Dahr Jamail with Amman in the background.
Paul interviewing Dahr.
Jamal of the Al Monzer with Dahr Jamail.
I had the privilege of interviewing independent journalist Dahr Jamail this Monday; Dahr has spent a lot of time as an unembedded journalist in Iraq. Dahr is a US citizen born in Texas but who now lives in Alaska. Dahr has an Arabic name because his great grandparents on his father’s side are from Lebanon. His parents and himself were brought up in the US. He felt outraged at first the way Bush stole the 2000 election and on the disgracefully biased reporting up to and during the war. He first came to Iraq in November 2003 and has made a total of 4 trips totalling 8 months.
His last trip was February this year but he is not going into Iraq this time because of the extremely serious security situation.
This is a somewhat shortened version of our interview:
Paul: “Is the reality in Iraq very different from the way it is portrayed in the media?”
Dahr: “Exactly, take for example what just happened with this operation Matador (near the Syrian border) the media today in fact is reporting that it’s a success and they’ve called off the operation and killed I think 125 insurgents and detained however many more but the reality is what I’ve learned from the ground from NGOs operating and from making phone calls into that area the whole thing is like a mini Fallujah – they didn’t let people leave the city, there’s probably hundreds of civilians casualties and many, many homes destroyed and many displaced people and of course none of this is being reported in the mainstream media. It typifies the whole situation in Iraq”
Paul: “something which surprised me was that the electricity is still not fixed some two years after the war. I was speaking to an Iraqi lady called Amal who was saying that at the moment the electricity is currently two hours on five hours off even in Baghdad and in the North of the country as in Irbil the situation is no better.”
Dahr: “Yes, my interpreter from Baghdad said about a week ago that the electricity is anything from one to two hours on then four to five hours off. That’s pretty typical all over the country”
Paul: “I’ve heard that ordinary Iraqis have offered to fix the electricity themselves free of charge but have been prevented from doing so by the occupation. The work has to be done by overcharging war profiteers like Bechtel and Halliburton.”
Dahr: “Exactly. They won’t hire Iraqis because they think they’re a security threat. Only 2 per cent of the money allocated is for Iraqi companies.”
Paul: “One thing I find quite incredible is that I heard from Susan Karim who recently visited the country is that there are actually gasoline shortages – in a country with the world’s second largest supplies of oil! It sounds like some kind of April Fools day joke! But it’s true.”
Dahr:”When I was there in February people were waiting for up to two days to fill their cars then there was rationing o top of that, Iraqis are pissed off about it, Before the invasion a long line was to have one car I front of you”
Paul: “What do you think of Ahmed Chalabi being minister of finance and oil? – talk about the fox being in charge of the henhouse!”
Dahr: “Temporarily he was in charge of the oil, now I’m not sure where they’ve moved him in to”
Paul:” The figure I heard was hat he stole something like 230 million from a bank in Jordan wand was sentenced to 22 years hard labour in absentia.”
Dahr: “He embezzled 20 million from the Petra Bank then he crashed the bank and then fled the country to Lebanon. King Abdullah is looking at pardoning him.”
Paul:” I’ve been here in the Middle East for a while. I came for the Cairo conference and then after that I went across the Sinai to Taba in Egypt where there was a bad Al Qaeda attack last year. The atmosphere in Taba is spooky – it’s little more than a village compared with Cairo but there was a strange atmosphere about the place.”
I told of my day visit to Eilat in Southern Israel which resulted in me getting an Israeli stamp – this is not a problem as far as Egypt or Jordan is concerned but it is a big problem when applying for visas for Syria or Lebanon. I got a new passport and took it to the Syrian Embassy but they immediately demanded to see my old passport and when I couldn’t produce it they guessed straight away that I had an Israeli stamp in it. So no visa – I won’t be taking the road to Damascus this time.
I told Dahr of my surprise of the fact that a third of the population in Jordan is involved in surveillance.
Dahr: “Well, it’s a mini dictatorship, you can’t have demonstrations here without the government permission, if you don’t break the law you’re fine but there’s no real freedom of speech or assembly.”
Paul: “I have spent the last few days walking around Amman feeling a bit of a coward for not going to Baghdad. I feel I really should go”
Dahr: “Now is not the time to go. Even six months ago when I was there back in February , bad as it was then it bears no comparison to now, now the lawlessness is rampant, there's death squads operating every day, there’s so many car bombs there’s great danger not only for you but also for any Iraqi who tries to help you.”
Paul: “You mean I would be endangering other people’s lives by going."
I expressed despair at times about the hopelessness of all the campaigning and he replied:
"I feel that hopelessness too but what are you going you do – give up? I hope that by keeping a recored of what's happening one day we can bring these bastards to war crime tribunals."
