Saturday, November 15, 2008

Airstrike Redux: When Will We Ever Learn?

Following one of my most recent posts ("Pass The Cheese: Iraqi Soldier Kills Two American Soldiers") there was a discussion at Winter Patriot dot com which reminded me of a few things. And rather than tell you about them, I've decided to show them to you.

This is a piece from October of 2007, which I called "When Will We Ever Learn? Airstrike Kills Civilians In Iraq, Pentagon Denies Everything". It is reposted here, in full, with no apologies for the graphic content.


The Americans brought more democracy to the Middle East on Sunday.

An American raiding party went on a hunting expedition in a dangerous area of Baghdad and ran into "unexpected resistance."

So they called for some air support before they turned tail and fled. They never did find the guy they were looking for, but they ran into some more "unexpected resistance" on the way out.

And when it was all over they had killed 18 civilians and injured another 50 (more or less, depending on your sources).

So they announced the deaths of 49 "terrorists" (or "militants") (or "criminals") -- and not a single American or Iraqi civilian casualty.

But you'd never guess all of this -- you'd never guess any of this -- if you only read the headlines. In almost every case the military got the headline they wanted.

Here's the story, piece by piece, assembled from the fragments that lurk behind those headlines, with emphasis added:

The Attack

Backed by air power, U.S. forces targeting militants believed to be responsible for the kidnapping of two coalition soldiers raided the main Shiite district in Baghdad on Sunday. ... Iraqi police and hospital officials said helicopters and jet fighters bombed buildings during the 5 a.m. raid in the sprawling district ... Several houses and stores were damaged.
Sattar Raheem and Aseel Kami for Reuters:
Clouds of black smoke rose from Sadr City, a sprawling slum of some 2 million people in northern Baghdad, as sirens wailed, heavy gunfire echoed and U.S. attack helicopters circled above.
Christian Berthelsen in the Austin-American Statesman
U.S. forces engaged in an hours-long gunbattle with militants during an early morning raid in the Shiite Muslim district of Sadr City on Sunday, killing as many as 49 people in what would be one of the highest tolls for a single operation since President Bush declared an end to active combat in 2003.
The U.S. military said troops staged early morning operations in Sadr City, a stronghold of the Mahdi Army militia that is loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr....

The military statement said only that the raids were targeting "criminals believed to be responsible for the kidnapping of coalition soldiers in November 2006 and May 2007."

It did not provide more details but said there was not evidence of civilian casualties.
the military said ... the clashes ... erupted when troops were attacked by gunfire and rocket propelled grenades.... The US military said troops were drawn into fighting after they launched a raid to seize their high-value target in Sadr City...
During the house to house searches in the area on Sunday, the troops encountered attacks from militiamen armed with machine guns and rocket propelled grenades from nearby structures, according to the statement.

The US troops fired back and called in aerial support, killing 39 militants, it said.
"Responding in self-defence, coalition forces engaged, killing an estimated 33 criminals," the statement said, adding that air support was then called in and killed another six. Ten more were killed as US forces withdrew, it said.
Christian Science Monitor
Mr. Abdel-Karim, a resident of Sadr City, said he saw 10 US Stryker combat vehicles arrive in his neighborhood at about 10:30 p.m. local time Saturday. He said they were quickly attacked by militiamen in the area prompting a fierce fight that lasted nearly 10 hours.

Several loud explosions could be heard across the capital at about 6:30 a.m.

He said several homes, neighborhood power generators, and at least 25 cars were badly damaged in the fighting.
Bill Van Auken for WSWS
An Iraqi police source ... was quoted by the Al Jazeera news agency as saying that the raid was launched, apparently in retaliation, after a US vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb.

The accounts that have emerged thus far suggest that the attempts by US troops to move into the neighborhood in the pre-dawn hours provoked unanticipated resistance, including small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. The ground forces responded by calling in air strikes...
While leaving the targeted area, the troops clashed again with another group of militants after they were attacked by a roadside bomb followed with gunfire, killing 10 more other militants, it added.

No Civilian Casualties?

The US military said that its troops have killed up to 49 "criminals" in a raid on Baghdad's eastern neighborhood of Sadr City early on Sunday.

"Collation [sic] forces estimate that 49 criminals were killed in three separate engagements during this operation," the US military said in a statement.
Sattar Raheem and Aseel Kami for Reuters:
The U.S. military said it had no confirmation of any civilian casualties.
Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times:
The military said it did not believe there were any civilian deaths as a result of the fighting.
US military spokesman Major Winfield Danielson told AFP there were no civilian casualties and no reports of American losses. ...

