Monday, December 01, 2003

54 Dead in Samarra. What does it mean? 

Musical Chairs highlights the differences in reporting of this incident by the American media and Al-Jazeera:

"Repelling Attacks" versus "Perpetrating A Bloodbath"

"One civilian injured" versus "killed innocent bystanders when they opened fire on anything that moved"

Al Jazeera also mentions that the attackers "allegedly wore the black uniforms of the Fidayin"

Both the BBC and Al Jazeera mention nearby factory workers getting killed - Al Jazeera in paragraph 4 and the BBC in paragraph 15. As of Monday morning, 12:20 PST, the web sites of CNN , CBS and Fox News did not.

There were two orignal sources for these articles , an AFP reporter, and the US military.
It shows that bias is alive and well, one way or another.

Then there is this ABCNews.com article on the incident, posted today on their site. I'll post the article in full, as they tend to disappear:

U.S. Says 54 Iraqis Killed in Samarra
U.S. Military Says 54 Iraqis Killed in Samarra Battle, but Residents Say Death Toll Is Lower

The Associated Press

SAMARRA, Iraq Dec. 1 — The U.S. military said 54 Iraqis were killed in the northern city of Samarra as U.S. forces used tanks and cannons to fight their way out of simultaneous ambushes. But residents said Monday that the casualty figure was much lower and that the dead were mostly civilians.
By the American account, Sunday's fighting was the bloodiest combat reported since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in a U.S.-led invasion.

A U.S. military spokesman said attackers, many wearing uniforms of Saddam's Fedayeen paramilitary force, struck at two U.S. convoys at opposite sides of Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad.

The scars of the battle were evident on Monday. About a dozen cars lay destroyed in the streets, many apparently crushed by tanks, and bullet holes pocked many buildings. A rowdy crowd gathered at one spot, chanting pro-Saddam slogans. One man fired warning shots in the air when journalists arrived at the scene.

Many residents said Saddam loyalists attacked the Americans, but that when U.S. forces began firing at random, many civilians got their guns and joined the fight. Many said residents were bitter about recent U.S. raids in the night.

"Why do they arrest people when they're in their homes?" asked Athir Abdul Salam, a 19-year-old student. "They come at night to arrest people. So what do they expect those people to do?"

"Civilians shot back at the Americans," said 30-year-old Ali Hassan, who was wounded by shrapnel in the battle. "They claim we are terrorists. So OK, we are terrorists. What do they expect when they drive among us?"

Many residents said the Americans opened fire at random when they came under attack, and targeted civilian installations. Six destroyed vehicles sat in front of the hospital, where witnesses said U.S. tanks shelled people dropping off the injured. A kindergarten was damaged, apparently by tank shells. No children were hurt.

"Luckily we evacuated the children five minutes before we came under attack," said Ibrahim Jassim, a 40-year-old guard at the kindergarten. "Why did they attack randomly? Why did they shoot a kindergarten with tank shells?"

Lt. Col. William MacDonald of the 4th Infantry Division said that after barricading a road, attackers opened fire from rooftops and alleyways with bombs, small arms, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.

U.S. troops responded with 120mm tank rounds and 25mm cannon fire from Bradley fighting vehicles, he said.

"It sounds like the attack had some coordination to it, but the soldiers responded, used their firepower, used tank and Bradley fire and other weapons available to them, to stop this attack and take the fight to the enemy," he said.

MacDonald said the attack was the largest faced by his Task Force Ironhorse, whose mission includes the hunt for Saddam. Military officials in Baghdad said they haven't reported a deadlier attack since May 1, when U.S. President George W. Bush declared major combat over. U.S. officials have only sporadically released figures on Iraqi casualties, and wouldn't say whether there has been a deadlier firefight that went unreported.

The U.S. military initially said 46 Iraqi fighters died and five American soldiers were injured. But a statement on Monday raised the Iraqi dead to 54.

Residents of Samarra disputed those figures, saying at most eight or nine people died. Three bodies lay in the hospital morgue. There was no way to reconcile the accounts.

The scale of the attack and the apparent coordination of the two operations showed that rebel units retain the ability to conduct synchronized operations despite a massive U.S. offensive this month aimed at crushing the insurgency.

At least 104 coalition troops have died in Iraq in November, including 79 American troops. In terms of coalition losses, it has been the bloodiest month of the war that began March 20.

Shortly after the firefight, four men in a BMW attacked another U.S. convoy in Samarra with automatic rifles, MacDonald said. The soldiers wounded all four men, and found Kalashnikov rifles and grenade launchers in their car.

"We have been very aggressive in our convoy operations ... it does send a clear message that if you attempt to attack one of our convoys, we're going to use our firepower to stop that attack," MacDonald said.

Also Sunday, two South Korean contractors were killed near Samarra in a roadside ambush in what U.S. officials called a new campaign aimed at undermining international support for the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. Attacks on Saturday killed seven Spaniards, two Japanese diplomats and a Colombian oil worker.

The two Japanese diplomats were flown to Kuwait and arrangements are being made for transporting them home, a Japanese diplomat said Monday on condition of anonymity.

In Seoul, the South Korean government vowed to stick by plans to send up to 3,000 troops to Iraq despite the killing of two South Korean engineers.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi reiterated Monday his vow that the attack on the Japanese diplomats would not alter Tokyo's commitments to send non-combat troops, provide humanitarian aid and participate in the reconstruction of Iraq.