that an awareness of the suffering and sacrifices of US forces in Fallujah is very much at the front of the corporate media’s memory. But mostly–if not entirely–forgotten is what was done to the people who lived in Fallujah. 

There were two major offensives in 2004–a siege in April and an intense US-led assault on the city in November. Prior to both, there was an incident in 2003 where US forces fired on protesters, killing over a dozen. 

The residents of Fallujah suffered terribly throughout. The April siege reportedly killed hundreds of civilians; as FAIR noted in real time (Action Alert, 11/16/04), outlets like the New York Times sought to downplay the death toll.  The intense US attacks in November included the use of cluster bombs and white phosphorous chemicals (FAIR Blog, 10/22/12). More than half of the homes in the city were reportedly destroyed; civilian deaths were at least 800, according to the  Red Cross.

As Mike Marqusee wrote in the Guardian (11/10/05):

The assault was preceded by eight weeks of aerial bombardment. US troops cut off the city’s water, power and food supplies, condemned as a violation of the Geneva convention by a UN special rapporteur, who accused occupying forces of “using hunger and deprivation of water as a weapon of war against the civilian population.” Two-thirds of the city’s 300,000 residents fled, many to squatters’ camps without basic facilities.

He added: “The collective punishment inflicted on Fallujah–with logistical and political support from Britain–was largely masked by the US and British media, which relied on reporters embedded with US troops.”

But more than a decade later, US media still see Fallujah primarily as a place where US forces suffered–and died–perhaps “in vain.” Then and now, the hundreds of Iraqis who died in Fallujah hardly register at all.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.