Will the world ever learn the truth about Fallujah?

Last month we came to terms with Giuliana Sgrena’s odyssey, and the killing by American military personnel of Nicola Calipari, her “liberator,” while they were en route to Baghdad’s airport to board a flight home. American and Italian officials entrusted with separate investigations reached much different conclusions as to how or why this incident occurred.

Two years earlier in Baghdad, a Spanish journalist, José Couso, suffered the same fate as a projectile from an American tank hit a supposedly “non-target” at a hotel housing foreign journalists. Much to the dismay of witnessing reporters, and the demand for transparency from many quarters- among them CNN’s chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, an American investigation exonerated American soldiers from any culpability.

To expect any different outcome from these internal investigations, particularly in time of war, implies a hallucinatory mind or residency in the Land of Oz. Even heads of state, among friends and allies, must diplomatically agree… if to disagree; then symbolically shake hands. But unlike their leaders, irate Italians and Spaniards did not mince words, calling the American military trigger-happy, or far worse… and the investigations nothing short of cover-ups. Past all the indignation and noise at the “street level,” many cases such as those, will forever remain closed.

But as Rumsfeld would have said to all these unembedded journalists: “stuff happens.” And, obviously, it does… a lot! However, not all journalists are satisfied putting on the uniform of the “Press Corps” and, just as chaplains do, join the embedment to serve the morale of the American troops during both battle and occupation. Some reporters just prefer to maintain their independence of thought, and not just serve as heralds for the message from “above,” in this case the Pentagon… in the same manner that the White House press corps serves the needs of the incumbent administration by obliging in translating the propaganda press releases into consumable news. [We are referring to the domestic component: a well-remunerated, quasi-celebrity status, group of reporters.]

Which brings us to Fallujah and what has happened there during the second siege and invasion (November 2004) by the US marines, and the six months afterwards. For all the existing accounts, and thousands of telltale pictures, the truth may never be known by most of the world. The available collage of conflicting data begs compromise on the assumption that the truth must lie somewhere amid the different extreme reports citing such divergent figures as to the number of dead and wounded… or the level of agony and despair… or the amount of destruction… or the details of fear and valor… or other issues relevant to both history and the human condition that were and are taking place.

Did scores of Fallujans die, or was the number in the hundreds… or perhaps as many as 2,000 as some claim? Of its 350,000 population… were there only 8,500 remaining at the time Americans entered the city, or was the number closer to 25,000? And, after the Americans gained control over the Insurgency… how many Fallujans returned: 50,000; 100,000; 150,000 perhaps? And of those, how many stayed? Was the level of physical destruction to the buildings and infrastructure 25%, 50%, or was it as much as 80%? Is the price tag for all the destruction, even without accounting for the human component, $1-2-3 billion; or, as some claim, closer to $5 billion? Will the slant of the pen, depending on who is writing, be challenged soon… or is the truth buried in battle, never to surface but misrepresented by those with special interests?

Last week I heard from one of Couso’s peers who had just returned home from Iraq. As an independent, unembedded reporter he had tried to get access to Fallujah last January, then in March, then in mid-April… to no avail. Only a handful of Pentagon-friendly writers were said to have been favored to enter the “city in ruins.” But Fallujans who were allowed to return, and who exited once again, describe the horror of what remains of their ancestral city, which to them was the crossroads of the desert universe.

“Americans, and in many cases Europeans, fail to see Fallujah, or its importance, beyond that of another large Muslim city with a somewhat disproportionate number of mosques,” claims my newly-minted friend. “But Fallujah could be compared to Venice of old, with the surrounding desert as its Mediterranean Sea; a parador to those traveling the Baghdad-Amman route; north to Mosul or south to Karbala and Najaf… merchants of old, business people of today.” And he continues the lecture, telling me about two centuries of Wahhabi thought entrenched in this city… and the uniqueness of Fallujans in having a much higher proportion of non-Iraqi relatives (living in Syria, Jordan, or Saudi Arabia) than elsewhere in Iraq. “Every Fallujan can count just as many cousins out of Iraq, as in Iraq,” says my friend, who while in Baghdad had befriended a number of refugees, among them one with a last name carrying the Dhari-fame.

Fallujah… we may never really know what transpired there, with access denied to those with an interest in nothing but the journalistic truth. Perhaps the US marines will finish demolishing the city in their quest to drown the last breath of the cloning muqawama (insurgency). But Fallujans will eventually take control of their city, and rebuild it with or without anyone’s help.

Neither the Brits, nor Saddam could control these stubborn and proud people… what makes us think that anyone else can?