I have received a number of questions about the news from Iraq. I begin with a word of caution. Much of what is being reported is unconfirmed. What does this mean?
First, it means that any numbers that you hear are based largely on speculation, rumor, and hearsay. To give but one example, look at what happened a few weeks ago with the car bomb at the Mt. Lebannon Hotel. At 11 pm, the ranking officer at the scene gave me a count of 16 Iraqi casualties. By mid-morning, other news services were reporting a number in the mid-twenties. By the time I filed my story at about 10 am, the count was up to something in the neighborhood of 37. And by the midafternoon, the official number was given: 7. When asked about the discrepency, General Kimmitt offered a word of wisdom which I now offer to you: early numbers are almost always wrong. Another example is Al Najaf. Reporters were wildly speculating high troop casualties. In the end, the casualty count was zero Americans and one El Salvadoran.
Second, on-the-scene reporting also gives you a narrow perspective. Anyone who has seen a local newscaster babbling at the scene of an earthquake or natural disaster knows exactly what I am talking about. The disaster report is accurate to the extent that the reporter says what he or she saw. Witness accounts are often offered without any regard for their validity, and the remainder of the time is filled with wild speculation. So it is in a war zone. As I have explained, it is difficult when you are standing amidst a barrage to make sense of it all. Were the rounds that just exploded from mortars or missiles? Where were they fired from? How did the Coalition respond? Is this part of a larger offensive by the Coalition or insurgents? What is the status of the city and the region? All of these questions are very difficult to answer on the ground. While some guesses can be made, they are often just that--guesses. While on-the-ground reporting provides intriguing color, it should not be mistaken or used as a substitute big picture reporting. Big picture questions about the status of the war and the progress in a region requires reflection and more details than are available in the heat of the moment.
Because the holiday will make for a tumultuous day, and will make it more difficult for reporters to confirm stories, I advise you to keep these warnings in mind. Particularly on the question of casualty counts, do not trust them unless they are confirmed by someone from CJTF-7.