Newtopia: Give us a little background on
yourself. Where did you grow up, go to school? Where have you lived? What's
been your professional background? What were your main social, political, and
Dahr Jamail: I was born and raised in Houston, Texas, and attended college
at Texas A&M University where I majored in Speech Communications. After
graduating, I moved to Colorado, then Utah, then Washington state, where I worked
for awhile on a masters in English literature. Funds ran out, so I took a job
working in an air-monitoring laboratory on Johnston Island, a U.S. territory
in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We monitored the air at a chemical demilitarization
plant that incinerated 6% of the chemical weapons (now obsolete) of the military.
While there, I traveled around the world on my breaks from the monotonous job.
The perspective and experiences I gained from my travels opened my mind and
heart to the world – seeing the unearned and unfair privilege we in the
U.S. had struck me whilst traveling to so many developing countries like Indonesia
and Palau, then later Nepal.
I had a calling to move to Alaska to climb Denali. I moved there in 1996, climbed
Denali the next summer, and have stayed ever since. There I worked as a mountain
guide during summers, as well as assisting in rescues with the park service.
My life there for five years centered primarily on climbing and being in the
mountains. Climbing found me traveling to Mexico, Pakistan, Chile, and Argentina.
One of the largest influences on me was a job I took in the climbing off-season,
which was working as a personal assistant for my dear friend Duane French, who
experiences quadriplegia. I saw the efforts he went to just to exist, and how
government policy directly affected his life. Here I was awakened politically.
Our daily discussions of policy and political parties got my wheels turning,
pulling me out of the classic American comfort zone of apathy and ignorance.
Then, of course, watching the stealing of the presidency in 2000 by the Bush
regime shocked me further into action, followed by the military response to
9/11, then of course the selling of the Iraq invasion. During the media sell
job, I could take no more and knew that this was an information war. I had done
some freelance writing for various magazines and continued this by writing in
our alternative weekly rag in Anchorage.
We did a good job showing the alternative view after the events of 9/11, showing
the U.S. support of bin Laden, who the Reagan administration funded and trained
them, etc. Shortly thereafter, our editor was fired, so the entire staff left
in protest within one month.
So I started saving my money and came to the front lines to start telling the
truth from Iraq in November 2003.
Newtopia: How long have you been reporting on Iraq, and what brought
DJ: I have spent six of the last 12 months in Iraq. As I mentioned,
what brought me here was the nearly total failure of the U.S. "mainstream"
media to show the truth of this illegal invasion and occupation. How it affected
the Iraqis, as well as U.S. soldiers. Overall, they just weren't doing their
job, and this has grown even worse.
I had done all the usual actions of attempting to speak up and effect change
at home – calling and writing Senators/Congresspeople, attending teach-ins,
spreading information. After watching the worldwide demonstrations on February
15, 2003 be brushed aside as a "focus group," I knew then that the
minds of the American public had been misled by the corporate media who mindlessly
supported the objectives of the Bush regime, and reporting the true effects
of the invasion/occupation on the Iraqi people and U.S. soldiers was what I
needed to do.
Newtopia: What is it like being one of the only "unembedded"
journalists operating in the country? Do you fear for your safety, and what
have you done to ensure your safety? Whom do you fear more, random kidnappers
or the American military? How do you manage to move through Iraqi society now
when it appears that, in the wake of Margaret Hassan's murder, all Westerners
are viable targets? And on that same note, what do the Iraqis think of the kidnappings,
murders, and beheadings?
DJ: It's tough. Working in this environment of media repression and
danger is always an uphill battle. Blinking electricity, car bombs, kidnappings
are the playing field. I constantly monitor my safety factor and those who work
with me. I grew a beard, dress like locals, and only travel around covertly
with one interpreter in a beat up car. I minimize my time on the street, while
at the same time spending enough there to get the Iraqis reactions to what unfolds
here each day.
My greatest concern is the reaction of my own government. I'm reporting
information that the Bush regime wants kept under wraps. I fear reprisal from
both the government and military far, far more than being kidnapped or blown
up by a car bomb.
