Iraq realities : interview with Dahr Jamail


Richard Moore


Unembedded Reporting From Iraq: An Interview with Dahr Jamail 

Written by Benjamin Dangl    

Monday, 31 October 2005 

In 2003, tired of the US media's inaccurate portrayal of
the realities of the Iraq War, independent journalist Dahr
Jamail headed to the conflict himself. Instead of
following in the footsteps of mainstream media's embedded,
"Hotel Journalists," Jamail hit the Iraqi streets to
uncover the stories most reporters were missing. His
countless interviews with Iraqi citizens and
from-the-ground reporting have offered a horrific look
into the bowels of the US occupation. From covering the
bloody siege of Falluja to breaking a story on Bechtel's
failure to reconstruct water treatment plants, his writing
and photographs depict an Iraq that is much worse off now
than it was before the US invasion. As one Abu Ghraib
detainee explained to Jamail, "the Americans brought
electricity to my ass before they brought it to my house."

Dahr Jamail was born and raised in Houston, Texas and
attended college at Texas A&M University where he majored
in Speech Communications. In breaks from a subsequent job
working in an air monitoring laboratory on Johnston
Island, a US territory in the middle of the Pacific Ocean,
he traveled to places such as Indonesia, Nepal, Mexico,
Chile and Pakistan. An avid mountain climber, Jamail moved
to Alaska in 1996 to climb Denali and is based there to
this day.

Jamail's world traveling opened his eyes to the negative
impact of US foreign policy and how wealth in the US was
possible, as he said, "at the expense of the rest of the
people in the world." He had been working as a freelance
journalist in Anchorage, Alaska throughout the 2000
presidential elections and 9/11, both events which
considerably politicized the paper he worked for. After
the Iraq War began in 2003, Jamail said he decided to go
to Iraq to "cover the stories that weren't getting the
coverage they deserved in the mainstream media."

One of the few independent journalists reporting from the
war zone, Dahr's articles on Abu Ghraib prison torture,
media repression in Iraq and the state of Iraqi hospitals
under occupation have shown a side of the war which is
ignored by many journalists operating in Iraq.

The honest feedback he has collected in his interviews
show an Iraq hardly improved by the occupation. Abdul
Braahim, a doctor Jamail interviewed in Baghdad, said,
"All kinds of diseases are present now which weren't
before the invasion." A lack of clean water and
electricity has contributed to this. Another doctor
explained that his hospital has seen no assistance from
foreign countries, "they send only bombs."

A recent poll conducted for the British Ministry of
Defense showed that 82% percent of Iraqis oppose the
occupation and less than 2% support it. According to the
same poll, 45% of Iraqis believed attacks on US troops
were justified.

Jamail believes the following steps are necessary to
establishing peace in Iraq: full, immediate withdrawal of
occupation forces, full compensation to Iraqis for damage
and death, and that all reconstruction efforts be reopened
for bidding, giving Iraqi companies preference.

In this interview Jamail discusses his day to day efforts
to stay safe while working in Iraq, public opinion among
Iraqis regarding the occupation, how the US is instigating
civil war in the country, and advice to independent
journalists and anti-war activists.

Benjamin Dangl: Please describe the day to day work you
had to do to stay safe while reporting from Iraq.

Dahr Jamail: That's the biggest challenge now facing
journalists in Iraq; A, safety and B, having enough trust
with the people they're interviewing. There's no way
around the danger. The odds are you're going to run into
some problems at some point. You have to rely a lot on
luck and try to minimize the time you have to spend around
US soldiers and police stations that are usually the
targets. It's helped me to have an interpreter to
understand the mind set of people and their timidity, so
that he can talk to them in the right way to make that
happen. Having an excellent interpreter is your only hope.

BD: What is public opinion like in Iraq regarding the US

DJ: The poll numbers [from the recent British Ministry of
Defense poll] are a little lower than what I found on the
ground. I would have confirmed those poll numbers a long
time ago. The one that I have found to be a little low is
45% that thought it was okay to attack occupation forces.
I would say its more like 60-70%. I would say that the
percentage of Iraqis I found to be against the occupation
is more like 80-90 %. I would've found that to be true
about a year ago, particularly after Abu Ghraib.

BD: What do you think of the argument that US troops
should stay in Iraq in order to prevent civil war?

DJ: The argument that the US has to stay in Iraq in order
to prevent civil war is racist and imperialist and is made
by people who don't understand what is going on on the
ground in Iraq. The US is using tactics that heighten the
probability of civil war by rushing through this
Washington DC- imposed timeline for the political process.
That coupled with using state-sponsored civil war, where
they have a US-backed Iraqi puppet government that is
using the Kurdish and Shia army to fight a primarily Sunni
resistance. While most people are loath to the idea of
civil war, it is being instigated by the US and their
puppet government.

The US pulling out is going to begin the process of
stabilization in Iraq as well as be the first move to give
Iraqis true sovereignty. The Iraqi people are fully
capable of resolving their differences and setting up
their own government just as did after the British pulled

BD: Has the growing independent journalism movement in the
US made the media coverage of the Iraq war any different
from coverage of Vietnam and the first Gulf War?

JD: The media situation [in the US] now is so dramatically
different than Vietnam and the Gulf War because of total
corporate control of mainstream media outlets. In our best
moments independent coverage in Iraq has served as a
counterweight to the propaganda being spewed by corporate
media. Those who know where to look - Democracy Now,
internet and radio resources - do get a different coverage
of Iraq. But 80% of Americans still get their news from
the TV. Those people will be unaffected by any work that
we do.

BD: Are there many other journalists in Iraq that are
working like you?

DJ: There are a few other people working independently.
One American guy, a film maker and there are more from
other countries that work independently. It's very few
because the security is so bad. Working independently
brings with it the financial struggles as well.

BD: What's your message to anti-war activists and
independent journalists in the US?

DJ: First, I'd like to just mention that it seems like the
anti-war movement takes these breaks when there are these
periods of not much movement. Fortunately, right now it
seems as though it's picking up steam, which is hopeful.
Those in the anti-war movement that feel they don't need
to stay engaged or that they can give up, that aren't
working as hard as they can to end this, are complicit.
We're all responsible for allowing the US to be there, and
the Iraqi people are paying the price. We owe it to them
and the rest of the world to resolve this situation is as
soon as possible.

For anyone interested in getting involved in independent
media, now is the time. The media reform movement is
happening. We need as much honest grassroots journalism as
we can get. If people can go out and do this work, you
will be supported. The need is great enough. People will
know the truth when they see it. It's the perfect time to
get involved if you've given it even a passing thought

For more on Dahr Jamail's work and writing, go to his
website: Benjamin Dangl is the
editor of, a progressive perspective on
world events.


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