"Marne Avalanche", involving about 8,000 troops, started today, according to the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, which says the operation is intended to stem the flow of weapons and fighters into Baghdad from the south.
The operation takes its name from the French scene of two bloody World War I battles, both famous Allied victories. More than half a million men died in 1914 in the First Battle of the Marne, as the British and French stemmed a German invasion, transforming a war that appeared lost into a deadlock. Four years later, in the Second Battle of the Marne, Allied forces stopped another German advance and then executed a counter-attack which shifted the momentum of the war. As Wikipedia says, this "disastrous German defeat" was "the first step in a series of Allied victories that ended the war".
The Pentagon spin-meisters who name operations clearly know their military history; they also know they need a transformation. Unfortunately for them, it is not possible to replicate the historical impact of a given battle merely by naming an operation in its memory.
Aside from the wistfully intended symbolism, this operation -- this Marne Avalanche -- has nothing in common with either of its namesake battles. In those cases, "coalition forces" (British and French in 1914; British, French and American in 1918) stopped an invading (German) army in a "coalition" country (France).
Both Battles of the Marne did produce vast arrays of graves, however. Maybe that's what the Pentagon spin-meisters were thinking.
As the Washington Post reports, Marne Avalanche started in the dark -- and with a bang!
In pre-dawn raids, helicopter-borne troops swept into an area the U.S. military said was an al Qaeda safe haven around the Euphrates river valley, 35 km (22 miles) south of Baghdad.Sounds like a bit of a revenge mission to me. But ...
The terrain, criss-crossed with an extensive canal system, has been the location of fierce fighting between U.S. forces and militants in the past and at least one air strike was called in during the early hours of the operation, a spokeswoman said.
"They captured a militant cell leader and seven of his lieutenants, as well as a mobile IED (improvised explosive device) factory," said Major Alayne Conway.Well, if that's true, and that's a BIG IF, more power to 'em! It would be virtually the first time they'd told the truth in more than four years.
But it is very hard to take them seriously anymore -- ever. After year upon year of one lie after another, one "mistake" after another, a thinking observer has to start wondering: Do they even know where the "al-Q'aeda terrorists" are? And why is every Iraqi -- insurgent, civilian, whatever -- "al-Q'aeda" all of a sudden?
Because if all the Iraqis are al-Q'aeda, then they're everywhere, right?
They are, aren't they? And that means we can kill 'em all!
Marne Avalanche's companion operation, Arrowhead Ripper, has been doing an excellent job, as Dahr Jamail has reported, of raining death and devastation on places where al-Q'aeda used to be:
"The U.S. military bombed houses that were completely uninhabited," Kadhim Rajab, a 39-year-old city official told IPS. "Al-Qaeda had left the city before the operation even began because they knew what was coming even before we did."Very strange, isn't it? A war against elusive terrorists in which the good-guys don't have to face any resistance?
But residents did speak of an al-Qaeda presence earlier. "U.S. troops bombed a number of houses that were actually used by al-Qaeda," Ibrahim Hameed, a 43-year-old secondary school teacher told IPS. "But there was no resistance at all, we heard no shooting."
Ismail Aboud, a 51-year-old physician, said the U.S. military had deliberately avoided armed clashes with militants. "It seems that the forces allowed the terrorists to leave the battlefield in order to avoid direct military clashes," he said.
Abu Mohammed, a 54-year-old grocer, said U.S. troops were now moving unarmed in the streets. "The troops appear absolutely sure that there is no resistance to face."
Those who are left to face the American occupiers have plenty to worry about:
Others spoke to IPS of the damaging effects of the U.S. military cordon around the city that was denying basic needs like medical care, food, water and security.Once again, the al-Q'aeda terrorists get away, and the civilians who remain see their city demolished and their economy reduced to a standstill. Three hundred thousand people, and they're having to bring in food and fuel on bicycles!!
An expatriate programme manager for an international organisation, who did not wish to be named, told IPS that "the military operations are still continuing and the roads are still closed. One of my sources said that on Friday in Qatoon quarter a house was bombed and an entire family was killed. Only a baby survived."
The manager told IPS that tens of thousands have fled the Qatoon area. "Because of the closure (of roads and parts of the city) in Baquba the price of food has increased dramatically," she said. "Earlier 50 kg of flour cost 11 dollars. Now it is 40 dollars."
Only bicycles and animal-drawn carts are being allowed to bring basic supplies such as vegetables and fuel into the city, she said.
But that's nothing.
There's a political schizophrenia at work here; everything is happening as slowly as possible given the urgency of the situation:
Time is pressing. Many Americans want their soldiers to come home soon and senior members of Bush's own Republican party have broken ranks to call for a change in course on the war.What sort of a crystal ball does Rick Lynch have? How does he know how long it will take to "deny the enemy his sanctuaries"? How does he know -- or rather, what makes him think -- that such a thing can be done at all?