Iraqis are of course shocked and outraged by the beheadings and kidnappings
of people like Margaret Hassan. So many also believe it was a CIA/Mossad plot
to keep aid organizations and journalists out of Iraq in order to give the military
and corporations here a free hand to continue to disassemble and sell off the
Newtopia: On Nov. 18 in one of your dispatches you wrote, "Journalists
are increasingly being detained and threatened by the U.S.-installed interim
government in Iraq. Media have been stopped particularly from covering recent
horrific events in Fallujah." What are the predominant differences between
your reporting and that of the corporate media and embedded reporters, or that
of Iraqi and Muslim journalists? In other words, what does each group do with
the same pieces of information? Do you feel you have a freer hand by being "unembedded"?
Have you or anyone you know been intimidated or harassed in any way?
DJ: Myself and most Arab and Western independent journalists here show
the costs of war. Report the massacres, the slaughter, the dead and wounded
kids, disaster that this occupation truly is for the Iraqi people. Report on
the low morale of most soldiers here, report on how doctors now state openly
that due to lack of funds and help from the US-backed Ministry of Health, they
feel it is worse now than during the sanctions.
I do feel I have more freedom because I am "unembedded." I'm
flying under the mainstream radar of censorship.
I have been attacked from some mainstream sources and pundits. Fox propaganda
channel invited me on after I accurately reported the sniping of ambulances,
medical workers, and civilians in Fallujah last April … I declined the
setup because I didn't have a desire to have my character assassinated.
My Web site has taken some attacks by hackers … but so far we've managed
the onslaught. I receive some hate mail via my site, and have received one death
threat … so far.
Newtopia: The U.S. corporate media consistently characterize the Iraqi
resistance as "foreign terrorists and former Ba'athist insurgents."
In your experience, is this an accurate portrayal? If not, why?
DJ: This is propaganda of the worst kind. Most Iraqis refer to the Iraqi
resistance as "patriots." Which, of course, most of them are –
they are, especially in Fallujah, primarily composed of people who simply are
resisting the occupation of their country by a foreign power. They are people
who have had family members killed, detained, tortured, and humiliated by the
illegal occupiers of their shattered country.
Calling them "foreign terrorists" and "Ba'athist insurgents"
is simply a lie. While there are small elements of these, they are distinctly
different from the Iraqi resistance, who are now supported by, very conservatively
at least 80% of the population here.
There are terrorist elements here, but that is because the borders of Iraq
have been left wide open since the invasion. These did not exist in Iraq before.
The Bush regime likes to refer to anyone who does not support their ideology
and plans for global domination as a "terrorist."
Here, these fighters in the Iraqi resistance are referred to as freedom fighters,
holy warriors, and patriots.
Newtopia: We rarely see any substantial imagery coming out of Iraq in
the U.S. corporate media. What does Iraq look like now? What aren't the people
in the United States seeing, and what do you feel they should be seeing?
DJ: The devastation. The massive suffering and devastation of the people
and their country. Baghdad remains in shambles 19 months into this illegal occupation.
Bombed buildings sit as insulting reminders of broken promises of reconstruction.
Bullet ridden mosques with blood stained carpets inside where worshippers,
unarmed, have been slaughtered by soldiers.
Entire families living on the street. 70% unemployment with no hope of this
changing. Chaotic, clogged streets of Baghdad and 5-mile-long petrol lines in
this oil rich country.
Engineers and doctors, unemployed, driving their cars as a taxi to try to feed
The seething anger in the eyes of people on the streets as U.S. patrols rumble
Iraqis now cheering when another U.S. patrol or base is attacked. Dancing on
the burning U.S. military hardware.
Dead and maimed U.S. soldiers. The wounded screaming and writhing in agony.
Their shattered families.
The mass graves of innocent Fallujans after the utter destruction of their
Children deformed by depleted uranium exposure lying in shattered hospitals,
suffering from lack of treatment, or even pain medications.
Dead, rotting bodies in the streets of Fallujah of women and children being
eaten by dogs and cats because the military did not allow relief teams into
the city for nearly two weeks.
