Tag Archives: War

Reuters – Bureau Chief, Iraq

There’s another article in today’s Irish Times about US plans to reduce troop numbers in Iraq. It makes the same ‘mistakes’ as previous reports mentioned here and here. But among the errors and distortions there is one howler that stands out…

Dear Michael,

Further to your report on the latest reduction in US troops numbers in Iraq [1], which I came across in the Irish Times [2], I wanted to point out the following. You write:

“up to 106,071 Iraqi civilians also died in fierce warfare unleashed between majority Shi’ites and minority Sunni Muslims who dominated the country under Saddam.”

This figure corresponds to that provided by Iraq Body Count [3], who count those civilian deaths reported in the media. Yet IBC freely admit their figures “can only be a sample of true deaths unless one assumes that every civilian death has been reported. It is likely that many if not most civilian casualties will go unreported by the media. That is the sad nature of war.” [4]

Further, the deaths recorded by IBC “includes deaths caused by US-led coalition forces and paramilitary or criminal attacks by others.” [5]

Kind regards,

David [Email, 19/8/10]

Reuters Bureau Chief, Iraq, Michael Christie responded as follows:

“thanks for outpointing” [Email, 19/8/10]

1. http://uk.reuters.com/article/idUKTRE67H62C20100819
2. http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/breaking/2010/0819/breaking2.html
3. http://www.iraqbodycount.org/
4. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6045112.stm
5. http://www.iraqbodycount.org/about/

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Response to “War – Defense – Security – ?”

Response to War – Defense – Security – ?:

“Thank you very much for your email.
 
I thought I was entering a note of caution when I made clear that the shift from the combat fighting role was largely a linguistic one – noting Obama’s acknowledgment that there would still be “American sacrifice”. And of course the reduction from 140,000 or so in early 2009 has been a longer term process.
 
Indeed, the August 2010 date was always something of a midway point between the dates the Bush administration agreed with the Iraqis, for withdrawing US troops from Iraqi cities in summer of 2009 and supposedly pulling out altogether at the end of 2011.
 
So I take your wider point that there was a certain amount of spin in the speech – which is why I described it as an attempt to boost his standing as a war president and contrasted his claims with the casualty figures, in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

All best and thanks again” [Email, 4 August, 2010]

My bad. Sometimes you just need a bigger magnifying glass to find the criticial analysis.

War – Defense – Security – ?

Yesterday’s Irish Times featured two reports on Iraq. The first of which declared: “US combat troops to leave Iraq by end of month“. The second claimed that “Violence [in Iraq] has fallen sharply in the last three years.”

The second report states that “nearly 400 civilians were killed in bombings and other attacks in July.” Iraqi government officials however put the figure at 535, with a further 1,000 injured, in what they describe as “the deadliest month in Iraq since May 2008.”

Yet the Irish Times goes on to say “violence has fallen sharply in the last three years.” What this doesn’t tell you is that a) civilian deaths are roughly back to where they were in the two years following the invasion and b) any which way you look at it, 400 deaths or 535 deaths, even using conservative estimates this is the most deadly month in Iraq of 2010.

But, Irish Times, let’s stick to the good news.

The first report looks like the kind you or I might write, if we chose to limit our research to whatever we can find in US government press releases. While they’d be basically accurate, albeit within the strict limits we’d set out, inevitably, what we would have left out would have been of far more interest.

For example, we wouldn’t have discussed whether the reduction in troops signifies any change in terms of policy, we wouldn’t have asked whether the situation that necessitated the troops presence yesterday no longer applies today (which relates neatly back to the second report) and most importantly we wouldn’t have asked the leaders of the country being (partially un)occupied what they thought of the whole charade.

In late 2008 Obama pledged that he “would remove combat troops from Iraq in 16 months.” It’s now about 16 months on, so that explains why we have an Irish Times report declaring the “US would meet its deadline of ending combat operations in Iraq at the end of this month.” However, as you’d imagine that’s not the whole story, a few paragraphs later we are told: “US forces in Iraq are scheduled to be cut to just 50,000.” So actually what the writer is trying to tell us, in a roundabout way, is that troop numbers are to be reduced from “a peak of more than 140,000” to about a third that number.

That’s not really the whole story either though, the peak in troop numbers over the last few years was more like 170,000, but that’s back in October 2007. Troops numbers prior to this news were neither 140,000 nor 170,000, they were more like 98,000. So the troop numbers are only planned to be halved.

But again, that’s not even half the story. Actually, its almost exactly half the story.

As of May 2010 there were approximately 250,000 contractors (or mercenaries to you and me) working in Afghanistan, Iraq and the U.S. Central Command, with almost 100,000 of them active in Iraq (and at least 11,000 of these armed). Which is exactly the same as the number of US troops deployed there.

