Monday, February 11, 2008

Guernica II: Remote-Control Massacre

Dahr Jamail again comes through with this insightful, if devastating, report on what the U.S. bombing strategy really brought about in Iraq - and what kind of future our continued military effort there would bring. On January 10, U.S. bombers and F-16's attacked an area south of Baghdad.

The use of B1 bombers shows the terrible failure of the U.S. campaign in
Iraq," Iraqi Major General Muhammad al-Azzawy, a military researcher in Baghdad, told IPS. "U.S. military and political tactics failed in this area, and that is
why this massacre. This kind of bombing is usually used for much bigger targets
than small villages full of civilians. This was savagery."

The attack on Juboor and neighbouring villages just south of Baghdad
had begun a week earlier with heavy artillery and tank bombardment. The attack
followed strong resistance from members of the mainly Sunni Muslim al-Juboor
tribe against groups that residents described as sectarian death squads.

"On Jan. 10, huge aircraft started bombing the villages," Ahmad Alwan
from a village near Juboor told IPS. "We took our families and fled. We have
never seen such bombardment since the 2003 American invasion. They were bombing everything and everybody."

Residents said two B1 bombers and four F-16 fighter jets dropped at
least 40,000 pounds of explosives on the villages and plantations within a span
of 10 minutes.

"The al-Qaeda name is used once more to destroy another Sunni area,"
Akram Naji, a lawyer in Baghdad who has relatives in Juboor told IPS. "Americans
are still supporting Iranian influence in Iraq by cleansing Baghdad and
surroundings of Sunnis."

But do Americans who pay for this war hear any of this news? Not if they listen to mainstream news. Note that Sunnis feel Americans are "supporting Iranian influence" while mainstream U.S. news reports the diametrical opposite. Note that the U.S. frequently shows hostility in word and deed towards Iran's Shi'a President Ahmedinejad, while maintaining a friendly attitude towards Sunni Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Yet Sunnis in Iraq are interpreting this bombing as an attack on them personally, using al-Qaeda as a ruse.

Now note how the bombing is played out in the media. Tom Englehardt analyzes various American news sources, showing how they buried the true story in lion's skin of terror-fighting.

A January 21st Los Angeles Times Iraq piece by Ned Parker and Saif Rasheed led with an inter-tribal suicide bombing at a gathering in Fallujah in which members
of the pro-American Anbar Awakening Council were killed. ...Twenty-six
paragraphs later, the story ended this way:
"The U.S. military also said in a statement that it had dropped 19,000 pounds of explosives on the farmland of Arab Jabour south of Baghdad. The strikes targeted buried bombs and weapons caches.
"In the last 10 days, the military has dropped nearly 100,000 pounds
of explosives on the area, which has been a gateway for Sunni militants into
And here's paragraph 22 of a 34-paragraph January 22nd story by Stephen Farrell of the New York Times:
"The threat from buried bombs was well known before the
[Arab Jabour] operation. To help clear the ground, the military had dropped
nearly 100,000 pounds of bombs to destroy weapons caches and I.E.D.'s."

Farrell led his piece with news that an American soldier had died in Arab
Jabour from an IED that blew up "an MRAP, the new Mine-Resistant
Ambush-Protected armored vehicle that the American military is counting on to
reduce casualties from roadside bombs in Iraq."

Note that both pieces started with bombing news -- in one case a suicide bombing that killed several Iraqis; in another a roadside bombing that killed an American soldier and wounded others. But the major bombing story of these last days -- those 100,000 pounds of explosives that U.S. planes dropped in a small area south of Baghdad -- simply dangled unexplained off the far end of the Los Angeles Times piece; while, in the New York Times, it was buried inside a single sentence.

Neither paper has (as far as I know) returned to the subject, though this is undoubtedly the most extensive use of air power in Iraq since the Bush administration's invasion of 2003 and probably represents a genuine shifting of American military strategy in that country. Despite a few humdrum wire service pieces, no place else in the mainstream has bothered to cover the story adequately either.

How many civilian casualties were there? Who were the civilians? What strategic interests were the U.S. supposedly "protecting" by this attack? What intelligence, if any, led to this area as a strategic target? Who did they think they were killing vs. who did they actually kill? What was gained by this, if anything?

