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Not A CNN Embed Report: The Situation In Samarra

SCOOP EDITOR'S NOTE: The following message was forwarded to Scoop by a member of the Wellington activist community. It contains an eyewitness report of the battle for Samarra. It appears to come from a CNN correspondent providing a completely different perspective on what has just happened during the biggest U.S. offensive since the aborted seige of Fallujah than that which appears on the official Cable News Network's transmissions. While Scoop cannot vouch for the authenticity of the two messages, they do appear at first glance to be real. Spelling remains as in the original.

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COVERING NOTE

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Hey guys, DK here.

Sorry this is gonna be a long message but I just wanted to pass this on: I have a friend in the states who has a friend who works for CNN and is in Iraq right now.

CNN just reported this (headline: "Samarra Operation Successful") about what just went down in Samarra, which is in brutal contrast to what their -own- reporter has been saying.

I've been recieving fowarded messages from the reporter, which i'll post here:

P.S: I know it's long, but it's pretty worth reading, especially to see how CNN distorted it all to hell. From my friend B who is embedded in iraq right now. it's insane. i can't wait until she gets out of there:

DK

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FIRST MESSAGE

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Hey guys –

as i write this i am sitting in the defac (dining facility) of FOB Razor - the Us forqrd oeprating base in samarra...

its one of the more ramshakle bases that i have been on - i.e.

toilets are holes in the ground and there are pissing tubes which is fine for guys but presents us ladies with a challenge...

i plugged int he water boiuler to make coffe and blew out the power...

behind me is the makeshift gyjm covered in about an inch of dust, everything is dirty and sticky...

soldiers are loitering around, playing cards and what not, the ballsier ones coming over to chat once in a while...

the sky is so clear i can see all the stars, i saw a shooting star a couple hours ago...

i really cannot describe what i have seen and experienced, but this is my best effort at least for now...

10/2/04 At 9:30pm in Baquba we were told “get ready you are going in”. Going into Samarra – something that we had been waiting to do for weeks, mainly b/c the military was not letting anyone embed with them there so we (journalists) were all wondering what the deal was. Word had gotten out already that the city was under the control of the insurgents.

We scrambled to pack all our gear and hopped the choppers – a very loopdy ride since they swoop up and down to avoid the surface to air missles – and the pilots sang “you’ve lost that loving feeling” to me and Mary over the coms system.

We arrived in Samarra and immedeatly were loaded into the back of a Bradley fighting vehicle – three of us, and three soldiers...

its hot and stank in there...

and we rolled into the city.

First stop we make an RPG lands 5m from the Bradley – we roll into the traffic circle which is being cordoned off and secured to allow the Iraqi security forces to “take” the government buildings – deserted – and occupy them.

By this time we had already spent hours in the Bradley, dripping sweat and trying desperately not to fall asleep, but dozing off once in a while only to be jolted out of our sleep by various explosions as other units in the city came under contact.

By morning, about 6am, we linked up with Charlie company – an infrantry unit who was going to secure the area around the “Golden Dome” mosque – actually called the Ali Al-Hadi mosque after the 10th Shia imam who is buried there. Incidentally Imam #11 is also has his shrine there, and #12 is believed to have disappeared in a well there and is the Imam who the Shi’as are awaiting to come back to earth and save them.

So, basically we are on foot, camera gear and all, crawling along the sides of buildings, I mean how do I really describe this? Its 6am in the morning, gunshots are ringing in the air, and I am belly down near a pile of rotting garbage...

yeah, it was something like that...

we advanced through the city, not encountering all the much incoming fire at first...

you only move forward a couple feet at a time and there is a lot of waiting involved, and I (and Mary) kept on falling asleep on our feet and then getting jotled out of dreams bu gunfire and explosions...

by the time that we hit the arwa around the mosque we were taking heavy fire, a bullet landed about a foot away from our cameraman’s head...

the US forces stormed this hotel where they believe al-quaeda members were operating out of, but it was void of people and weapons other than the night guard...

the place looked like it had not been used in months, cobwend everywhere...

we then headed up towards the mosque (which has not been taken yet) – they had already killed this guy who they said was coming at them with an RPG, and they were taking fire from the mosque and from a nearby hotel...

we knew that the Iraqi special forces were going to blow the door, so we wanted to stay in the area, but somehow ended up following a unit around the corner and away from the front door when all hell broke loose again, and we got stuck in a firefight on the other end of the mosque...

I honestly don’t know how to paint this picture...

I am crouched with Mary behind a cement wall about 2 ft high, about 3 soldiers are with us, there are 2 humvees in the street, and about 5 soldeiers across the street and we are taking fire from a hotel...

the gunners on the humvees start to shoot at the hotel, and its chaos someone is shouting “are we taking fire from there?” “shit wrong target” someone is running across the street “where is his cover fire!?!?!” bang bang, my ears are ringing...

meanwhile we are trying to scheme a way to get back to the front of the mosque before they blow the door so that we can get that on camera...

I mean its insane, darting though alleyways as soldiers are covering for us and then hitting the ground on the other side, and at time just loitering around...

explosions and gunfire throughout the city – its amazing how it just becomes “normal” and you get used to outgoing fire, and just don’t flinch or anything anymore...

its deemd too dangerous for us to try and cross the road, too much incoming fire, so we end up missing the door of the mosque blasting through, but we did end up going into the mosquer, they had detained 25 there...

we were the only reporters in there that day...

I mean how di I describe these scenes...

the streets are empty save soldiers and us, I mean its like s ghost town, stores are all boarded up, there is not a person in sight, and we are crawling along the walls of the streets, and the only sound is orders being barked in English and the sounds of fighting...

and as things calm down, soldiers in their positions along the street or just laying down in the doorways, everyone including us is so skank and dirty, sleeping on rotting couches in this hotel that they took over, after hours and hours of crawling in dirt and street rot...

