To find out what's really going on in Iraq, you could talk to soldiers who've been there. I met one of the soldiers injured in the explosion shown in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911, the one where a bomb goes off in a tree. Like other returning veterans I've tried to draw out, the most detail I got from him was, “It's worse than you can imagine.”
Or you can talk to people who make their living reporting what they see in dangerous places, like Zelie Pollon of Santa Fe.
Pollon, a founding member of the Independent Press Association, has been reporting about Iraq for three years. You won't see her work in the Albuquerque Journal, which runs diluted wire service stories that make the war seem merely tedious. She isn't tall in stature—you could describe her as petite—but the audacity and importance of her reporting have been monumental.
She first went to Iraq shortly after the invasion and traveled on her own throughout the country. On return trips, she found security so deteriorated that the risks of kidnapping or ambush made solo travel a mad gamble, but she still tried it.
You can find some of her work at www.baghdadproject.com. On her blog you'll see photos the Journal will never print—like the afterimages of an explosion of a school bus full of children; or other children, still intact, playing in fields of raw sewage because Iraqi infrastructure has still not recovered from American bombing; or absurdly contrasting scenes inside American fortifications where a chef under a white hat carves prime rib and extravagant desserts are sculpted into elegant forms.
To talk with Pollon opens windows on a war the Bush Administration prefers to keep shuttered. Many troops shared with her their confusion about “The Mission.” “They don't want us here, and I don't want us here either,” was a common refrain she heard. An Army captain told Pollon about an incident where she suspected danger from an approaching van and ordered her squad to fire. After the shooting, all that lay inside were dead, innocent civilians. “I hate this stupid war,” the captain confided to Pollon.
Once, Pollon smuggled herself into a barbed wire compound housing third-world female workers, and found them crammed into tiny bunks, earning terrible wages from contractors like Halliburton—wages many workers supplement by selling sex to troops and contractors. Drugs of every kind—including, ironically, potent Afghan heroin—are plentiful. In the morning, policing the remains of the nightly mortar fire is a routine chore.
Pollon talks about walking a street slick with blood from a suicide bombing, and being able to identify the bomber as a foreigner because his head was lying on the pavement. She talks about an Iraqi father insisting she look closely at what was left of his dead child. She learned to fear men with sneakers. Regular Iraqis wear sandals. Suicide bombers, who need to run from—or at—soldiers, wear sneakers.
Pollon's latest dispatch through www.alternet.org concerns the reservations of staff sergeant Michael Nowacki, a military intelligence officer. He worries about the effect of imprisoning so many innocent Iraqis. While higher-ups call it “national security,” Nowacki says, “We used to call it DWI: driving while Iraqi. I've actually had a commander tell me 'If I arrest 10 people and one of them is bad, then I'm doing my job.' But what about the other nine?"
Nowacki, Pollon writes, “Came to Iraq with a fervent desire to protect the flag and a belief that Iraqis were intrinsically bad. ’I hated them,' he said flatly. ’I also had never met one, or ever sat down and talked to one.' By the end of his tour Nowacki couldn't stand what he saw. The practices are not only wrong on principal ... but also counterproductive to the U.S. mission. ’Arbitrary detentions make the people hate us and want to fight us.'”
It's called “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” but we've filled Abu Ghraib—Saddam's favorite dungeon—and other prisons we built with tens of thousands of men, boys; women and girls, so many of them innocent, and none with access to justice or hope of release.
If you're interested in finding out more about what's really happening in Iraq, you can also get unflinching news from foreign media that were not complicit (unlike our mainstream media) in the run-up to war. Based on interviews with American soldiers, doctors and survivors, our ally Italy's state satellite TV channel reports that American forces massacred civilians in Fallujah using white phosphorus, which burns flesh to the bone and sears your lungs if you inhale it. I watched the documentary, and the film footage of combat operations and caramelized women and children appears to confirm the charges that white phosphorous was dropped in clouds over sections of an city. The report also states that American forces used napalm—the incendiary chemical employed with horrible effect on civilians during the Vietnam War.
You've got to wonder: Are we treating Iraqis the same way Saddam Hussein treated Iraqis?
You've also got to wonder: If this is what's really going on in Iraq, what's that other war they write about in Albuquerque's morning paper?