I suggested that the war could drag on for years and could end up in a Vietnam situation. Dahr disagreed saying that the US is so heavily in debt that it has to have this oil and cannot pull out.
I said that the reason for the US withdrawal from Vietnam was because corporate America decided it was costing too much money.
In the case of Iraq they can't let go of all that lovely oil.
Paul: "What happens if the insurgents keep blowing up the pipelines – could that work in the favour of the US?"
Dahr:" The oil companies in the US are not interested in extracting all that oil right now. Look at the price of oil since the invasion – the oil companies have been making massive profits"
Paul: "The reason I have such sympathy for Iraq is that no other country in modern times has suffered as much as they have. The first gulf war saw the dropping of 88,500 tons of bombs on a largely defenseless country then there were those awful sanctions the there were the latest war and occupation and humiliation as in Abu Ghraib"
I made the point that most people never knew anything about the sanctions as the media failed to tell the public anything about them. Also there was virtually no coverage of Depleted Uranium, some 3,000 tons of which were dropped on Iraq in the latest war.
Dahr:" Indymedia is really the hope. We really need a total media revolution."
Paul; "How have you been received on your speaking tour in the US?"
Dahr: "Generally pretty well although of course a lot of the time I tend to preach to the choir as all speakers on tours tend to do."
I made the point that the huge demonstrations on February 15th 2003 had made little effect – there had been demos of 2 million in London, 2 million in Madrid and 3 million in Rome yet all these countries sent troops to Iraq in defiance of the wishes of their populations and indeed in defiance of International Law.
Dahr:" The US is not a democracy – we haven't had a legitimate election since 1996"
Paul:" Politics is often described as a con game – Gore Vidal calls the US system the one parry two party system meaning there's no difference between the parties. Somewhat more crudely is the expression `Same Shit, Different Asshole` It's the same in Britain where there is no real difference between the two main parties."
I made the point the point that the demonstrations had fallen off badly since the peak of 2003. The terrible crime of Fallujah raised barely a ripple in the media.
Dahr said that most people in America have no idea of how bad the situation is in Iraq. They never knew much about the sanctions because the media did not inform them. He said you have to understand that most people have to do one and a half jobs to make ends meet and when they come home from work they are tired and vulnerable an they just hear glimpses of the mainstream biased reporting.
I made the point that most Americans have no idea where Iraq even is – in a survey by a British newspaper hundreds of Americans were asked to point out Iraq on a map and they ended up pointing to places like South Africa, Nicaragua, India, Vietnam, Austria, and the Caspian Sea etc. The people in America had believed to a large extent that they could be hit from 6,000 miles by missiles - the Al Samoud 2 -which can only travel about 100 miles. Yet Americans thought Iraq could attack them from a distance of 6,000 miles and were stocking up on food and water and taping up the inside of their windows. I sighed wearily. Propaganda and brainwashing seem to work – especially in the case of the USA.
Dahr reiterated the point that you can't just give up. I mentioned the 19th century writer Ralph Waldo Emerson who had said that "Public opinion I am sorry to say will bear a great deal of nonsense."
Perhaps he is naturally more optimistic than me.
I asked about the possibility of an attack on Iran this smmmer and he said he thought Iran probably would be bombed though of course a full scale invasion is not on as the US is too bogged down in Iraq.
I mentioned Bin Laden and Dahr just laughed. I asked if Kerry would have been any better and he said not really but at least some of the crazies would have been removed.
Dahr said he plans to stay in Amman making contacts with Iraqis and hopes to attend the G8 summit in July.
I told him of the prices of the suites where the World leaders will be staying cost 1,500 pounds a night - about $2,500 a night.
I mentioned the possibility of going to Basra via Kuwait which might be less dangerous than Baghdad but he cautioned against it.
I said I felt it was cowardly not to go to Iraq but he said it wasn't about courage as Iraq is now the worst war zone in the world and there are so many resistance groups and they don't like each other and you can't trust anyone.
I asked him what he foresaw for the next five years and he thought eventually more troops would have to be sent. He said that without a doubt the draft would have to be brought back.
I expressed my sympathy for the Iraqi people again who had suffered so much and he concurred.
I asked him what he thought of the elections – I said the American people had largely bought the elections as free and fair and he agreed. The elections he described as totally fraudulent. I suggested that Americans tend to be very gullible and he agreed saying that many Americans still believe in a connection between Iraq and 9/11.
I asked what drives the `crazies` and basically it's just good old greed.
Dahr finished by saying that Iran would be hit sooner or later.
Many people predicted that there could be scandals like Watergate but Dahr said that the press in the USA is dead. How than there be revelations.
Dahr says that he truly believes there will be Nuremberg tribunals for Iraq. He said again that you have to keep on trying.
I thanked Dahr for his time, took a few photos and wished him well. Perhaps we shall meet for coffee and cakes at Gleneagles!
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