But Bush says he will not alter course before a September review from General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, his top two officers in Iraq.
U.S. commanders says Iraqi security forces are a long way from being able to keep the peace without U.S. help and a senior officer told the New York Times that success would not be in sight before spring next year.
"It is going to take us through the summer and fall to deny the enemy his sanctuaries ... and then it is going to take us through the first of the year and into the spring" to secure these gains, it quoted Major General Rick Lynch as saying.
And what are we really trying to secure? Well, the roads, for one thing. American convoys like to move fast!
Sgt. Kelly Dougherty, 29, from Cañon City, Colorado, was based at the Talil Air Base in Nasiriya with the Colorado National Guard's 220th Military Police Company for a year beginning in February 2003. She recounted one incident she investigated in January 2004 on a six-lane highway south of Nasiriya that resembled numerous incidents described by other veterans.The avalanche never stops, and you're a part of that avalanche, so you never stop either. Because you're on a mission, and your mission has nothing to do with protecting that little boy and his donkeys. In fact, your mission would be a lot easier if we could get rid of all the little boys, and all the donkeys.
"It's like very barren desert, so most of the people that live there, they're nomadic or they live in just little villages and have, like, camels and goats and stuff," she recalled. "There was then a little boy -- I would say he was about 10 because we didn't see the accident; we responded to it with the investigative team -- a little Iraqi boy and he was crossing the highway with his, with three donkeys. A military convoy, transportation convoy driving north, hit him and the donkeys and killed all of them. When we got there, there were the dead donkeys and there was a little boy on the side of the road.
"We saw him there and, you know, we were upset because the convoy didn't even stop," she said. "They really, judging by the skid marks, they hardly even slowed down. But, I mean, that's basically -- basically, your order is that you never stop."
Because, realistically, is this little boy gonna grow up wanting to protect the pipeline, or is he gonna grow up wanting to destroy it?
In truth, it all depends on how much fear he feels as he grows up. And we are always learning more and more about how to use fear as a weapon:
No words can describe the real terror of what's happening and being committed against the population in Baghdad and other cities: the poor people with no money to leave the country, the disabled old men and women, the wives and children of tens of thousands of detainees who can't leave when their dad is getting tortured in the Democratic Prisons, senior years students who have been caught in a situation that forces them to take their finals to finish their degrees, parents of missing young men who got out and never came back, waiting patiently for someone to knock the door and say, "I am back." There are thousands and thousands of sad stories that need to be told but nobody is there to listen.The answers to these questions are easy to find but very difficult to express.
I called my cousin in the al-Adhamiya neighborhood of Baghdad to check if they are still alive. She is in her sixties and her husband is about seventy. She burst into tears, begging me to pray to God to take their lives away soon so they don't have to go through all this agony. She told me that, with no electricity, it is impossible to go to sleep when it is 40 degrees Celsius unless they get really tired after midnight. Her husband leaves the doors open because they are afraid that the American and Iraqi troops will bomb the doors if they don't respond from first door knock during searching raids. Leaving the doors open is another terror story after the attack of the troops' vicious dogs on a ten-month old baby, tearing him apart and eating him in the same neighborhood just a few days ago. The troops let the dogs attack civilians. The dogs bite them and terrify the kids with their angry red eyes in the middle of the night. So, as you can see my dear Gerri, we don't have only one Abu Ghraib with torturing dogs, we have thousands of Abu Ghraibs all over Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.
I was speechless. I couldn't say anything to comfort her. I felt ashamed to be alive and well. I thought I should be with them, supporting them, and give them some strength even if it costs me my life. I begged her to leave Baghdad. She told me that she can't because of her pregnant daughter and her grandkids. They are all with them in the house without their dad. I am hearing the same story and worse every single day. We keep asking ourselves what did we do to the Americans to deserve all this cruelness, killing, and brutishness? How can the troops do this to poor, hopeless civilians? And why?
What did we do to the Americans to deserve all this?
Nothing. Nothing at all. Nobody could possibly deserve all this.
How can the troops do this to poor, hopeless civilians?
That's what they're trained to do. They all get paid for it. And some of them "really enjoy it". The poorer and more hopeless the victims, the easier it is for them, and the more fun they have. If you were well-funded, well-armed, well-organized -- like they are -- they would enjoy it a lot less.
It's a long, sad, story; but the basic idea is this:
You were unfortunate enough to be born into a country with vast oil wealth and no way to protect it. And the people who want that oil don't care about you, or your donkeys, or your ten-year-old boys, or your little babies.
They are masters of deception, patient schemers with long-term ambitions and the means to achieve them.
They have lied and cheated and stolen their way to the most powerful office in the most powerful country in the world.
They now control the most fearsome killing machine ever assembled.
Or at least they think they control it. A good case can be made for the notion that it controls them.
But at the moment it doesn't matter, because the machine is very difficult if not impossible to stop, and the only people who could possibly stop it are more interested in letting it run.
And the machine drinks oil.