Tuesday, January 23, 2007

State of the Iraq War, pre-SOTU

I just want to call attention to a few things about the Iraq War as we wait for the next message of truth from Our Dear Leader in the State of the Union (SOTU) address tonight.

At least 130 Iraqis were killed on Monday, most of them apparently in the civil war encounteres. Juan Cole, an academic expert in Shi'a Islam, reminds us in
this 01/23/07 post of an important factors that sails right by our punditocracy:

It isn't ordinary time in Iraq for the Shiites, it is ritual time, sacred time. It is a time of deep mourning, of grief and the beating of chests and even flagellation with chains. It is the season for commemorating the martyrdom, the cosmically wrongful killing of al-Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, who led the people of Kufa in what is now Iraq against the tyrannical empire of the Umayyad Caliph Yazid. His generals cut the plucky scion of the House of the Prophet down without mercy, along with his relatives and followers. They are said to have carried Husayn's head aloft on a stave and to have deposited it before the caliph in his palace in Damascus. The death of Husayn is the "passion" of Shiite Islam, their Good Friday. His shrine is in the Iraqi city of Karbala, where guerrillas dressed as American troops killed 5 American soldiers on Sunday. Emotions run high already. ...

The Sunni guerrillas' killing of over 100 Shiites in Baghdad and Khalis on Monday was therefore no ordinary carnage, even in an Iraq where to have 70 persons blown up by a single bomb is no longer a novelty to say the least. But for it to be done during these days is to drive Shiites wild with grief, to push them to take revenge. It is to universalize the martyrdom of Husayn, making all Shiites martyrs. The guerrilla movement depends on people taking revenge, from every side.
Since Cheney and Bush still try to make "Al Qaida" a main excuse for keeping US troops in Baghdad, it's worth remembering that the main area of activity for "Al Qaida in Iraq" (AQI), which terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman characterizes as an Al Qaida "affiliate" rather than part of Bin Laden's central group, is in predominently-Sunni Al-Anbar province. But the bulk of the new troops being sent in for the McCain escalation are supposedly going to Baghdad, where little if any Al Qaida activity has been noted.

Speaking of troops going in, William Arkin notes that our "press corps" is being a bit lax on reporting troops deployments. In The Surge Begins!! Shhh! Early Warning 01/22/07:

I hardly ever comment on what the media writes, being a member of the mainstream media myself and too intent on actually figuring out what the government is up to than in taking the easy and narcissistic path of media "analysis" or bashing.

But when a friend sent me the military statement that the first troops had begun arriving, I found it curious that the only weekend mention I could find - and even here it was buried - was in the Los Angeles Times.

Of course the statement was issued on Friday and there was no parade to commemorate the fabulous "surge." But it was news, and its absence from the two top U.S. papers seemed strange.

Perhaps the lack of fanfare is part of the administration's strategy, I now think: the President can "announce" the arrival of new troops in his State of the Union (applause) or even better, as the administration fights with Congress over the future in Iraq, it can keep the surge low profile and talk of the long haul and the patience required - and the Iraqi responsibility -- in order to buy time.
Also from the same Juan Cole post linked above, some dark humor about the effects of sectarian violence and the refugee problem in Iraq: What do you call Iraqi Christians now? Syrian Christians. Cole mentioned in one of his previous posts a couple of years or so back that even in its budding stages, the civil war in Iraq was creating pressure for Aramaic-speaking Christians to flee Iraq. Aramaic was the language that Jesus spoke. Cole's point was that one of the consequences of Cheney's and Bush's grand Christian crusade in Iraq might be to finally kill off the language of Jesus as a living language.

One aspect of the Iraq War that is severely under-reported is the air war. Keep in mind that the Iraq War largely involves urban combat. I don't want to change the subject here to Somalia. But in an article on US intervention there, John Judis gives us a picture of what it means to use air war to fight urban guerrillas/terrorists/militias. The title is a bit of a surprise, both for Judis and the magazine that first published it:
Rogue State America by John Judis The New Republic 01/17/07. (The link here is to the archived article at Information Clearing House.)

