'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Foreign Fighters 

I just read this article from BBC News. It's a translation of a firsthand account of a reporter in Fallujah about the current situation there. The whole thing is worth reading but I found the following to be the most interesting bit:

I am not aware of any foreign fighters in Falluja. If there are any foreigners here, they have blended in very well with the locals. Foreigners used to frequent the city in the past, but many of them were forced to leave under a deal the city's leaders struck with the government. Ninety-nine percent of the fighters here are Fallujans. Local clan leaders are broadly opposed to any kind of foreign presence in the city because they fear they may be spies.

The above is interesting because it is completely at odds with what we've been told over the past several weeks. We were told that not only are there foreign fighters in Fallujah but that there are so many they are pissing off the Fallujans; for example, see this Post article from a couple of weeks ago.

So what's going on here? Are the reports of hordes of foreign fighters purely propaganda?

Well first of all realize that statements like those made in the BBC News account aren't exactly new. Concurrent with reports like the Post story linked to above, the AP reported

In the telephone interviews, Fallujah residents said the Americans have overstated the presence of foreign fighters as a pretext for destroying the city. They also asked why no arrested foreigners are ever shown in public.

“I don’t believe al-Zarqawi has any presence in Iraq. It’s a myth that the Americans have created in order to confuse the situation,” said Sheik Ali Ibrahim Faris, head of the Union of Tribes in western Iraq.

However, the sheik seemed to acknowledge the presence of outsiders distinct from homegrown Fallujah fighters. “There are many groups on the scene. Some are here to get back at the Americans at the expense of the Iraqi people,” he said.

I believe that this seeming contradiction in the press coverage regarding the presence of foreign fighters in Fallujah is a matter of semantics. It is the result of the Western media's refusal to distinguish between the groups in Iraq that may accurately be characterized as terrorists and the groups that are better described as insurgents. These are two separate entities operating in the same space; some of their interests and goals overlap, some are in opposition.

When the source of the BBC News account says that he is "not aware of any foreign fighters in Falluja" he means that he has not seen signifcant numbers of armed foreigners who are going to fight side by side with the Fallujan insurgents when the final American assault begins. When the Post reports that

relations are deteriorating as local fighters negotiate to avoid a U.S.-led military offensive against Fallujah, while foreign fighters press to attack Americans and their Iraqi supporters.

the foreign fighters in question are foreign terrorists who are committing kidnappings, beheadings, and acts of mass murder that are at odds with the ethics and goals of the ordinary Iraqis in the insurgency who have taken up arms against a foreign occupier. The US of course is perfectly happy that the press continues to conflate these two groups. Lumping all actors in Iraq together provides rhetorical cover and moral justification for the periodic slaughter of insurgents necessary to keep the United State's Iraqi puppet regime in power.

Also I found it interesting that the interviewees in the AP article cited above asked "why no arrested foreigners are ever shown in public." Apparently the US forces thought it was a good question too, and, lo and behold, we get this from Knight Ridder a few days ago:

The U.S. military has agreed to hand legal custody of some suspected foreign fighters to the interim Iraqi government, which has controversial plans to broadcast the men's names and photos on television, American and Iraqi officials said Thursday. The transfer came after Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's government demanded to have the prisoners so it could prove to the Iraqi public that security forces have captured foreign militants.

Such sideshows obviously are helpful in the propaganda campaign to label all Iraqi insurgents as terrorists and to portray ordinary Iraqis as sympathetic the US's presence in their country.

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