The liberal media jumped on the horrific massacre of U.S. civilians in Fallujah to cast doubt on official assessments of the continuing threat in Iraq. The New York Times’ John Burns wrote on April 1 that the attacks undermined the U.S. military claims that “Islamic militants, including foreigners, rather than Iraqi supporters of Saddam Hussein, are increasingly behind terrorist attacks.” Burns is a highly respected foreign correspondent who criticized the performance of the media in covering up Saddam Hussein’s atrocities before the Iraqi war. But his recent report on the Fallujah massacre seems a distortion of what American officials are saying in Baghdad.
He writes that American military officials are claiming that the “worst of the Saddamist insurgency” is over. According to Burns, senior officers have told him that “Hussein’s loyalists [are] increasingly being replaced as America’s principal enemy in Iraq by Islamic terrorists with at least loose links to al Qaeda.” Without identifying his sources, he writes that “they” tell him that the Fallujah attacks prove that the conflict [has been] transformed from a battle to restore Mr. Hussein into a regional theater for the world-wide war on terrorism.”
But that doesn’t track with briefings given by U.S. officials to press audiences in Baghdad. Transcripts of these briefings present a far more nuanced depiction of the evolving threats to the achievement of stability and peace in Iraq. These briefings are given by both civilian spokesmen from the Pentagon and military commanders like Brig. General Mark Kimmett, Deputy Director of Operations in Iraq, and Major General Martin Dempsey, commander of the 1st Armored Division in Baghdad.
Kimmett and Dempsey have responded to repeated questions from U.S. and foreign journalists about the nature of the threat in Iraq. In mid-March, Kimmett told reporters that coalition forces are confronting two types of threat in Iraq. The first, he said, is composed of “former regime elements, paramilitary trained in the Iraqi army, [and] Iraqi intelligence services.” The objective of this group is to return, if not a “Saddamist government,” “some sort of authoritarian Ba’ath-like structure to power.” Kimmett said that these types of insurgents are especially active in Fallujah, “a former Ba’athist stronghold.”
The second type focuses on attacks that are suicidal, symbolic, and spectacular in nature. The targets of these attacks tend to be “soft,” that is, religious sites, hotels that cater to Westerners, or newly formed Iraqi institutions, like police forces. These attacks, using car bombs or suicide belts, tend to be carried out by foreign jihadists, although Kimmett said there are no hard and fast rules on this.
Kimmett said that the Fallujah attacks were conducted by a small number of insurgents, known to be operating in that area. Why didn’t Burns report that, instead of implying that the U.S. military is misleading the American public?