"I can say that we don't have any evidence of any civilians killed or wounded. Coalition forces only engage hostile threats and make every effort to protect innocent civilians," said Danielson.
"I don't yet have details on the number of terrorists killed, but I can say that we don't have any evidence of any civilians killed or wounded," spokesman Lt. Justin Cole said in an e-mail. "Coalition forces only engage hostile threats and make every effort to protect innocent civilians."

He said aircraft were used but was not more specific.

Yes, Civilian Casualties!

Christian Science Monitor
in what has become a classic pattern of events in the aftermath of similar operations in Sadr City, both witnesses and officials from Mr. Sadr's movement who live in the area gave a different death toll and version of events.

Salah al-Okaili, a Sadrist parliamentarian, said at least 10 people were killed and 62 wounded, most of them civilians. Another resident, Rahim Abdel-Karim, said funerals for 15 people killed in the operation were held in the area.

State-funded Al Iraqiya television gave a toll of 10 killed and 30 wounded, adding that most of those killed were civilians. It showed footage of women wailing and slapping their faces at funeral processions. The Associated Press said it had photos and video footage of dead and wounded children from the operation.
Christian Berthelsen in the Austin-American Statesman
A freelance correspondent for the Los Angeles Times said he saw the corpses of a woman and two small children.

Among the wounded were an 8-year-old and an 11-year-old boy, who were interviewed in their beds at Imam Ali hospital by the Times. Another man said his 1½-year old son was killed, as well as a neighbor's son the same age.
Steven R. Hurst of the AP via ABC News:
An uncle of 2-year-old Ali Hamid [photo] said the boy was killed and his parents seriously wounded when helicopter gunfire pierced the wall and windows of their house as they slept ...

Relatives gathered at Sadr City's Imam Ali hospital where the emergency room was overwhelmed with bloodied casualties. The dead were placed in caskets covered by Iraqi flags. ...

The U.S. military said it was not aware of any civilian casualties, and the discrepancy in the death tolls and accounts of what happened could not be reconciled.
Sattar Raheem and Aseel Kami for Reuters:
Local hospitals said they had received 12 bodies and 65 wounded, including eight women and children.

The bodies of the two slain toddlers, one in a diaper, lay on blankets in the morgue of Imam Ali hospital in Sadr City, where doctors tended to wounded men, some elderly, and boys, Reuters Television footage showed.

In a house where one of the children lived, a man pointed to bloodstained mattresses and blood-splattered pillows, choking back tears as he held up a photo of one of the dead.
Medics at four hospitals confirmed 17 dead, including a boy and a girl...

Pictures taken by an AFP photographer showed grieving relatives carrying off the bodies of dead for burial and dozens of wounded being treated by emergency hospital staff.

One resident stood crying over the coffin of a young boy, while other residents pointed to blood-stained mattresses they said were the result of an air strike from an American helicopter. ...
Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times:
Two cousins, Murtada Saiedi, 8, and Ali Saiedi, 11, were walking home at 6:15 a.m. after buying fresh samoun for their families. Samoun is a triangular bread beloved by Iraqis for breakfast.

“I was holding the samoun in my arms in a big bag,” said Ali Saiedi, adding that he was taking the bread home for his eight siblings and his parents. “Then I heard a big sound and I tried to run, I wanted to reach my home, but I couldn’t.

“And then when I woke up, I was here,” he said, as he lay in a bed at the Imam Ali Hospital with bandages on his arms from shrapnel cuts.

His cousin, Murtada Saiedi, in the next bed, would not speak. He winced as he shifted his weight in the bed and looked up silently at his father and uncle, who were leaning over the child. The doctor had just come by to say that he thought Murtada might have some internal bleeding.
Canadian Press
A local resident who goes by the name Abu Fatmah said his neighbor's 14-year-old son, Saif Alwan, was killed while sleeping on the roof.

"Saif was killed by an airstrike and what is his guilt? Is he from the Mahdi Army? He is a poor student," Abu Fatmah said.
Sattar Raheem and Aseel Kami for Reuters:
Police and witnesses said [the raid] claimed the lives of many civilians. ...

