Craziness on Display

One of the things writing the U.S. media roundup on IraqSlogger allows me to do is get a high dudgeon up over the crap that passes for analysis on op-ed pages … or sloppy writing in the middle of reporting. (Michael Gordon of the New York Times has been raked over the coals for his indiscriminate use of “al Qaeda” to describe most Iraqis with a Kalashnikov, but thankfully that seems to have been reined in.)

Others have been less careful. On Friday, Leslie Sabbagh of the Christian Science Monitor writes that Petraeus warned of “greatly increased sectarian violence” if the U.S. pulls out too soon. It’s a fairly run-of-the mill story, with stats showing a drop in attacks against civilians and an increase against U.S. troops. Pretty much what you’d expect, but there is some sloppy language in here. Sabbagh writes of a “quick withdrawal,” but few people in Washington are talking about anything hasty. They’re talking about the start of a withdrawal sooner rather than later — one that might take six months, a year, whatever — not a pell-mell rush to the border.

Sabbagh does it again, writing, “The prospect of any hasty removal of US troops has (Petraeus) concerned.” But the general actually said, “If we pull out there will be greatly increased sectarian violence, humanitarian concerns….” Petraeus makes no mention of the speed of the pullout; he questions the wisdom of a pullout altogether. The military command and the Bush White House seem to be envisioning a long-term presence in Iraq that will last years, but reporters are thinking of a evacuation, Saigon style. Those are two very different ideas. Reporters need to let the readers know when Petraeus, Bush, et al. are trying to reframe the debate as a choice between a hasty, unplanned retreat and an indefinite presence. What’s actually being talked about is either an indefinite presence or an orderly withdrawal with proper force-protection over a period of time, but which begins sooner rather than never.

But for an egregious example of high weirdness, check out the Monitor‘s publication of an op-ed by Andrew Roberts, author of “A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900.” In this extraordinary op-ed, Roberts argues that “the English-speaking peoples” (ESPs) of the world are the ones best able to stand up to radical, totalitarian Islam because Anglophones have never been invaded or fallen under the sway of fascism or communism. “Countries in which English is the primary language are culturally, politically, and militarily different” — read, “better” — “from the rest of ‘the West,'” he writes. “They stand for modernity, religious and sexual toleration, capitalism, diversity, women’s rights, representative institutions — in a word, the future.” Yeah! Suck it, Germany, Spain and Italy! (Who have all committed troops and suffered casualties in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and elsewhere since 9/11.)

Seriously, this offensively nativist tract must come as a surprise to the those non-English-speaking peoples of the world (poor sods), but maybe they’ll be content to bask in the warm protectorate of the US-Canadian-British-ANZ imperium. There is just so much wrong with this op-ed — such as saying the invasion of South Korea by North Korea was a “surprise” attack for the world’s ESPs when it sounds like it was more a surprise to the South Koreans. And his repetition of the whole ESP phrase is grating. Finally, he just up and ignores the contributions of German soldiers in Afghanistan and the French Navy in patrolling the vital sea lanes throughout the Arabian and Indian oceans. And he trots out the old, “Al Qaeda can’t be appeased because the French would have already done so” trope. WTF? Is this a joke?

There’s much more — so much more. I’m leaving out the pablum from such luminaries as Bill Kristol — “the Bush presidency will be seen as a sucess” — and the Wall Street Journal editorial page. I mean, we all know what’s the score with those guys. But I expected a bit more from the Monitor.

Finally, my latest column for Spot-on.com is available. In it, I take up — what else? — the 1st anniversary of the Israel-Hezbollah war. (Some people call it the July War, but since half of it happened in August, I’ll stick with my appellation, thanks.)

That’s all. More to come!

Iran attack this Friday? Not Likely

There’s some buzz that the U.S. is readying an attack on Iran, possibly as soon as this Friday.
Don’t believe it. I’m due to be on board the _USS Stennis_, believed to be one of the ships taking part in this attack, next week — and it won’t even be in the Persian Gulf.
I’m not inclined to believe the US military would be taking reporters on boat rides in the Indian Ocean, for example, just a few days after the start of a new war. Maybe I’m wrong on this, but my hunch is this is one more rumor that got started by Debka and the usual suspects.

Failure to Communicate

A former translator in Iraq, Dustin Langan, wrote me today to tip me off about an interesting read in Radar, about the lack of good translators in Iraq. He was recruited by MZM Inc., one of the companies connected with the “Duke” Cunningham corruption scandal, to work in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, and he has some good points to make.

One that is personally dear to me is the treatment of the Iraqi translators. As he says:

[Iraqi translators] have been treated terribly. They’ve been killed. They have not been protected. They have not received visas or anything. They’re being killed at very high rates. The result is many people now in Iraq think if you work with the coalition you’re an idiot, because you’re working with someone who doesn’t care about you, and then you’re killed.

I’ve known a few ‘terps, as they’re called, and my friend George Packer has made this one of his major concerns. It should be one that makes every feeling American — whether you supported the war or not — ashamed at how we’re treating these people.

Anyway, it’s a good interview. Thanks for the tip, Dustin!

Operation Overblown

BAGHDAD — “Operation Swarmer” is turning out to be much less than meets the eye, or the television camera, for that matter. And that should raise concerns about relying on Iraqi intelligence.

