The Escalating Air War

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2005-12-29

A small news headline, "US Air Strikes Take Toll on Civilians" [Washington Post, 12/25/2005] reveals that there is an ongoing air war in Iraq, and it is largely being waged without publicity or major media reporting, except in scattered and short military announcements, and rarely taking civilian casualties into account. Air strikes by the US military in Iraq have surged this fall, jumping to nearly five times the average monthly rate earlier in the year, according to US military figures. The Post report is a major exception in news reporting about it:

"US Marine air strikes targeting insurgents sheltering in Iraqi residential neighborhoods are killing civilians as well as guerrillas...according to Iraqi townspeople and officials and the US military. Just how many civilians have been killed is strongly disputed by the Marines, and some critics say too little investigated. But townspeople, tribal leaders, medical workers and witnesses at the sites of clashes, at hospitals and graveyards indicated that scores of noncombatants were killed last month in fighting, including air strikes, in the opening stages of a 17-day US-Iraqi offensive in Anbar province...Medical workers had recorded 97 civilians killed. At least 38 insurgents were also killed in the offensive's early days."

Though it receives little coverage in the US media, the Air Force, Marines, and Navy have flown thousands of missions in support of ground offensives in Iraq. Independent Canadian journalist Dahr Jamail in a published article in mid-December quoted figures provided by Central Command Air Force's public affairs office showing that the number of air missions including air support grew from 1,111 -- in September 2005 alone -- to 1,492 in November. News reports focus on mainly ground action, but the whole panoply of US and Coalition aircraft carry out attacks daily, including front line Air Force and Navy fighters, as well as Marine attack planes and unmanned Predator aircraft armed with Hellfire missiles.

The Air Force claims that 70 percent of all munitions they use are "precision-guided" and that "every possible precaution is taken to protect innocent Iraqi civilians, facilities and infrastructure." This benign pronouncement by the people-friendly Pentagon fails to describe a distinction between how much protection precision-guided bombs provide and the actual devastation on the ground they cause.

Bombs used range in explosive power from 250 to 2000 pounds; they were used extensively during the massive operation recently in Fallujah, and now in towns and cities in western Anbar province and the Euphrates river valley. Also used in Fallujah was the 500 pound fire bomb (equivalent of Napalm), also the infamous White Phosphorus (recently disclosed on Italian television and subsequently admitted to by the US.)

As reported by Dahr Jamail, the 2000 pound variety has the capacity to blast a crater in a concrete street 70 feet in diameter and 30 feet deep, has a blast radius of 110 feet within which a human being will die, while fragmentation from the bomb casing can achieve velocities up to 9000 feet a second and reach areas over 3000 feet away from the detonation site.

Since the bombing runs are regularly conducted in densely-inhabited areas of cities and towns where much of the resistance is located, it is obvious that scores of people within the range of detonation will be killed or severely injured. Thus the cynical public relations caveat of "precision-guided" is empty of meaning with respect to civilian casualties.

Soon it will be three years since the start of the American-led invasion of Iraq. The estimates of Iraqi civilians killed range from 30,000 to 118,000; the numbers of injured in hospital wards and neighborhoods are two to three times those numbers.

The recent talk in Washington is about withdrawing some troops from Iraq, and because there is very little reporting about the air war, the public is led to assume that a reduction of American troop levels will mean a drop in the carnage carried out by the US.

But in the in-depth report by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker he states: "A key element of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the president's public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by [increased] American air power." One is left to wonder how much more devastation can be sustained by the Iraqi people more than that already caused by the current levels of American air power dropped specifically on densely populated urban areas of that country?

And, as Hersh states, "As yet, neither Congress nor the public has engaged in a significant discussion or debate about the air war." And one reason for that (among others) is that the major US news media are not widely reporting on the extent of the urban bombardment, nor the resulting slaughter and horrendous consequences for the people who suffer under it.