I think those briefings were one of the reasons that the Sunni minority became so anti-American, because they were aimed for an American domestic audience, and the contempt that Kimmitt and Senor heaped on the Sunnis and the people that were fighting — “dead-enders” and “criminals,” “weak and coward-like,” and all the insults that he used — really got the back up of the people. Those briefings were key to making the Sunni minority realize that they would not be part of the new Iraq. I think that Senor and Kimmitt were one of the major forces in making the country fall apart. They were very effective in their propaganda for journalists and for Americans who didn’t know what was going on, but in Iraq it was a disaster. Even the Shia couldn’t believe what they were saying, they were just so dishonest. That was my reaction. The briefings — this may work in New Jersey, but in Iraq it’s a disaster.
General Abizaid went to Fallujah — I think it was Ramadan, it was around November 2003 — and his convoy was attacked, and I was sitting with a group of people who had family members in the insurgency, and the question for Kimmitt was, “Do you think that it was an organized attack?” And he said, “No, no, this was just nothing … it’s just a group of criminals attacking the” — I can’t remember exactly — “this group of criminals in Fallujah who are very unpopular.” And the group of people sitting with me were laughing. They thought the insurgency had intelligence that Abizaid was there, that it was a very coordinated attack, the people were very, very pleased by it — it was the exact opposite of the way it was being portrayed. It was actually an example of how strong and well-organized the insurgency was. And Kimmitt’s denial of it and his contempt for it was completely misleading to an American audience. And just made the Iraqis that I was with laugh at him.
The people within the U.S. military that dealt with the press in Baghdad were quite intimidating toward us at times; they felt that we asked too many questions when Reuters had people detained, for example, after the incident in Fallujah [in January 2004]. These were Iraqi employees of Reuters, cameraman and soundman and a driver, who were shot at when they were trying to film an incident after a U.S. helicopter had been brought down. And they were filming at the scene; they were shot at by U.S. troops. They then jumped in their car and left because they were worried that they were being fired upon. The U.S. troops chased them down, helicopters chased them down, firing on them, and then detained them. [The military] said that they were basically terrorists posing as journalists at the scene, who fired on U.S. troops — I mean it’s absolute fantasyland. But they were detained, held, abused, put in stressful positions, sort of threatened, stripped, made to do obscene things, and eventually they were released, and that’s when we called for an investigation.
But what I was going to say is that when we asked questions about that in press conferences, and I would go to the press conferences in Baghdad, the general that was the main spokesman, General Kimmitt was very dismissive of us, threatened us, asked us not to ask more questions. [Before] one press conference he asked me, “Are you going to ask me any more obnoxious questions?” and I said I might, and he said, “Well, why don’t you ask me them now?” I said, “Well I’d rather ask you on the record in the press conference.” And he said, “Well,” tapping the gun at his side, “You’ve gotta watch out.” Joking, but tapping the gun at his side.
We had the most difficulty with the CPA when Paul Bremer was in power. He had given an interview to a BBC program called Panorama that was quite a hard-hitting interview, and I don’t think he was used to that. And certainly after that we had a difficult time getting access to Paul Bremer. I understood there were threats that we might be barred from embeds as a result. That actually didn’t happen, but there was certainly a kind of air of nastiness, and I had it reported back to me from one coalition official that other coalition officials were accusing me of being able to smell sewage in a bed of roses.
Jon Lee Anderson
The New Yorker