Two photo-rich summaries of the battle of Fallujah -- one produced by the U.S. military in Iraq, the other by an anonymous American blogger -- highlight how the terrain in such counterinsurgency fights can be as much psychological as physical.
Both presentations have gained increasing Internet audiences recently and attempt to convey, among other things, the suffering imposed on Iraqi civilians in Fallujah.
That is where similarities end, however. The military's presentation depicts the fight for Fallujah as a liberation of a city from the insurgents. The Web log posts far more graphic wire service and other photos, and tends to point the finger of blame for civilian suffering at the military.
Judging by the reaction of several soldiers and military experts, a comparison of the two presentations shows, among other things, how the might of the U.S. military can be matched by a single blogger working part time.
Public affairs officers at the top U.S military headquarters in Baghdad produced the 59-page Microsoft PowerPoint presentation titled, "Telling the Fallujah Story to the World." It is the first such effort distributed by the headquarters, said one of its creators, Army Maj. Scott R. Bleichwehl.
It comes as the U.S. military is trying to step up "strategic communications" in Iraq, after being heavily criticized, internally and by outside experts, for failing to get its message to the Iraqi people and the world in general.
The military briefing, an electronic slide show that has rocketed around the Internet over the last week, can be read at Soldiers for the Truth (www.sftt.org) and other Web sites, frequently with comments such as, "Why is the DOD not getting this information to the media?" Another version of the briefing was released Friday by the Pentagon and is reachable at www.dod.mil/transcripts/2004/tr20041203-1721.html.
Charles Krohn, a former Army public affairs official who worked with the U.S. occupation authority in Iraq, said he suspects the presentation is directed at American audiences. He said the United States has failed to get out its message in Iraq, and has not even appeared to want to do so. "How we can invade a country and eject its government without letting the people who live there know what we were doing and why is a mystery to me," he said.
The U.S. military briefing focuses on violations of the law of war by the insurgents. It states that of 100 mosques in Fallujah, 60 were used to hide weapons or as defensive positions. A map shows nine locations of bomb-making factories and comments that roadside bombs are "the insurgents' principal instrument of attack on innocent civilians." It also shows a van whose side panels have been "removed and filled with PE-4," a kind of plastic explosive.
Another slide shows a photograph of bloody handprints on a wall, and blood on walls, presumably evidence of torture or murder. There also is other evidence of hostage-taking presented.
"The anti-Iraqi forces took hostage the city of Fallujah and projected terrorism across all of Iraq," it states.
The presentation ends with photos of local Iraqis "securely and calmly" receiving food supplies from Iraqi security forces.
"Overall, we've gotten positive feedback on the packaging, because it contains a lot of information and provides visuals," Bleichwehl said. An Arabic version of the presentation has been released, he said.
A competing vision of the Fallujah operation is presented by the blog titled "Iraq in Pictures" (www.fallujahinpictures.com), which Krohn says is far more similar to what Iraqis, and the Arab world, see on their satellite news channels.