Thursday, January 12, 2006
Censored story number one at the moment has to be the ongoing and escalating air war in Iraq, which I alluded to yesterday. There have been a few reports from Dahr Jamail, but comparatively little in the embedded media, except for the odd aside and now the occasional report that it may escalate further as troops are withdrawn from combat centres. Only Seymour Hersh has drawn attention to this aspect of the occupation in any mainstream media outlet.
Now Michael Schwartz has written a brilliant piece summarising the key information. The air war is, he says, a "formula for slaughter", and accounts in large measure for the extraoardinarily high level of civilian casualties. For instance, take one story from Baiji, in which a pilotless drone 'detected' three men which the US claims was planting a bomb by the roadside - the plane tracked the men to what is neutrally described as a 'building', which they strafed with 100 cannon rounds before dropping a bomb which - predictably - destroyed the building and damaged six others around it. The building turned out to be a house. Three women and three boys aged younger than ten were killed in their nightclothes and blankets. There was no report of whether a bomb was in fact discovered by the roadside, but the 'coalition' press information centre said: "We continue to see terrorists and insurgents using civilians in an attempt to shield themselves."
Aside from the callousness of this statement, Schwartz notes that it "did assert U.S. policy: If suspected guerrillas use any building as a refuge, a full-scale attack on that structure is justified, even if the insurgents attempt to use civilians to 'shield themselves.' These are, in other words, essential U.S. rules of engagement. The attack should be "precise" only in the sense that planes and/or helicopter gunships should seek as best they can to avoid demolishing surrounding structures. Put another way, it is more important to stop the insurgents than protect the innocent." This is a standard, Schwartz notes, that would be widely condemned if applied in the US, for instance (unless it's Waco). But the air strikes are implemented in part because of an explicit US military strategy of minimising the loss of soldiers' lives. And maximising the cost to civilians who 'harbour terrorists':
As one American officer explained to New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins, the willingness to sacrifice local civilians is part of a larger strategy in which U.S. military power is used to "punish not only the guerrillas, but also make clear to ordinary Iraqis the cost of not cooperating." A Marine calling-in to a radio talk show recently stated the argument more precisely: "You know why those people get killed? It's because they're letting insurgents hide in their house."
This is, by the way, the textbook definition of terrorism -- attacking a civilian population to get it to withdraw support from the enemy. What this strategic orientation, applied wherever American troops fight the Iraqi resistance, represents is an embrace of terrorism as a principle tactic for subduing Iraq's insurgency.
This ongoing strategy of terrorism accrues quite impressive death tolls with single strikes:
One particularly vivid recent account by Washington Post reporter Ellen Knickmeyer discussed the impact of air power during the American offensive in Western Anbar province last November. Using testimony from medical personnel and local civilians, Knickmeyer reported that 97 civilians were killed in one attack in Husaybah, 40 in another in Qaimone, 18 children (and an unknown number of adults) in Ramadi, and uncounted others in numerous other cities and towns.
And, remember, "this mayhem was not a matter of dumb munitions, human error, carelessness, or gratuitous brutality. It was policy." With 3,000 violent engagements each month, only a handful of which involve suicide bombings, and with overwhelming force the policy, quite a few houses, shops, mosques and schools become targets. And it's escalating:
Quoting military sources, the Post reported that the number of U.S. air strikes increased from an average of 25 per month during the Summer of 2005, to 62 in September, 122 in October, and 120 in November. The Sunday Times of London reports that, in the near future, these are expected to increase to at least 150 per month and that the numbers will continue to climb past that threshold.
Consider then this gruesome arithmetic: If the U.S. fulfills its expectation of surpassing 150 air attacks per month, and if the average air strike produces the (gruesomely) modest total of 10 fatalities, air power alone could kill well over 20,000 Iraqi civilians in 2006. Add the ongoing (but reduced) mortality due to other military causes on all sides, and the 1,000 civilian deaths per week rate recorded by the Hopkins study could be dwarfed in the coming year.
So if, breaking out of the Gaussian strait-jacket, we can speak credibly of 500,000 deaths so far, what might the figure be if the occupation is allowed to continue until the end of 2006?