United Press International
Fallujah - U.S. Marines pray over a fellow Marine killed while fighting insurgent strongholds. (Photo by Murad Sezer, April 8, 2004.)
A secret intelligence assessment of the first battle of Fallujah shows that the U.S. military thinks that it lost control over information about what was happening in the town, leading to "political pressure" that ended its April 2004 offensive with control being handed to Sunni insurgents.
"The outcome of a purely military contest in Fallujah was always a foregone conclusion — coalition victory," read the assessment, prepared by analysts at the U.S. Army's National Ground Intelligence Center, or NGIC.
"But Fallujah was not simply a military action, it was a political and informational battle. ... The effects of media coverage, enemy information operations and the fragility of the political environment conspired to force a halt to U.S. military operations," concluded the assessment.
It added that the decision to order an immediate assault on Fallujah, in response to the televised killing of four contractors from the private military firm Blackwater, effectively prevented the Marine Expeditionary Force charged with retaking the town from carrying out "shaping operations," such as clearing civilians from the area, which would have improved their chances of success.
A copy was posted on the Web last week by the organization Wikileaks, which aims to provide a secure way for whistleblowers to "reveal unethical behavior in their governments and corporations," and says it favors government transparency.
Although a spokesman for U.S. Army intelligence declined to comment on the document, United Press International independently confirmed its veracity.
The authors said the press was "crucial to building political pressure to halt military operations," from the Iraqi government and the Coalition Provisional Authority, which resulted in a "unilateral cease-fire" by U.S. forces on April 9, after just five days of combat operations.
During the negotiations that followed, top Bush administration officials demanded a solution that would not require the Marines to retake the town, according to the assessment.
Crucial to the failure, the authors said, was the role of the Arabic satellite news channels Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya.
An Al Jazeera crew was in Fallujah during the first week of April 2004, when the Marines began their assault on the city of 285,000 people.
"They filmed scenes of dead babies from the hospital, presumably killed by coalition air strikes," the assessment said. "Comparisons were made to the Palestinian intifada. Children were shown bespattered with blood; mothers were shown screaming and mourning day after day."
Fallujah - A 1st Division Marine carries a good luck mascot in his backpack as his unit pushed into western neighborhoods of Fallujah. Coalition forces launched a major November offensive for control of the city. (Photo by Anja Niedringhaus, November 14, 2004.)
By contrast, the assessment stated that later in 2004, when U.S.-led forces successfully retook Fallujah, they brought with them 91 embedded reporters representing 60 press outlets, including Arabic ones.
"False allegations of non-combatant casualties were made by Arab media in both campaigns, but in the second case embedded Western reporters offered a rebuttal," the authors said.