The Embeds Are Back, as Deadly Assault on Fallujah Looms

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By: Joe Strupp and Erin Olson

The embeds are back. With a U.S. military assault on Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah pending, there has been a surge in news organizations seeking embedded slots with the Marine unit there, Pentagon officials told E&P today.

All 70 embed slots with the First Marine Expeditionary Force were filled two days ago, according to Sgt. Eric Grill of the Press Information Center in Baghdad.

That same Marine unit had only 15 embeds just one month ago. “It’s filled up,” Grill told E&P Friday. “There are no more slots.”

Embedded journalists in Iraq, which topped 800 at the height of the combat in 2003, have since dwindled to the double digits in the past year or so. But several newspapers said they had sought to return reporters and photographers to the Marine unit outside Fallujah as the likely assault looms.

“That is the only way to do it,” said Phil Bennett, foreign editor of The Washington Post, which embedded reporter Jackie Spinner with the Marine unit a week ago. “We also have permission to embed a photographer as well, and we are trying to do that.”

Bennett said Spinner had been assigned to Baghdad, but moved her location to prepare for the attack.

The Boston Globe also added an embed, placing reporter Anne Barnard, who had been Baghdad, with the Marines on Sunday. Her stories since have included a piece in Friday’s paper about how medical forces are beefing up in preparation for the attack, expecting high U.S. casualties in what could be, she wrote, “the bloodiest day” in the entire war.

Roy Greene, a deputy foreign editor at the Globe, said Barnard had embed equipment with her that included a bullet-proof vest and helmet.

“It is dangerous because of mortar attacks and other things,” he said. “But we thought we’d get a good opportunity for a real close-up view. If events warrant, we will consider adding more.”

Meanwhile, Tom Lasseter of Knight Ridder/Tribune, writing under the dateline “with U.S. Forces near Falluljah,” also led his story with military hospitals’ preparations. A senior surgeon said the number of dead and wounded will probably reach levels “not seen since Vietnam.”

Lasseter reported that one hospital has added two operating rooms and doubled its supplies, preparing to treat 25 severely injured soldiers a day, not including the dead and those who can still walk. The article ended with comment from one soldier that the fight for Fallujah is “overdue.”

The New York Times article today placed heavy emphasis on this eagerness of troops. Reporter Robert F. Worth described the urban-warfare drills and the scene at the military base, where 29-year-old Lance Cpl. Dimitri Gavriel reported Marines are “locked, cocked and ready to rock.”

Newsday, in Long Island, N.Y., printed another hospital article by Matthew McAllester, a staff correspondent. “Thursday afternoon,” he wrote, “while reporters were visiting the hospital, the medical staff received an all-too-familiar delivery: Two Marines and an American freelance photographer who had embedded with their unit had been injured, their light armored vehicle hit by a roadside bomb.”

McAllester said the hospital had set up triage tents and brought in additional mortuary staff. “We’ve been living by the creed that if you build it they will come,” said Capt. Eric Lovell, an emergency medicine specialist. According to McAllester, “Commanders here have told reporters they expect casualties if the battle begins.”

A number of larger papers, including the Chicago Tribune and USA Today, ran Associated Press stories or compiled stories from other wire services. An article from “near Fallujah” by AP reporter Edward Harris reported that U.S. commanders, who expect a tough fight, are stressing that orders to attack must come from Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Harris also interviewed a number of the troops and noted that many of them “privately owned up to an amount of trepidation.”

Harris ended with a comment on one reason for the soldiers’ motivation, quoting 25-year-old Lance Cpl. Mike Detmer saying, “This is the most important thing of my generation and I’m part of it. I can already see the pages in the history books.”

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