Wednesday, December 14, 2005


If the American Ambassador to Iraq can't burst the bubble, who can?

The American ambassador in Iraq said today that more than 100 detainees had been abused in two Iraqi detention facilities, more than had been previously disclosed.

Also today, just ahead of nationwide elections, a Sunni Arab candidate was shot and killed, and the American military said four soldiers were killed just north of Baghdad.

The ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, was speaking at a news conference in Baghdad just days before the country goes to the polls on Thursday to select a full-term government. Early voting started on Monday for soldiers, hospital patients, prisoner detainees and Iraqis abroad.

Mr. Khalilzad was asked about two Iraqi detention facilities from which some detainees had been transferred to the hospital, and to comment on remarks from some Iraqi interior ministry officials characterizing the handling of the detainees as slapping. Mr. Khalilzad said he has received reports that pointed to more extreme treatment.

In an investigation that followed the discovery in November of the first detention center, called Jadriya, "it was determined that over 100 of them were abused," he said, according to a transcript of his remarks released later. He said that close to 170 people had been held there.

Another facility inspected three days ago was, according to reports he had received, "overcrowded and not in good conditions."

"I have seen figures that said 21 or 26 people who were assumed to have been abused," he said.

"I think I can say that based on reports that I have received, that it was, many instances with regard to the over hundred that we talked about it, was far worse than slapping around," Mr. Khalilzad said.
Then again, Bush is in a bubble with much of the rest of the country:

The American media continues to ignore the increasingly devastating air war being waged in Iraq against an ever more belligerent Iraqi resistance - and, as usual, Iraqi civilians continue to bear the largely unreported brunt of the bombing.

When the air war shows up at all in our press, it is never as a campaign, but as scattered bare-bones reports of individual attacks on specific targets, almost invariably based on military announcements. A typical example was reported by Reuters on December 4th: "Two US Air Force F-16 jets dropped laser-guided bombs" which, according to a military spokesperson, killed two "insurgents" after they attacked an army patrol near Balad, 37 miles west of Baghdad. On the same day, Reuters reported that "a woman and two children" were "wounded when US forces conducted an air strike, bombing two houses in Baiji, 180 km (112 miles) north of Baghdad."

And even this minimalist version of the American air war rarely makes it into large media outlets in the US.

Author and media critic Norman Solomon asked the following question recently: "According to the LexisNexis media database, how often has the phrase 'air war' appeared in the New York Times this year with reference to the current US military effort in Iraq? As of early December, the answer is: Zero." Solomon went on to point out that the phrase "air war" had not appeared in either the Washington Post or Time magazine even a single time this year.

Curiously enough, US Central Command Air Force (CENTAF) reports are more detailed than anything we normally can read in our papers. On December 6, for example, CENTAF admitted to 46 air missions over Iraq flown on the previous day - in order to provide "support to coalition troops, infrastructure protection, reconstruction activities and operations to deter and disrupt terrorist activities."

Albeit usually broadly (and vaguely) described, and seldom taking possible civilian casualties into account, these daily tabulations by the Air Force often flesh out bare-bones reports with a little extra detail on the nature of the air war. On that December 6th, for instance, the report added that "Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons, an MQ-1 Predator and Navy F/A-18 Hornets provided close-air support to coalition troops in contact with anti-Iraqi forces near Balad and Ramadi."

Not surprisingly, given their source, such reports glide over or underemphasize potentially damaging information like the fact that bombing runs of this sort are regularly conducted in heavily-inhabited areas of Iraq's cities and towns where the resistance may also be strongly embedded. Oblique statements like the following are the best you are likely to get from the military: "Coalition aircraft also supported Iraqi and coalition ground forces operations focused on creating a secure environment for upcoming December parliamentary elections."

As a result, aside from reportage by one of the rare western independent journalists left in Iraq or the many Arab journalists largely ignored in the US, the American air assault on Iraq remains devastatingly ill-covered by larger outlets here. This remains true, even as, militarily, air power begins to move center stage at a moment when large-scale withdrawals of American ground troops are clearly being considered by the Bush administration.
The matter is underscored by Bush's infamous estimate of the number of Iraqis killed since he started this war:

"I would say 30,000, more or less, have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis," he said. "We've lost about 2,140 of our own troops in Iraq."
Notice how that is phrased: "initial incursion" (as if we just stuck our toe in some water, rather than jumped in the deep end and then decided whether or not we could swim), and "the ongoing violence against Iraqis." Violence, of course, for which the U.S. is not responsible; at least, in Bush's view.

In other words, we have not been morally culpable for any deaths of Iraqis since. Nice bubble, if you can live in it.

And I still think the Lancet figure is the most accurate, and will ultimately be borne out as correct.

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