The Surging Petraeus Turned It Upside Down

Iraq: Call an air strike
By Pepe Escobar

“… the literature on counter-insurgency is so enormous that, had it been put aboard the Titanic, it would have sunk that ship without any help from the iceberg. However, the outstanding fact is that almost all of it has been written by the losers.” – Martin van Creveld, in The Changing Face Of War, 2006

11/09/07 “Asia Times” — — Amid the George W Bush administration’s relentless campaign to “change the subject” from Iraq to Iran, how to “win” the war against the Iraqi resistance, Sunni or Shi’ite, now means – according to counter-insurgency messiah General David Petraeus – calling an air strike.

On a parallel level, the Pentagon has practically finished a base in southern Iraq less than 10 kilometers from the border with Iran called Combat Outpost Shocker. The Pentagon maintains this is for the US to prevent Iranian weapons from being smuggled into Iraq. Rather, it’s to control a rash of US covert, sabotage operations across the border targeting Iran’s Khuzestan province.

With the looming Turkish threat of invading Iraqi Kurdistan and President General President Musharraf’s new “let’s jail all the lawyers” coup within a coup in Pakistan, the bloody war in the plains of Mesopotamia is lower down in the news cycle – not to mention the interminable 2008 US presidential soap opera. Rosy spinning, though, still rules unchecked.

The Pentagon – via Major General Joseph Fil, commander of US forces in Baghdad – is relentlessly spinning there’s now less violence in the capital, a “sustainable” trend. This is rubbish.

Fil cannot even admit to the basic fact that Baghdad has been reduced to a collection of blast-walled, isolated ghettos in search of a city. Baghdad, from being 65% Sunni, is now at least 75% Shi’ite, and counting. Sunni and Shi’ite residents alike confirm sectarian violence has died down because there are virtually no more neighborhoods to be ethnically cleansed.

When Fil says the Iraqi forces are “much, much more effective”, what he means is they are much more ferocious. Terrified middle class, secular Shi’ite residents have told Asia Times Online these guards – Shi’ites themselves – roaming Baghdad with their machine guns pointing to the sidewalks are “worse than the Americans”.

Violence has also (relatively) decreased because the bulk of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army is still lying low, following his strict orders, even though they are being targeted by constant US air strikes on Sadr City.

The falling numbers of US deaths have also been subjected to merciless spinning. Yet already more US troops have been killed in Iraq in 2007 than in all of 2006. This temporary fall is not caused by a burst of Sunni Iraqi resistance good will – even though an array of groups has taken some time out to concentrate forces in these past few months on unifying their struggle (See It’s the resistance, stupid Asia Times Online, October 17, 2007.)

Once again, Baghdad residents, who daily have to negotiate life in hell, reveal what’s going on. Lately, as a Shi’ite businessman says, “We have not seen the Americans. They used to come to my neighborhood almost every day at night, with Humvees and Bradleys. They stopped at the end of September.” This means less US-conducted dangerous “missions” in the Baghdad wasteland – with less exposure to snipers and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) – and more time spent in ultra-fortified bases.

The Pentagon even had to admit that sniper attacks, conducted by real pros, have quadrupled during the past year and could “potentially inflict even more casualties than IEDs”. The US Department of Defense’s Defense Advance Research Projects Agency had to rush a program using lasers to identify snipers before they shoot.

Anyway, whenever there is a mission in Baghdad now it inevitably means an air strike. Mega-slum Sadr City residents confirm the US keeps attacking alleged Mahdi Army “terrorist” haunts – but mostly from the air.

With the US corporate media operating virtually like a Pentagon information agency, the only news fit to print is that as of early this week there were 3,855 American dead in Iraq. But most of all – and never mentioned – there were 28,451 wounded in combat. And as of October 1, there were no less than 30,294 military victims of accidents and diseases so serious they had to be medically sent out of Iraq.

When in doubt, ‘liberate’ from the air Brigadier General Qasim Atta, spokesman for the Baghdad security plan, revealed this week Iraq’s security forces have set up 250 spy cameras across Baghdad – presumably to track the Sunni resistance, the Mahdi Army and remaining al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers operatives. Atta has argued “the terrorists are now forced to resort to kidnappings and planting roadside bombs because our security plan is working”. That’s more rubbish.

Kidnapping is an established industry in Baghdad; with the exodus of the middle classes to Jordan, Syria and beyond, now there’s virtually no one flush enough to be kidnapped. IEDs continue to follow wherever American convoys roam. And since they are not roaming – they stick to base – fewer IEDs are exploding. As for al-Qaeda, it has relocated from Baghdad neighborhoods such as Dora – but it will be back.

With fewer missions on the ground, the Pentagon could not but launch four times more air strikes on Iraqis in 2007 – the year of Bush’s “surge” – than in the whole of 2006. Up to the end of September, there had been 1,140 air strikes. Last month, there were more air strikes than during the siege that devastated Fallujah in November 2004.

Even discounting the criminal absurdity of an occupation routinely dropping the bomb on packed neighborhoods of a city it already occupies, civilians are the inevitable “collateral damage” of these attacks – families, women, children, assorted “non-combatants”. The US Air Force does not even take responsibility – claiming the air strikes are ordered by scared-to-death convoys of Humvees patrolling, say, the mean streets of Sadr City.

The Pentagon talk of “precision strikes” and “reducing collateral damage” means nothing in this context. This appalling human-rights disaster has to be attributed to counter-insurgency messiah Petraeus, the “loser”, according to Martin van Creveld, who wrote the latest book on the matter, The Changing Face Of War.

But for public relations purposes inside the US, Petraeus’ “by his book” approach works wonders. The Pentagon can spin to oblivion to a cowered media that US deaths are falling. Who cares what the Nuri al-Maliki “sovereign” Iraqi government says? Maliki is nothing but the mayor of the Green Zone anyway. Who cares what the “fish” – who support the “sea” of the resistance, Sunni or Shi’ite – feel? 80% of them are unemployed anyway – and they merely struggle to survive as second-class citizens in their own land.

There’s hardly any electricity, fuel or food in Baghdad – everything is rationed – for anyone who’s not aligned with a militia-protected faction. The only other option is to flee. With at least a staggering 4.4 million, according to the United Nations, either refugees or internally displaced, options are dwindling fast. There may be as many as 2 million Iraqi refugees in Syria alone. Damascus, in despair, has tightened its visa rules: only academics and businessmen are now entitled. No less than 14% of the entire Iraqi population has been displaced – courtesy of the Bush administration.

Oh, but the Bush administration is “winning” the war, of course. Counter-insurgency doctrine rules that the enemy must be controlled with social, political, ideological and psychological weapons, and risks have to be taken so civilians can be protected.

The surging Petraeus turned that upside down. Or maybe not – he’s just providing his own scholarly follow-up to the indiscriminate bombings of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in the 1960s and 1970s. Petraeus, His master’s voice, might as well call an air strike over the whole of Mesopotamia and then call it “victory”.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007). He may be reached at


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