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An Interview With Dahr Jamail on Occupied Iraq
by Derrick O'Keefe
March 1, 2005
First Published in Seven Oaks Magazine

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[Editor's Note: Dahr Jamail, from Anchorage, Alaska, has spent a total of eight months in occupied Iraq as one of only a few independent US journalists in the country. Dahr uses the website and his popular mailing list to disseminate his dispatches. His dispatches are recognized as a vital media resource about occupied Iraq.]

O'Keefe: You have been described as an unembedded reporter in Iraq. What does it mean to be unembedded in occupied Iraq today?

Dahr Jamail: Basically what that means is that I don’t embed with the military and that, unlike most mainstream reporters, I actually leave my hotel and go out and talk to Iraqis and get the story from the street, rather than sending other people out to do that for me or simply taking military press releases and using that as the brunt of my information sources. So that’s the key differentiation.

And one of the places that you went was Fallujah, after it was attacked. What did you find after this most recent U.S. assault on Fallujah?

Actually, the times that I went into Fallujah were last April and May. I went in there in April 2004, during that siege, and then in May several times to follow up, documenting what happened there. But I didn’t actually go into the city after this last November siege, mainly because the military created a very strict cordon around the city and they weren’t letting any people – specifically journalists – in there. Nor are they letting anyone in even today.

What’s the best information we have with respect to the actual situation in Fallujah today?

Basically Fallujah today closely resembles a concentration camp. The military maintains that strict cordon; any of the people who live there who want to go back into the city have to get a retina scan and get fingerprinted, and then get an I.D. card made. Then they go through a very strict checkpoint with full body searches, very intrusive searches. Then they’re allowed into the city, where at least sixty percent of the city’s been bombed to the ground. There’s no electricity, no water, and of course no jobs. So, of the 350 000 people who lived there, roughly 25 000 have returned back to try to sort out what’s left of their homes. It closely resembles a wasteland at this point.

Obviously that’s a picture that we don’t get much of through the mainstream media here. What do you find are some of the biggest misconceptions about conditions in Iraq amongst the U.S. population?

Well, the corporate media here in the U.S. has done quite an amazing job of allowing Iraq to fall right off the radar screens of the news since the election. The impression that I’ve seen that people are left with is that, ‘well, they’ve had these elections so things must be better in Iraq.’ The reality is that things couldn’t be further from being resolved there. The violence is continuous on a daily basis. It has gone on unabated since the elections and, of course, the infrastructure is still in shambles, and there’s no withdrawal timetable in sight. So people are obviously extremely misled as to what the realities on the ground are in Iraq.

For those who are aware, and who have been part of the anti-war movement in the United States, there was clearly a slow-down in activism during the presidential election. Do you see signs of the anti-war movement picking up again within the United States?

There does seem to be a bit of a movement of people mobilizing with the upcoming anniversary of the war, again, on March 19. A lot of people are organizing, working very hard on counter-recruitment activism, as well as focusing more on these corporations who have made so much off the invasion and occupation of Iraq. It is slowly but surely picking up steam, it seems like.

We recently saw a report that you spoke at a meeting with former weapons inspector Scott Ritter, where he asserted that Bush had already signed off on plans to bomb Iran in June. What plans do you think the United States has in terms of Iran, and also with Syria?

If we look at the actions of the Bush administration, literally within days of the January 30 elections in Iraq they shifted their focus to Iran and Syria, naming them specifically and using some of the same rhetoric that was used in the lead-up to the Iraq invasion, talking about weapons of mass destruction, talking about nuclear weapons, talking about these tyrannical states that needed to have this so-called U.S. democracy imposed upon them.

Again, with what Mr. Ritter said, I don’t doubt his sources whatsoever that these plans have already been signed off on for U.S. mass aerial bombardment of Iran in June of this year. With all of the rhetoric and these trips over to Europe by members of the Bush administration to try and build bridges and get people on board for this upcoming action against Iran, everything seems to be pointing in that direction.

Do you have plans to return to Iraq, or perhaps to go to Iran, to continue providing on the ground reports of the reality there?

I maintain my focus on Iraq. I don’t have any plans to head into Iran. I do plan on going back to Iraq, probably in May if all things hold right now.

You can read Dahr Jamail’s reports at Jamail will give a feature presentation with photos from Iraq at an anti-war forum in Vancouver that will also feature author and activist Walden Bello, Friday March 18, 7:30p.m., at Saint Andrew’s Wesley church (Burrard Street at Nelson).

Derrick O'Keefe writes for Seven Oaks, “a magazine of politics, culture and resistance,” based in Vancouver, BC, where this article first appeared.

Other Articles by Derrick O’Keefe

* It Takes a Comic: The Appeal of Lewis Black
* MLK Day and Bush’s Inauguration

* An Interview with Allan Nairn on Aceh, the Tsunamis, and Indonesian Military Abuses
* Generals, and War Criminals, Die in Bed
* Colombia and Venezuela: Labor in Canada Builds Solidarity
* An Interview with Anthony Fenton on Haiti