Newtopia: What are the sentiments of the Iraqis you have spoken with
toward the Americans? Is there any good will left? Was there any to begin with?
What do they think of Allawi, the pending "elections," the continued
occupation, the American-trained Iraqi security forces? Do they have any hope
or belief that the Americans will leave, or are they thinking this will be a
DJ: There was support by most Iraqis for the removal of Saddam Hussein.
But that started to ebb quickly on in the occupation as people watched family
members killed, detained, tortured, and humiliated by the occupation forces.
Then there was Abu Ghraib. I cannot stress enough how devastating this was
to U.S. credibility in Iraq, and the entire Middle East.
Throw on top of that the April siege of Fallujah, nearly complete lack of reconstruction,
importation of foreign workers to do jobs Iraqis are far more qualified for,
the installation of an illegal interim government, and you have a complete PR
disaster for the U.S. here.
Any credibility for the occupiers, and I doubt there was much to speak of,
after the destruction of Fallujah has been lost. Iraqis I speak with are infuriated
at the U.S. government. While they are well aware that what is most likely the
majority of people in the U.S. being in opposition to the Bush regime, they
believe the U.S. government and those who support it are guilty of war crimes
of the worst kind. I see rage, grief, and the desire for revenge on a daily
They hate Allawi. They have no respect for him or any other of the puppets
in the U.S.-installed interim government, because they don't see how any self-respecting
person would allow themselves to be a puppet of the U.S. in this illegal, brutal
They are well aware that he is an exile who has been linked with the CIA and
British intel for a long, long time. He and the rest of the interim government
are viewed as thieves, rapists, and U.S. pawns. They are utterly loathed, as
everyone here knows these people do not have the interests of the Iraqi people
The elections are viewed as a joke. Most here now believe there is no way they
can be held in an honest, transparent and truly democratic way. Most are also
too afraid to vote. I've heard people say things like, "The Americans
won't even allow a legitimate election in their own country, so why would
they want to have one here!"
The Iraqi "security" forces, being the police and national guard,
are viewed by most as surrogates of the U.S. military. They are viewed as collaborators
and traitors by most. While people understand many of these forces join out
of desperation because there are no jobs, they remain loathed, along with the
foreign occupation forces. It doesn't help when many of the police are actively
involved in organized crime.
Lastly, the occupation is viewed as endless. Iraqis know there are already
fourpermanent military bases here, and more soldiers coming. There is little
hope amongst those I talk with about this topic that the occupation will end.
Newtopia: We've read substantive reports recently that over 100,000
innocent Iraqi civilians have been killed since the war began. What is your
take on this report, and what have you seen that either supports or contradicts
it? Is the U.S. military indiscriminately targeting civilians, or are they just
hopelessly inept, or is it something in-between?
DJ: I think this report has understated the death toll. From what I've
seen during my six months here, it is increasingly difficult to find a family
here who has not had at least one member killed by either the military or criminal
activity. Entire neighborhoods in Fallujah have been bombed into rubble. Houses
with entire families have been incinerated and blown to pieces.
The random gunfire of soldiers nearly every time a patrol or convoy is attacked
almost always results in civilian deaths. Keep in mind there are now over 100
attacks per day on U.S. forces in occupied Iraq.
Then we have the infrastructure – people dying from lack of food, water
borne diseases, inadequate health care … the list is longer than any of
I think the military is killing so many civilians for several reasons. Primarily,
because they have been put in an untenable situation by their commander-in-chief
– that is, a no-win guerilla war against an enemy who now has the massive
support of the populace. Thus, anyone, anytime could be an attacker. So they
are shooting first and asking questions later because they are scared to death.
They are using a conventional military to fight a guerilla war – and just
as in Vietnam, it is a disaster and utter failure.
Then there are the soldiers who have completely dehumanized Iraqis, and I've
spoken with some who seem to actually enjoy killing them.
