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Profile: Mark Kimmitt
Mark Kimmitt was a participant or observer in the following events:
In February 2004, a confidential report by the International Committee of the Red Cross says that “military intelligence officers told [us] that in their estimate between 70 percent and 90 percent of the persons deprived of their liberty in Iraq had been arrested by mistake.” Half or more of all prisoners in Iraq are held at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. This report echoes the conclusions of an unpublished US Army report by Maj. Gen. Donald Ryder given to Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top US commander in Iraq, on November 5, 2003 (see November 5, 2003). Ryder, the US Army’s provost marshal, reported that some Iraqis had been held for several months for nothing more than expressing “displeasure or ill will” towards US troops. And it said the process for deciding which arrested Iraqis posed security risks and which should be released violated the military’s own policies. It also complains that the continuing influx of new prisoners detained despite little evidence against them threatens to strain the prison system. Senior officers claim that Brig. Gen. Barbara Fast, the top Army intelligence officer in Iraq, often ruled last against the release of prisoners, even vetoing the recommendations of a military police commander and military intelligence officers. [New York Times, 5/30/2004] Similarly, Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who investigates abuses at Abu Ghraib prison around this time (see February 26, 2004), will later say very few prisoners there were affiliated with any terrorist group. Taguba saw classified documents revealing that there were only “one or two” suspected al-Qaeda prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Most of the detainees were not even connected to the Iraqi insurgency. [New Yorker, 6/17/2007] Despite this evidence, Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt will later claim, “If they were innocent, they wouldn’t be at Abu Ghraib.… The number that were released because they were innocent? That number… is zero. Persons are held at Abu Ghraib because they are determined to be security threats, imminent security threats here in [Iraq].” [New York Times, 5/30/2004]
Dexter Filkins. [Source: New York Times]The New York Times publishes a front page story blaming Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the supposed leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, for many troubles in the Iraq war. However, it will later be revealed that the contents in the article were a hoax or exaggeration by a US military propaganda operation. The article, written by Dexter Filkins, claims that in January 2004, US forces in Iraq intercepted a letter written by al-Zarqawi to the “inner circle” of al-Qaeda, claiming that the best way to defeat the US in Iraq is to, in essence, begin a “sectarian war” in that country. The letter reportedly states that al-Qaeda, a Sunni network, should attack the Shi’a population of Iraq: “It is the only way to prolong the duration of the fight between the infidels and us. If we succeed in dragging them into a sectarian war, this will awaken the sleepy Sunnis.” In the letter, al-Zarqawi boasts of his role in many suicide bombings in Iraq. The article also notes that this letter would “constitute the strongest evidence to date of contacts between extremists in Iraq and al-Qaeda.” [New York Times, 2/9/2004; Independent, 2/11/2008] US General Mark Kimmitt says later the same day: “We believe the report and the document is credible, and we take the report seriously.… It is clearly a plan on the part of outsiders to come in to this country and spark civil war, create sectarian violence, try to expose fissures in this society.” The story is quickly published around the world. [Independent, 2/11/2008]
Reporter Skeptical; Article Does Not Reflect Doubts - Filkins will later say he was skeptical about the document’s authenticity when he wrote the story and remains skeptical of it. [Washington Post, 4/10/2006] However, the article and follow up articles in the New York Times cast no doubt on the letter’s authenticity, except for one sentence in the original article mentioning the possibility the letter could have been “written by some other insurgent.”
Skepticism from Other News Outlets - However, some scattered accounts elsewhere at the time are more critical. For instance, a few days later, Newsweek writes: “Given the Bush administration’s record peddling bad intelligence and worse innuendo, you’ve got to wonder if this letter is a total fake. How do we know the text is genuine? How was it obtained? By whom? And when? And how do we know it’s from al-Zarqawi? We don’t.” [Editor & Publisher, 4/10/2006] In the letter, al-Zarqawi says that if success does not come soon: “We can pack up and leave and look for another land, just like what has happened in so many lands of jihad. Our enemy is growing stronger day after day, and its intelligence information increases. By god, this is suffocation!” Counterpunch notes this and skeptically comments, “If you were Karl Rove, you couldn’t design a better scenario to validate the administration’s slant on the war than this.” It is also noted that this article follows a dubious pattern of New York Times reporting on Iraq: “cultivate a ‘highly placed inside source,’ take whatever this person says and report it verbatim on the front page above the fold.” [CounterPunch, 2/26/2004]
Systematic Propaganda Campaign - Later in 2004, the Telegraph will report, “Senior diplomats in Baghdad claim that the letter was almost certainly a hoax” and that the US is systematically buying extremely dubious intelligence that exaggerates al-Zarqawi’s role in Iraq (see October 4, 2004). [Daily Telegraph, 10/4/2004] In 2006, a number of classified documents will be leaked to the Washington Post, showing the US military has a propaganda campaign to exaggerate the role of al-Zarqawi in Iraq (see April 10, 2006). One document mentions the “selective leak” of this letter to Filkins as part of this campaign. [Washington Post, 4/10/2006]
Media Unquestioning in its Acceptance - Editor and Publisher will later examine the media coverage of this letter, and note that most publications reported on it unquestioningly, “So clearly, the leak to Filkins worked.” Ironically, Reuters at the time quotes an “amazed” US official who says, “We couldn’t make this up if we tried.” [Editor & Publisher, 4/10/2006]
US Marines patrolling a Fallujah neighborhood. [Source: Stars and Stripes]The Christian Science Monitor examines the reasons why the Iraqi town of Fallujah is such an intransigent area of resistance to the US occupation (see April 28, 2003 and March 31, 2004). Some Americans, such as Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, blame the recalcitrance on the largely Sunni population of Fallujah and its environs, saying that they long for the return of Saddam Hussein to power. “This was a city that profited immeasurably… under the former regime,” Kimmitt says. “They have a view that somehow the harder they fight, the better chance they have of achieving some sort of restorationist movement.”