So, in total the US has approximately 200,000 military or contracted military personnel in Iraq at present. With Obama’s ‘withdrawal’ the US has reduced numbers by about one quarter. Which hardly warrants a headline like “US combat troops to leave Iraq by end of month”.

This headline is essentially justified by Obama’s rhetorical trick of calling this particular quarter of the US occupying force “combat troops” and the work they were undertaking the “combat mission”.

In reality though, where rhetorical gadgets like the one above are dismissed, the US is not withdrawing from Iraq, it is simply switching from what is referred to as a “military” force to a “security” force. According to Jeremy Scahill, writing in The Nation, “The [US] State Department is asking Congress to approve funds to more than double the number of private security contractors in Iraq,” apparently submitting a request to the Wartime Contracting Commission for up to 7,000 further hired guns. Which may just signal another rebranding, from the Department of War, to the Department of Defense, to the Department of Security.

[Update: A response to this post from the writer of the second report can be found here]

US war on Afghanistan – “A more realistic perspective”

An Editorial in today’s Irish Times brings readers bang up-to-date on the US war on Afghanistan.

We are told “NATO…are quietly scaling down their commitment to it ahead of withdrawing troops,” while the US and UK are still willing to give military means one last chance before the inevitable “political negotiation with the Taliban.” As the costs continue to rise, their critics are not so confident, saying “it is time to scale down ambitions there and to reduce and redirect the military effort.”

Afghans are in agreement, they “do not want Nato there and support efforts to reach a political deal with the Taliban, based on the assumption that it is not a unified resistance run by al-Qaeda, but a coalition of regional and local opponents who could be attracted to an alternative path.”

An ‘assumption’ supported by at least onewestern official” in Afghanistan, who said in 2006:

“The name “Taliban” may be misleading, he explained – as certainly is the assumption that its insurgency is a simple black and white struggle of foreigners versus fundamentalists. “This is about narcotics, corruption, tribal tensions, warlordism, illegal armed groups, Arabs, Iranians, Chechens – and all of these factors are interrelated. You never know who you are dealing with. You probably have some guys working for good and bad at the same time.” [July 4, 2006]

The US legacy to Afghanistan is summarised as follows: “rampant insecurity, endemic corruption, widespread poverty and weak government.” Along with the possibility of “a new civil war” potentially resulting in “an effective partition between the north and south of the country, which could make parts of it even more of a haven for international terrorism.”

This analysis is interesting in several respects, the most obvious of which being that the story is told entirely from the perspective of those in Washington and London. According to the Times there are only two sides to the war: the proponents in the White House and Downing Street and the critics in the White House and Downing Street.

Long gone are the days when anti-war activists (the vast majority of the world, including Afghans) had a say in the matter, even if the reasons for their objections became entirely bastardized when squeezed through the journalistic editing process practiced at the Times: “They were never going to be convinced it could work, or convince a country that believes it has a right to strike back.” [October 10, 2001]
Another useful omission is the purpose of the whole bloody venture. The purpose of the war, which has gone through countless improbable iterations, now seems to be the idea of a courageous defeat, following Obama’s unfulfilled lofty ambitions of “reveres[ing] the recent impression of slow defeat or stalemate.” But lest we forget the original motive, finding and killing Osama bin Laden:

“The United States-led military riposte so intensively under preparation since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11th is now under way. A formidable force has been assembled to attack bases in Afghanistan used by the al-Qaeda organisation and its leader, Osama bin Laden, and the political and military infrastructure supporting them.” [October
08, 2001
]

“Nearly three weeks on from the beginning of the US-led military campaign against Afghanistan it is clear that its objectives are increasingly difficult to attain. There is little sign that the Taliban regime is close to collapse. It is proving difficult indeed to assemble an Afghan coalition that might replace it. The search for Osama bin Laden and his al-Queda organisation, blamed by the United States for the atrocities in New York and Washington on September 11th, has so far proved fruitless.” [October 26, 2001]

“It should be remembered that even if a major transition is successfully engineered in Afghanistan as a result of these events the objective of bringing the perpetrators of the attacks on New York and Washington to justice remain to be achieved. The chief suspects, Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organisation, are still at large.” [November
14, 2001
]

The “military victory” of this “this short war” “demonstrates the awesome effectiveness of modern US air power accurately deployed.” “It will allow the US-led campaign in pursuit of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organisation to go ahead unhindered and maybe successfully.” [December 7, 2001]

“The 18,000 US troops still deployed have failed to find Osama bin Laden despite inflicting huge casualties on his supporters.” [November 21, 2006]

No Weapons of Mass Destruction and no dead bogeyman. That’s 0 for 2 for the US military, unless that is, they had an ulterior motive?

[Image via Wikicommons “Pullout of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. 1988. Photo by Mikhail Evstafiev.”]