Of course, it doesn't help that this is sanctioned and encouraged by the U.S.
government, and that blinding religious ideology appears to have filtered down
into many of the soldiers here. "You are either with us, or you are against
us." Iraq is now full of fields of death. There is carnage in the streets
everyday in Baghdad, as well as other cities throughout much of the country.
Newtopia: There has been a lot of speculation about the role of oil
in the occupation. Americans were told that Iraqi oil revenues would pay for
the war and reconstruction, but there is no oil coming out of Iraq after more
than 18 months. Certain journalists and activists ranging from Jim Marrs to
Mike Ruppert to Peter Camejo have all stated, in some form or other, that this
was never the intention, that the idea was to first remove Iraqi oil from the
world market, thereby driving up oil prices (the profits mainly landing in the
pockets of the Saudis), and eventually to co-opt the oil supply to sell to China
and India as their energy demands skyrocket. What have you seen in regards to
oil activity? Also, Iraq Coalition
Casualty was the only outlet to report on a series of coordinated attacks
on the Iraqi oil infrastructure all this week. This has gone completely unreported
in the U.S. corporate media. Do you believe this lack of reporting is intentional
and who do you think is sabotaging the infrastructure?
DJ: Iraq is still importing all of its gasoline. And from what I know,
they are exporting all of the oil from here, as well as that which is refined
in Iraq, which isn't much at all, if any.
I think the lack of reporting on the sabotaging is akin to the lack of reporting
that there are nearly 100 attacks per day on U.S. soldiers, or lack of reporting
of lack of infrastructure, etc. I think it all falls under the umbrella of the
mainstream media's successful efforts to whitewash the Iraq catastrophe for
the Bush administration.
It looks as though it is the resistance who are doing the sabotaging. An open
question though, regarding what you asked, is why is there not better protection
of the oil infrastructure?
Newtopia: We have conflicting reports in the U.S. about the Shia and
Sunni putting aside their historical differences to team up against the Americans.
Do you see this happening, and what do you believe the eventual outcome will
be? U.S. policymakers claim that an American withdrawal would only result in
a wide-scale civil war between these two factions and the Kurds in the north.
Do you believe this will be the case? Are the Iraqis in a situation now where
they are dammed any way they turn?
DJ: I do see this happening. During the siege of Najaf, collections
for aid at Sunni mosques were organized, as well as resistance fighters from
Fallujah who provided guns and supplies to the Mahdi Army there. During the
siege of Fallujah last April, Shia weighed heavily in donating aid, and participated
in a non-violent action that pushed supplies into Fallujah through a U.S. military
The Shia/Sunni rift is largely a CIA-generated myth. There are countless tribes
and marriages alike that are both Shia/Sunni. There are mosques here where they
There is the possibility of war if the Kurds go independent, but the more likely
possibility of that war would be Turkey invading Kurdistan before any Shia/Sunni
action would occur regarding this.
Remember the Arab proverb: "Me against my brother. Me and my brother against
my cousin. Me, my brother and cousin against the stranger."
The Iraqis are in a situation where they are damned as long as the U.S. continues
to occupy and subvert their country, as they have been doing.
Newtopia: It is critically important that Americans begin to understand
the psyche of the Iraqi resistance. What is really going on in Fallujah, Ramadi,
Mosul, and Baghdad? Is this a legitimate, coordinated uprising against the occupation,
or is it a defensive response to the U.S. escalation of the war? Or both? Considering
that the U.S. claims they have opened a front to "take the battle to al-Qaeda,"
do you see any evidence of an al-Qaeda presence, or the presence of "foreign
fighters streaming in from the Syrian border" as is also reported here?
DJ: The resistance is complex because it has so many facets. Parts of
it are simply Iraqis who don't want their country to be occupied. Iraqis who
have had family members killed, tortured, or humiliated by the military …
so they are exacting revenge. Other parts are more organized, where individual
cells are operating in coordinated attacks with other cells, but they remain
largely decentralized. This is why the conventional U.S. Army will never defeat
it. Because the resistance has no face, no leader, no fixed organization.