Simplistic Explanations Inaccurate - However, Iraqi experts on the region say the truth is far more complex. The area is inhabited by a deeply clannish network of tribes and groups, as is much of the so-called “Sunni Triangle.” To many of these inhabitants, personal honor and vengeance is more important than any possible return of the Hussein regime. The problem began in the days after the initial occupation of the area by the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, where, according to some experts knowledgeable about the situation, the residents felt dishonored and disrespected by their occupiers. “You can never forget that in this area retaliation is almost the fundamental element of the tribal system, its focal point,” says Sadoun al-Dulame, a Baghdad-based political scientist who grew up in the area as a member of the Dulame tribe. “This is a revenge culture where insults to people’s honor will always be repaid with violence.” The recent upsurge in violence in the area may also have something to do with the 82nd turning control of the region over to the Marines; area insurgents may be testing the new troops. Experts such as al-Dulame say that if Fallujah residents feel that their interests will be protected by a new government (likely to be dominated by the Sunnis’ ancient rivals, the Shi’a), then violence will lessen. But even the most optimistic estimates say that peace in the region is a year or more away.
Confluence of Factors - According to an analysis by Iraq expert Amatzia Baram, Fallujah has a large population of members of Hussein’s Albu Nasser tribe, and large numbers of ex-Iraqi Army and Iraqi intelligence personnel. Most of the Sunnis in the area are devoutly, rigidly religious, strongly influenced by the Salafy traditions of neighboring Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. Other hotbeds of violence such as Tikrit are influenced by Turkey and are less fundamentalist in their religious outlooks. “It’s gone beyond ‘you killed my cousin so I have to kill you,’” says Baram. “It’s about religion.” Worse for the Americans, there is a fundamental difference in the way the two cultures approach war. “If I kill someone from your tribe, I know another member of my tribe will definitely be killed,” Baram says. “But people in Fallujah have learned that when they kill Americans nothing much happens. They learned that the Americans have different values, and this makes killing an American less dangerous than killing someone from another tribe.” Experts such as Nadhim Jissour, another political scientist, say that even after US forces leave the region, Fallujah could still be an axis of resistance to a new Iraqi government. As for current US plans to escalate its presence in the region, these are likely to be less than effective. “If you hit the whole city, you will simply be expanding the circle of your opponents,” says al-Dulame. “There’s not much the Americans should do now but withdraw.” [Christian Science Monitor, 4/2/2004]
A Marine armored personnel carrier pulls out of Fallujah. [Source: Dusteye (wordpress.com)]After a bloody three-week siege of Fallujah (see April 2, 2004 and April 10, 2004), the Marines retreat. Military spokesman Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt explains that “this is not a withdrawal, this is not a retreat,” but his words are contradicted by a film clip, shown repeatedly on US news broadcasts, of an American tank literally going into reverse while pulling out of the city. The surviving citizens of Fallujah spill into the streets to celebrate the Americans’ withdrawal, dancing and singing. For many American citizens, the low point of the entire exercise may be when, immediately after the Marines’ departure, an Iraqi military officer bearing an uncanny resemblance to Saddam Hussein (even wearing a Republican Guard beret) is elevated to lead the Fallujah government by the Coalition Provisional Authority. The Pentagon claims to know nothing of the man’s identity, but it takes the media little time to learn that he had once been a high-ranking officer in Hussein’s Republican Guard and was close to the deposed dictator. [Rich, 2006, pp. 125]
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