Reports from the Arab press

SUN JOURNAL

April 13, 2004

In speaking to reporters from Baghdad yesterday, Gen. John Abizaid, the head of the U.S. Central Command, took issue with the way the Arab press has been reporting from Iraq.

"I would like to add about the Fallujah situation," Abizaid said. "I was just out there talking to the Marines a couple of days ago. The Marines have been doing a great job in conduct of the military operations. They've been very precise. They have attempted to protect civilians to the best of their ability.

"The Arab press, in particular Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, are portraying their actions as purposely targeting civilians, and we absolutely do not do that, and I think everybody knows that. It is always interesting to me how Al-Jazeera manages to be at the scene of the crime whenever a hostage shows up or some other problem happens to be there.

"So they have not been truthful in their reporting. They haven't been accurate. And it is absolutely clear that American forces are doing their very best to protect civilians and at the same time get at the military targets there."

Al-Jazeera, an Arabic-language satellite television network, puts its reports on an English-language Web site (http://english.aljazeera.net/HomePage). Following are examples of yesterday's coverage.

Highway to hell: The road to Fallujah

By Odai Sirri in Garma

As we drive through the back roads on the way to Fallujah, U.S. jets are pounding the area around the tiny village of Garma.

The sight of U.S. reinforcements flying into the area and the continuous sound of explosions and gunfire proves too much for my driver. He pulls into the village, unwilling to go any further.

Halfway between Baghdad and Fallujah, Garma is well placed to witness the U.S. bombardment of the latter, where the steadily rising toll of dead Iraqis from the past week's fighting has passed 600. At least 1,000 have been reported wounded.

[U.S. officials said yesterday that an estimated 700 insurgents have been killed throughout Iraq since April 1.]

With the main routes into the town blocked or too dangerous, Garma - just 15 minutes from Fallujah - has become a steppingstone for resistance fighters on their way to help their besieged compatriots.

Witnesses report seeing scores of fighters passing through Garma daily.

A lorry of what appear to be 15 tribesmen stops next to us. But the tribesmen - each man's face covered by an aqal (the Iraqi headscarf) - are from Baghdad.

Stopping to rest at a tea shop before entering the besieged town, Ahmad, a 25-year-old with the worn face of a battle-hardened warrior, tells me of his intentions.

"We're going to assist our brothers in Fallujah and try to prevent the massacre of Iraqis."

But Ahmad and his colleagues will have their work cut out for them. Breaking news from Al-Jazeera on a nearby television shows fresh images from Fallujah: scores of dead, including many children. The town has turned into a bloodbath.

The images prove too much for Ahmad; he drops his face into his hands and breaks down. As he walks away, I call an Al-Jazeera cameraman in Fallujah to check on his safety.

My colleague's voice is panic-stricken as he describes the scene, echoing the pictures that have shocked Ahmad.

"There are images we can't show because it's just too gruesome. I have never seen anything like this before," he says.

"There are bodies everywhere, and people can't go out to retrieve them because they're too afraid of being blown away themselves.

"I can't believe the number of children here, we were at the hospital and it's full of dead and wounded kids.

"The ones that aren't dead have lost limbs and are wailing in pain, begging for their parents. What parents?" he screams. "I don't have the heart to tell them that their parents are in pieces.

"Back at our office the Americans are shooting at us. I walk out of the bathroom and a laser is pointed at my chest," he says, referring to U.S. sharpshooters in the area.

"We'd just bought cigarettes from a store across the street; no more than 10 minutes later it was bombed."

Ahmad returns and orders another cup of tea. But our conversation shifts focus as he asks about my life growing up in Canada. He looks at me curiously and asks my age.

"You see? We're the same age, but look at my face, I look many years older than you," he says, his voice quivering with emotion.

"We Iraqis are tired of all this fighting, why doesn't the U.S. just leave us alone? What did we ever do to them?

"You know what the funny thing about this entire mess is? If Saddam were to come back right now, all this fighting would stop in two hours, isn't that right, Ali?"

Ahmad and his companion begin laughing. The laughter ends as more images of the Fallujah scene appear on TV.

"The U.S. will never leave Iraq," he says more soberly. "You know what I want to see happen in Iraq? I want to see a federal Iraq where everyone from north to south, and east to west is fairly represented. We Arabs, Sunni, Shia, and Christian; the Kurds, the Turkmen - we are all Iraqis."

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