It is really both a defensive reaction to the occupiers, but also is going
more on the offensive as the occupation continues. As one Iraqi man told me
once, "The invasion was America's war on Iraq. Now we are seeing the Iraqi's
war against the Americans."
I have yet to see any evidence or meet any Iraqi who has seen evidence of al-Qaeda
here. There are certainly other fighters entering Iraq from different countries,
but they are a relatively small number. When we say "foreign fighters"
here, we must recall that every Iraqi I've spoken with views the occupiers as
the foreign fighters, and not any other Arab who is coming here to fight in
the resistance. Most Iraqis I speak with view these Arab fighters as brothers,
and the occupiers as the "foreign fighters."
Newtopia: Tell us about the raid on the Abu Hanifa mosque, and what
it means in the larger scope of the war?
DJ: At 12:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 19, U.S. troops and Iraqi National
Guard sealed the Abu Hanifa mosque in the al-Adhamiya district of Baghdad. The
imam, a longtime outspoken critic of the occupation, was detained.
The raid occurred during Friday prayers, and people began praying loudly because
they were very afraid due to the fact that over 100 armed soldiers were pointing
guns at them. They were instructed to be quiet, but the worshippers continued
to pray, and were fired upon. Four people were killed and at least nine wounded,
along with 30 people detained.
This mosque had been raided at least five times previously, with no weapons
ever having had been found.
Abu Hanifa is the largest and most prominent Sunni mosque in Iraq, as well
as one of the most important in the entire Muslim world. This blatant act of
provocation (the imam could have just as easily been detained on any given day
in his office or home) has resulted in heavy fighting throughout Baghdad and
a new curfew in al-Adhamiya, along with home raids and more detentions.
This action will draw in even more fighters to the resistance. This is obviously
just one step in the attempt to crush a largely Sunni resistance.
Newtopia: Have you had much contact with American troops, and if so,
what are they saying, and what is your impression of them? Do you support NBC
reporter Kevin Sites' decision to film and report on the murder of an unarmed
and wounded Iraqi prisoner this week? Do you believe this was a relatively "isolated"
incident, or did these guys just get caught?
DJ: I've had a fair amount, but not so much this trip. I make it a point
to avoid them now since they are such constant targets. They are being attacked
at least 100 times a day as of late. But when I interacted with them my last
two trips I found most of them to be quite scared, and morale depended on how
long they'd been here. The newer folks were keeping a stiff upper lip and staying
on message. The folks who'd been here six, nine, or 12 months were angry, aiming
their guns at everyone, and sometimes high on drugs. Not to generalize –
not all were like this. But I saw many who were, and it reminded me of everything
I've read about what happened to the psyche of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam.
I do support Kevin Sites' decision to film what he did of the execution of
the old, unarmed Iraqi man in the mosque. One-hundred percent I support this.
People need to see that this is what is occurring here – and this is NOT
an isolated incident. Nearly every refugee from Fallujah I've interviewed has
spoken of mass executions, tanks rolling over the wounded in the streets, bodies
being thrown in the Euphrates by the military, and other atrocities.
The footage of the execution in the mosque is akin to the photos that came
out of Abu Ghraib. They are only the tip of the iceberg of atrocities that have
been occurring here from the beginning. Atrocities that are occurring right
Indeed, those soldiers just got caught. This is not news, however – because
we've even had military commanders come out in the media and admit that they
gave orders to soldiers to shoot anything that moved in Fallujah. What we will
see in Fallujah is that it has been a genocide.
Newtopia: Lastly, what do you see happening in both the immediate and
distant future in Iraq? How long do you plan to stay? Do you believe you will
sill safely be able to report the truth to us when so much of your reporting
flies in the face of the so-called "official" reports and media blackout?
Do you envision an even greater information clampdown, or do you think independent
reporting is going to become a stronger force as the U.S. digs itself into a
deeper and deeper hole?