That's what happened on January 7 and 8 in Somali border towns; the United States claimed its bombs were intended to kill an Al Qaeda operative supposedly connected to the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. But he was not among the victims; nor were other Al Qaeda members. Then reports began trickling in of civilian deaths from the AC-130 gunships that the United States supposedly sent to hunt down the single terrorist. According to Oxfam, the dead included 70 nomads who were searching for water sources. The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, estimated that 100 were wounded in an attack on Ras Kamboni, a fishing village near the Kenyan border. The Economist, which is not an outspoken critic of the Bush administration, wrote, "The Americans used the AC-130, a behemoth designed to shred large areas instantly, in the knowledge that the killing fields would be cleared before journalists and aid workers could reach them." It's a war crime to kill civilians indiscriminately.
On the war crime issue, I should add that the laws and customs of war when it comes to air power have developed altogether too slowly. But it is at least clear today that careless bombardment of even legitimate military targets done in disregard of civilian casualties is not legitimate in international law, although in the case of air power it is far murkier than for infantry and artillery.

The only daily accounts I know of describing the overall air war in Iraq come from the Air Force itself, which of course is scarcely an independent source. The dating is a bit confusing. For example, the report titled
CENTAF releases airpower summary for Jan. 22 actually reports on activities of Jan. 21. On that day, according to this official report:

In Iraq , Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs provided close-air support to troops in contact with anti-Iraqi forces near Baghdad .

Air Force A-10s provided close-air support to troops in contact with anti-Iraqi forces near Balad.

In total, coalition aircraft flew 27 close-air-support missions for Operation Iraqi Freedom. These missions included support to coalition troops, infrastructure protection, reconstruction activities and operations to deter and disrupt terrorist activities.
One of the conventions of these Air Force reports is that the locations are always described as "near" a city. I've yet to see one described as being "inside" a city.

That report includes this spiffy picture of an A-10 Thunderbolt II, which it desribes as "specially designed for close air support of ground forces and can be used against all ground targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Justin T. Watson)." I wonder how many of Sunday's 27 "close air-support" missions involved insurgents using tanks or armored vehicles. I also wonder how air strikes reinforce "infrastructure protection". If a sabateur is spotted planting a bomb under an oil pipeline, do they have an A-10 blast them on the spot? Presumably the A-10's don't yet have the capacity to defuse the bombs in "close air-support".

I have yet to see one of these Air Force reports including a photograph of the aftermath of one of these "close air-support" missions "near" an urban area. Planes with teeth painted on the front are much more inspiring.

Sunday was one of the lighter days, with only 27 air strikes reported. Think about what our attitude would be if even our own Army was conducting two dozen air strikes a day on urban targets in the United States. Much less a foreign army.

report for Jan. 20 activity counts five dozen strikes:

In total, coalition aircraft flew 60 close-air-support missions for Operation Iraqi Freedom. These missions included support to coalition troops, infrastructure protection, reconstruction activities and operations to deter and disrupt terrorist activities.
The report for Jan. 19 activity counts just under three dozen:

In total, coalition aircraft flew 34 close-air support missions for Operation Iraqi Freedom. These missions included support to coalition troops, infrastructure protection, reconstruction activities and operations to deter and disrupt terrorist activities.
Some of those Jan. 19 strikes are reported to have been "near" the cities of Baghdad, Baqubah, Mosul and At Timm. The Jan. 20 action was said to include strikes "near" Karbala and "near" Baghdad.

Finally, check out Glenn Greenwald's look at current propanda for war against Iran, which is likely to come up in the SOTU, at his
Unclaimed Territory blog 01/23/07. Greenwald references the following relevant articles:

British Find No Evidence Of Arms Traffic From Iran: Troops in Southeast Iraq Test U.S. Claim of Aid for Militias by Ellen Knickmeyer Washington Post 10/04/06

Scant evidence found of Iran-Iraq arms link: U.S. warnings of advanced weaponry crossing the border are overstated, critics say by Alexandra Zavis and Greg Miller Los Angeles Times 01/23/07

Israeli, Americans and Iran by Gideon Rachman Financial Times 01/22/07

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