Since Americans pay for this war, as I said, they should know what the hell is going on. But that's not going to happen, apparently. Someone has an agenda, and it's either a very blood experiment in Chaos Theory, a horrific way to nab oil rights in an era when we're supposed to be going green, or just empire-lust run amok. But it's not, no not at all, to "defend freedom", "fight terrorism", or promote democracy. This can't by any stretch of any Republican fantasy, be for that purpose.

Mr. Englehardt then makes a correlation between the bombing of Guernica, Spain, of Picasso's famous painting fame, in which up to 10,000 civilians were killed by - and this is the connection - 100,000 lbs. of explosives. The same as the U.S. bombing on Abu Jaboor in Iraq - 100,000 lbs. of explosives. But back then in 1937,
The self-evident barbarism of the event -- the first massively publicized
bombing of a civilian population -- caused international horror. It was news
across the planet. From it came perhaps the most famous painting of the last
century, Picasso's Guernica, as well as innumerable novels, plays, poems, and other works of art.

Fast-forward to Iraq 2008, and 100,000 lbs. of explosives dropped by American bombs on small farming villages south of Baghdad is barely worth a couple of yawns. More war stats. Can't cut it against Britney Spears celebrinsania.
As far as we know, there were no reporters, Iraqi or Western, in Arab
Jabour when the bombs fell and, Iraq being Iraq, no American reporters rushed
there -- in person or by satellite phone -- to check out the damage. In Iraq and
Afghanistan, when it comes to the mainstream media, bombing is generally only
significant if it's of the roadside or suicide variety; if, that is, the "bombs"
can be produced at approximately "the cost of a pizza" (as IEDs sometimes are), or if the vehicles delivering them are cars or simply fiendishly well-rigged human bodies. From the air, even 100,000 pounds of bombs just doesn't have the ring of something that matters.

Some of this, of course, comes from the Pentagon's success in creating a
dismissive, sanitizing language in which to frame war from the air. "Collateral
damage" stands in for the civilian dead -- even though in much of modern war,
the collateral damage could be considered the dead soldiers, not the ever rising percentage of civilian casualties. And death is, of course, delivered "precisely" by "precision-guided" weaponry. All this makes air war seem sterile, even virginal. Army Col. Terry Ferrell, for instance, described the air assaults in Arab Jabour in this disembodied way at a Baghdad news conference:

"The purpose of these particular strikes was to shape the battlefield and take out known threats before our ground troops move in. Our aim was to neutralize any advantage the enemy could claim with the use of IEDs and other weapons."
You've got non-military verbs strategically placed with battlefield nouns. It creates that all-important bloodless "look". It's almost like selling insurance: "policy", "claim", "planning", etc. The purpose is to keep you, the taxpayer, slightly bored, yet reassured that this war was doing something good, serving some purpose, like "keeping America free."

As that phrase "take out known threats before our ground troops move in" made clear, this was an attempt to minimize casualties among American (and allied Iraqi) troops by bringing massive amounts of firepower to bear in a situation in which local information was guaranteed to be sketchy at best. Given such a scenario, civilians will always suffer. And this, increasingly, is likely to be the American way of war in Iraq.

As Mr. Englehardt sums the math up succinctly:
Anyway, here's the simple calculus that goes with all this: Militarily,
overstretched American forces simply cannot sustain the ground part of the surge
for much longer. Most, if not all, of those 30,000 troops who surged into Iraq
in the first half of 2007 will soon be coming home. But air power won't be. Air
Force personnel are already on short, rotating tours of duty in the region. In
Vietnam back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as ground troops were withdrawn,
air power ramped up. This seems once again to be the pattern. There is every
reason to believe that it represents the American future in Iraq.
And air war means civilian deaths far outnumber the death of actual soldiers - or "militants", as they are now called. For there's not even parity in terms anymore. Our military are "heroes" or "soldiers"; theirs are "insurgents", "militants" or "terrorists". In fact, the name al-Qaeda has come to be used loosely to refer to any Sunni fighters/insurgents. Hence their perception that the U.S. wants to eliminate Sunnis per se.

So if anyone can articulate what we are fighting for, whom we are fighting, and why, in any logical or meaningful way, please let me know. All the reasons presented so far are about as relevant as a random page out of tax law. So bloodless. So mundane. So ordinary. So easy to forget. Almost like a video game. At least, that's what taxpayers are supposed to think. And never, ever even mention or think, don't dare to say, that it's a filthy, bloody, messy, sickening, mind-numbing, sanity-busting, nearly-pointless, remote-control massacre.

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