DJ: I see more bloodshed and chaos. Sending more troops will only speed
up the spiral here; increase the fighting. I see a continuing degradation of
the infrastructure and failing of the occupation. It has already failed. It
had failed even before the April siege of Fallujah and the Abu Ghraib scandal
(which is ongoing). The real question is, how many more Iraqis and soldiers
die before the U.S. admits to its colossal failure, makes reparations for the
countless war crimes that have been committed, and pulls out.
The long term – that depends on how long the U.S. stays here. It is rare
when I speak with an Iraqi who wants the US to stay – they say, "Civil
war? It can't possibly be worse than this – so the U.S. should leave. Then
we'd at least have the chance to run our own country."
Another man pointed out that if there were a civil war, no Shia or Kurdish
attack on Fallujah could ever possibly compare to the devastation the U.S. military
has caused there. I think he makes a good point.
I am concerned about my safety, of course. This is the most dangerous place
in the world for a journalist to be, especially those of us who are reporting
the reality of what is occurring here. I have concerns of reprisal from the
military and my government – because they don't like to have the facts
get out. I've consistently been a minority voice with my reporting in Iraq,
which has led many to discount my reports and call me biased.
Yet, I have consistently been shown to be accurate, as have the other independents
here. An example would be that several of us were reporting on Abu Ghraib months
before the mainstream decided to do their job and run the story. And at the
end of the day, those of us who have been reporting that this occupation failed
months ago, and the vast, vast majority of Iraqis oppose the occupation and
support the resistance, will end up again being proven right. But I'm afraid
with the media blackout in the mainstream of the U.S., in general, being as
stunningly effective as it has been, I think this is going to be a long time
before this comes to light. But it will.
I do envision a deepening of the clampdown we are now experiencing. We're watching
this in the U.S. media now, with NPR having even jumped on the propaganda bandwagon.
However, as with repression of any kind, the more the "powers that be"
attempt to muzzle independent media and the truth, the more they create a growing,
powerful, diverse entity that finds new and creative ways to work here.
For example, the closing of the al-Jazeera office here has simply caused their
journalists to go underground and decentralize, making it impossible for the
government to control them. In this way, the repression naturally creates a
smarter, more diverse and creative resistance in the form of increased independent
In the end, people know the truth when they see it. I taste this by mail I
get from my readers – those who read many sources and thank me for reporting
the truth, as well as those who support the occupation who send hate mail and
try to tell me I'm reporting from Idaho and making everything up. Their ugly
reactions indicate that they prefer not to know the truth – that their
government has deceived a large percentage of the American people into supporting
an illegal invasion that has cost at least 100,000 Iraqi lives, as well as those
of over 1,200 U.S. soldiers. Many people would rather lash out to protect their
denial rather than accepting responsibility for supporting such atrocities.
In the end, the truth will come out, no matter how intense the repression becomes.
And in the end, those in America who support this occupation will eventually
see that virtually the majority of people in every other country on the planet
oppose the American agenda in Iraq.
It is only a matter of time.
Charles Shaw is an author, consultant,
editor, and activist. He is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Newtopia
Magazine, an award winning online journal that explores common sense
politics , Development Editor and Contributing Feature Writer for The
Next American City and sits on the Editorial Board of the GreenPages,
the Official Publication of the Green Party of the United States. Charles also
serves on the National Media Committee for the Green
Party of the United States, and serves as Co-Chair of the National Peace
Action Committee. He was a Co-Author of the Memphis
Manifesto, and Urban Convergence '03, and has lead media workshops for Students
for a Sensible Drug Policy. Charles has held posts as the State Media Coordinator
for the Illinois Green Party and
as Media Director for IDEAL Reform
(Illinois Drug Education and Legislative Reform). He is a member of the
United for Peace and Justice Iraq
Working Group, the The Independent Press
Association, The Council of Literary Magazines
& Presses, Equal Marriage Now!, and sits on the Board of Directors of
Creative America. A 1992 graduate
of Boston University, his work has been featured in Alternet, Common Dreams,
Znet, Witness, Newtopia Magazine, Clamor Magazine, Chicago Reader, UR Chicago,
Chicago Tribune, Punk Planet, 3am Magazine, The Next American City, Planetizen,
and Web Del Sol.