BAGHDAD — Operation Swarmer is turning out to be much less than meets the eye, or the television camera, for that matter.

Iraqi and Coalition forces launched Operation Iraqi Freedom’s largest air assault operation in southern Salah Ad Din province March 16. Named Operation Swarmer, the joint operation’s mission was to clear a suspected insurgent operating area northeast of Samarra.

Operation Swarmer included more than 1,500 troops from the Iraqi Army’s 4th Division, the U.S. 101st Airborne Division and 101st Combat Aviation Brigade. The Soldiers isolated the objective area in a combined air and ground assault.

More than 50 Attack and assault aircraft and 200 tactical vehicles participated in the operation. Troops from the Iraqi Army’s 4th Division, the “Rakkasans” from the 187th Infantry Regiment and the “Hunters” from the 9th Cavalry Regiment assaulted multiple objectives. Forces from the Iraqi 2nd Commando Brigade then completed a ground infiltration to secure numerous structures in the area.

Initial reports indicate a number of weapons caches were captured, containing artillery shells, IED-making materials and military uniforms. Iraqi and Coalition troops also detained 41 suspected insurgents.

That sounds exciting! But according to a colleague of mine from TIME who traveled up there today on a U.S. embassy-sponsored trip, there are no insurgents, no fighting and 17 of the 41 prisoners taken have already been released after just one day. The “number of weapons caches” equals six, which isn’t unusual when you travel around Iraq. They’re literally everywhere.

(Digression: Just to clear some things up, “air assault” does not equal air strikes. There are no JDAMs being dropped, and there are no fixed-wing aircraft involved at all, except maybe for surveillance. An air assault is the 101st Airborne’s way of inserting troops into a battlespace. There is so far no evidence of bombardment of any kind. Also, it’s a telling example of how “well” things are going in Iraq that after three years, the U.S. is still leading the fight and conducting sweeps in an area that has been swept/contained/pacified/cleared five or six times since 2004. How long before the U.S. has to come back again?)

As noted, about 1,500 troops were involved, 700 American and 800 Iraqi. But get this: in the area they’re scouring there are only about 1,500 residents. According to my colleague and other reporters who were there, not a single shot has been fired.

“Operation Swarmer” is really a media show. It was designed to show off the new Iraqi Army — although there was no enemy for them to fight. Every American official I’ve heard has emphasized the role of the Iraqi forces just days before the third anniversary of the start of the war. That said, one Iraqi role the military will start highlighting in the next few days, I imagine, is that of Iraqi intelligence. It was intel from the Iraqi military intelligence and interior ministry that the U.S. says prompted this Potemkin operation. And it will be the Iraqi intel that provides the cover for American military commanders to throw up their hands and say, “well, we thought bad guys were there.”

It’s hard to blame the military, however. Stations like Fox and CNN have really taken this and ran with it, with fancy graphics and theme music, thanks to a relatively slow news day. The generals here also are under tremendous pressure to show off some functioning Iraqi troops before the third anniversary, and I won’t fault them for going into a region loaded for bear. After all, the Iraqi intelligence might have been right.

But Operation Overblown should raise serious questions about how good Iraqi intelligence is. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by earnest lieutenants that the Iraqis are valiant and necessary partners, “because they know the area, the people and the customs.” But when I spoke to grunts and NCOs, however, they usually gave me blunter — and more colorful — reasons why the Iraqi intelligence was often, shall we say, useless. Tribal rivalries and personal feuds are still a major reason why Iraqis drop a dime on their neighbors.

So I guess it’s fitting that on the eve of the third anniversary of a war launched on — oh, let’s be generous — “faulty” intelligence, a major operation is hyped and then turns out to be less than what it appeared because of … faulty intelligence.

UPDATE 2400 GMT +0300: Time.com has posted the magazine’s official version by Brian Bennett, my colleague who was on the operation today.

Airstrikes … in Baghdad

Air strikes… in Baghdad?!

BAGHDAD — So this is what all the booms were today (From a U.S. military press release):

WASHINGTON, Feb. 15, 2006 — In a joint effort, Coalition Forces conducted a precision air strike, using four U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles, against a known terrorist facility at approximately 4:30 p.m. Feb. 15 in southern Baghdad.
Terrorists were using a former Iraqi regime munitions storage bunker, located in a large, uninhabited weapons-storage complex in the Babil province, to acquire and transport bomb-making munitions to be used in attacks against the Iraqi people and Coalition Forces.
Coalition Forces participating in the mission took all available precautions to ensure no civilians were present during the strike. The aircraft conducted a clearing pass while Multi-National Division — Baghdad helicopters scanned for any civilians in the area in a deliberate effort to ensure no collateral damage.
The sorties made multiple passes to ensure the complete and methodical destruction of the bunker.

The area they’re talking about is probably al-Saha, on the other side of the neighborhood of Dora, where a major refinery is located.
I’m not sure, but I don’t recall air strikes in or near Iraq’s capital city for a long time. In fact, I can’t remember any since I got here in May 2004, although these things tend to blend together after a while. But if the war’s going so well, and the Iraqis are taking the fight to the terrorists, blah blah, why are the Americans resorting to air strikes here? That’s, like, _so_ 2003.