U.S. Forces Want Al-Jazeera Out Of Fallujah
by : Mustafa Abdel-Halim
Thursday April 15, 2004 - 19:23
CAIRO, April 9 (IslamOnline.net) - The United States asked al-Jazeera team to leave Fallujah as one of conditions for reaching a settlement to the bloody stand-off in the besieged western Baghdad town Friday, April 9.
"American forces declared al-Jazeera must leave before any progress is made to settle the Fallujah stand-off," al-Jazeera director general Wadah Khanfar told IslamOnline.net, citing sources close to the Iraqi Governing Council.
Khanfar, the former Baghdad bureau chairman of the station, declined to speculate on reasons for putting al-Jazeera departure as "part of solving the crisis".
He also denied receiving "any threats or notification statements" from the U.S. occupation forces recently.
Khanfar also dismissed charges of bias in the coverage of the Fallujah raids, which resulted in more than 400 people killed including women and children.
"We are just carrying out our work as professionally as possible. We describe the situation on the ground as is," Khanfar said.
"We try to be objective. The situation there bear a sign of humanitarian crisis. We just shed light on this," he stressed.
A correspondent for the Qatar-based station - speaking live from Fallujah - had warned Friday against a "humanitarian crisis" in the town if the U.S. soldiers did not end their attack on the densely-populated areas.
He said that local inhabitants are furious over the inaction of Arab and Muslim countries as well as the international community.
Only Media Outlet
"We are just carrying out our work as professionally as possible," Khanfar (Pic courtesy of al-Jazeera.net)
The channel - Khanfar added, is probably the only media in Fallujah, where its correspondent seized hours of the channel’s air time to convey the deteriorating situation over the past few days.
The correspondent in Fallujah said that even besieged local inhabitants of the town follow the latest developments in their bastion of resistance through al- Jazeera.
Corpses are littered in the streets as U.S. warplanes hit the only hospital and other makeshift medical centers, he added.
As Brig Gen Mark Kimmitt, the deputy director of U.S. military operations in Iraq, was speaking by phone on al-Jazeera and insisting that American forces declared a unilateral ceasefire in Fallujah, the channel was airing live images of continued air raids by F16 fighter jets on residential neighborhoods of the town.
Kimmitt later dismissed the coverage of the channel for the crisis as a "series of lies". However, asked by al- Jazeera anchor about the live images, the U.S. commander said he was not accusing al-Jazeera of faking the images, but rather "looked at things differently".
He said the attacks by F16 fighter jets and helicopters were meant to take out "armed insurgents firing at our troops". The anchor reminded Kimmitt, however, that "live coverage showed children and women killed by the missiles, not armed insurgents".
Observers see the U.S. highly unusual demand for al- Jazeera to leave Fallujah as a sign of crisis of credibility the U.S. forces face in the eyes of the Iraqis as well as people all over the Arab and Islamic world.
Known for its quality programs, professionalism and independence, "the CNN of the Arab world" is the most- watched channel in this part of the world.
Khanfar expressed hopes - brimming with fears - that the three correspondents now in Fallujah "would not meet the same fate of Tarik Ayyuob".
On April 8, 2003, one year ago, U.S. forces hit with missiles al-Jazeera office in Baghdad, killing Ayyoub just a few hours before rolling into the capital.
The channel officials charged the missile attack was a "deliberate" strike, recalling that the office of the station had been hit in November 2001 during the U.S.- led assault on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Khanfar, however, put up a defiant tone, saying the station’s team - also including a number of engineers and photographers - would not get out of the town "voluntarily".
"We are not a political party in the crisis. We are just media guys," Khanfar said.
Having the station’s headquarters, Qatar also plays host to the U.S Central Command, which directs the military invasion of Iraq as of March 20. It has one of the largest U.S. military bases in the Arab Gulf.
U.S. Marines fire mortar shells in the outskirts of Fallujah
Relations between the channel and Washington have been always running on a collision course.
Al-Jazeera website was downed by hackers since Tuesday, March 25, a few days after Washington and London blasted the station for its footages of dead U.S. and British soldiers and captured PoWs.
During his visit in October last year, Qatari Emir and the principal shareholder of al-Jazeera, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, was reportedly asked to put pressure on the channel to curb what the U.S. called "anti-American coverage".
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld claimed on November 25 he has seen reports suggesting al-Jazeera have cooperated with Iraqi resistance fighters attacking U.S. troops.
"They are hurting us," Rumsfeld was quoted as saying on Al-Jazeera and Dubai-based Al-Arabiya station.
On November 24, the U.S.-handpicked Governing Council banned Al-Arabiya from working in Iraq, charging it with incitement to murder.
Abu Dhabi TV also announced in April last year that its Baghdad bureau had been hit and broadcast a live report showing its camera position under attack.
With 19 journalists killed in Iraq, 14 during the war, five in the aftermath, and two missing presumed dead, 2003 was one of the bloodiest years in recent times for war reporters.
Sixty-four journalists were killed across the world in 2003, 19 of them in Iraq, according to a report published by the International Press Institute (IPI) in March 10.
On August 18, in yet another crime against journalists in occupied Iraq, U.S. troops shot dead an award- winning Reuters cameraman while he was filming on Sunday, August 17, near a U.S.-run detention camp in Baghdad.
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