I can see the images in my head, I just can’t really describe them...

we went back into town today, still sporatic fighing, but towards evening, people started to venture back out...

so surreal...

i have never been so dirty in my life, i mean nasty...

but given all that, its absolutely facinating to watch unfold...

feels like something out of this world...

i still dont know waht the people think though, if they are for or against this massive offensive, but i hope to figure that out tomorrow...

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SECOND MESSAGE

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The continuation, from B:

I hope that I never have to experience the pain, anguish and anger that I saw today.

Samarra’s sorrow is overwhelming.

I am sitting here going through the tapes of this morning’s shoot, and as much as I was able to distance myself from what I was seeing at the time, as much as it hit me going through the footage.

We went to the Samarra Jumhuriyet hospital this morning.

The citizens, pretty much a whole city under house arrest, was allowed out into the streets from 7am-7pm today, finally allowing access to families to go to the hospital to pick up the bodies of the dead.

The first family at the hospital arrived, waving a makeshift white flag, a shredded rag tied to a twig, meant to indicate to the Americans that they were not carrying weapons.

According to military officials, the majority of the wounded and killed at the hospital were fighters.

According to the families that went to pick up the bodies, it was a different story all together. The first family that we spoke to had lost an 18 year old son, his sister started to wail in English “why?why?why?” her hijab slipping off exposing her thick brown hair, she tumbled to the ground, her shrieks just gut wrenching.

Her father and other brothers tried to calm her, to keep her quiet but it just got louder and louder “why?why?why? and her mother started to wail pounding her chest.

He was crossing the street, not even carrying a stick they said. Another family lost their father and cousin, people just kept pouring in carrying a variety of makeshift flags, looking through the bodies.

The military is maintaing a presence at the hospital along with the Iraqi National guard and they had arranged for a convoy of trucks and ambulances to cart the bodies off to the graveyard, also providing security for the convoy along the way – whether it was security so that the US forces would not accidentally attack the convoy, or to protect it from insurgents remains to be determined.

It was utter mayhem.

Bodies being loaded into the back of trucks as they were identified, family members looking through the bags, through ID cards, hospital workers running around barely able to keep up with the situation, and the US military slowly loosing control as the numbers of people increased.

The hospital director, as we tried to get numbers from him on the dead, snapped at the request for an interview “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.

you are here, just count the bags”.

I don’t blame him.

Complete and utter heart wrenching sorrow. And yet another family, two brothers who came in, grown men in tears asking “why?”.

Their brother had been killed 4 months ago by US forces, and yesterday evening a tank fired into a car carrying the grandfather, 6 nieces, and one nephew.

All roasted, only their bones remained, save the grandfather who was able to get out somehow and the youngest child, 2 years old who was pushed out of the car by her father. The stench was overwhelming.

The rage and frusteration equally so, from the hospital officials to the mourners.

“only 1% of the population of Samarra was the insugerncy and they all left after the first night, why all the bombing? Who is it that died? Children, women, innocents? And for what? The insurgents were long gone!” was the mildest of reations coming from the head of the city council, who claims that he met with US and Iraqi officials in Baghdad 3 days before the offensive asking for more time.

However, the Lt.Col who was in charge of the operation to secure the hospital and the convoy said that this council head had told him yesterday that he had told him that he approved of the offensive.

I rather harshly questioned him as to what he was basing the statement that the majority of those killed were fighters to which he replied “they were men of fighting age” which I found to be a rather silly statement given that the most males fall within that age group, so I got rather aggravated and backed off from the interview, especially given that the military estimates that there are about 200-300 fighters in the city, and in a city of 200,000 to claim that all men of fighting age were insurgents...

anyways, it did not bode well with me. Anti-americanism was at its peak.

In fact as we entered, people were ordering others not to talk to us, but after spending half an hour it was impossible to stop the stream of frusteration and anger.

And the main question was why? And we did not have the answer, not an answer that would somehow reconcile their grief because the military termanology “collateral damage” just was not going to do it. We went to the funeral, the masses of black body bags – I think it was about 60 pulled from that hospital, the chants of “there is no god but god’ and in the graveyard despite the fact that we kept ourselves a far distance from the actual burial sites, we could still hear their sobs.

The US military that was escorting did not enter the cemetery, we went in and spoke to the ING to gauge how far into the graveyard we could go without aggravating the situation – about 25 m – which was fine with us.

So we ended up chatting with them and in a nutshell their stance is that the insurgency forced the US to go in, but in its typical style used excessive force and it was the “damned civilian paying the price not the insurgents” but also stating that America had given them nothing, that this was not democracy and that they too were damned and would never be able to succeed as a security force b/c they would always have the stamp of the Americans on them.

It was very sad. They all said that the situation would just get worse and worse.

They did not believe that there would be civil war but they did believe that the insurgency that was born here would stay forever and they saw no hope for the future.

I think it makes me the saddest when I hear Iraqis say that they want saddam back, or that the saddam times were better b/c its just a marked point on how bad it really is.

Even in those area where the attcks have decreased according to military standards, the people still don’t feel safe, saying “yes, saddam starved us, but at least we had security, at least we could walk in thestreets”. As I looked over the graveyard I remembered a comment that a top level commanding general had made the night before as choppers were dropping hellfire missles “what a lovely sound” he had said.

As we drove back, people were trickling into the streets, all carrying various makeshift flags, from the lone man with a white plastic bag stuck on a twig to the 10 year old boy with a white rag tied to his bike. The soldiers, infantry men, enlisted men, here to get a college education or try and shape up from juvenile delinquency said they thought the war was crap – albeit an not an eloquent statement, but one that I had to agree with.

**** ENDS ****

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