Two of the victims were toddlers, Reuters Television pictures showed.
Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times:
An official at the hospital, Abu Ibrahim, said an elderly woman whose midsection had been nearly severed by shrapnel died Sunday evening, bringing the total dead at the hospital to 16. There were 38 wounded who were admitted to the hospital, he said. Officials at a second hospital in the neighborhood reported one dead and two wounded.
Canadian Press
Associated Press photos showed the bodies of two toddlers, one with a gouged face, swaddled in blankets on a morgue floor. Their shirts were pulled up, exposing their abdomens, and a diaper showed above the waistband of one boy's shorts. Relatives said the children were killed when helicopter gunfire hit their house as they slept.
Relatives gathered at the Imam Ali hospital as the emergency room was overwhelmed with bloodied victims and the dead were placed in caskets covered by Iraqi flags.

"The 14-year-old child of my neighbor called Saif was killed by an airstrike and what is his guilt? Is he from the Mahdi Army? He is a poor student," said a local resident who goes by the name Abu Fatmah.

He apparently was referring to 14-year-old student Saif Alwan, whose uncle said was killed while sleeping on the roof, wearing a white robe. The uncle added that Saif's mother and father were seriously wounded.

Fatmah said many of the casualties were people sleeping on the roof to seek relief from the hot weather and lack of electricity.
"We were waking in the morning and all of a sudden rockets landed in the house and the children were screaming," [Reuters] quoted a woman as saying.

An official loyal to Moqtada Sadr said the attack was "simply barbaric".

"Most of those killed and wounded were women, children and elderly men which shows the indiscriminate monstrosity of the attacks on this crowded area," Abdul-Mehdi al-Muteyri told Reuters news agency.

But the US military denied civilians had been killed.
Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times:
The episode highlights the difficulty of determining the facts after military operations, especially ones involving firefights in which much happens quickly. The military said the reason so few bodies were taken to hospitals was that the militants picked up the bodies of their own people to prevent American soldiers from gaining intelligence about them.

In cases where Iraqi casualty numbers are far higher than American numbers, the American military sometimes says the discrepancy is a result of exaggeration by Iraqis.

The Target

the military said that six suspected militants were killed during the raid that targeted a Special Groups member specializing in kidnapping operations.
Sattar Raheem and Aseel Kami for Reuters:
A U.S. military official said the target of the raid was suspected of involvement in the kidnapping of "coalition force members and other foreigners" in May this year and last November. The official did not say whether he had been captured.
Canadian Press
The raid on the dangerous Shiite slum was aimed at capturing an alleged rogue militia chief, one of thousands of fighters who have broken with Muqtada al-Sadr's mainstream Mahdi Army. The military did not say if the man was captured. He was also not named.
Sattar Raheem and Aseel Kami for Reuters:
"The operation's objective was an individual reported to be a long-time Special Groups member specializing in kidnapping operations. Intelligence indicates he ... has previously sought funding from Iran," the U.S. military said in a statement.
"The operation's objective was an individual reported to be a long-time Special Groups member specialising in kidnapping operations," a statement said...

"Intelligence indicates he is a well-known cell leader and has previously sought funding from Iran to carry out high profile kidnappings," the statement said.
Christian Berthelsen in the Austin-American Statesman
U.S. officials said the raid did not capture or kill its target ...
Danielson said the targeted individual had not been killed or captured during the clashes...

High Profile Kidnappings

Sattar Raheem and Aseel Kami for Reuters:
A U.S. army translator was kidnapped last October, and in May three U.S. soldiers and five Britons -- four security contractors and a civilian -- were abducted in two incidents.
A US military spokesman said in an earlier statement that the cell leader was believed to be behind kidnappings of coalition force soldiers, including one in May this year.

A US patrol was ambushed on May 12 in south of Baghdad. Four soldiers and an Iraqi translator were killed, and three soldiers were missing. The body of one was found later that month but the other two remain unknown.
Christian Science Monitor
The military gave no details about the kidnap victims, apart from the dates they were abducted – this May and last November.

Three US soldiers were kidnapped in an Al Qaeda stronghold south of Baghdad in May. The body of one was found later that month but the other two are classed as missing and captured. Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the abductions.

The same month, the five Britons were abducted in the Iraqi capital in an attack blamed on Mahdi Army militants.

A US Army translator of Iraqi descent was kidnapped in Baghdad on Oct. 23 last year when he went to visit relatives. His family said he was taken by the members of the Mahdi Army.

Special Groups

Sattar Raheem and Aseel Kami for Reuters:
Special Groups is U.S. military jargon for rogue Mehdi Army units they say receive funding, training and weapons from neighboring Iran.
"Special Groups" is a US term for what it says are secret Shiite cells which wage acts of "terrorism" in Iraq with the financial and military backing of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards units.
The Special Groups are Shiite militia extremists funded, trained and armed by external sources, specifically by Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force operatives, according to the US military.
Bill Van Auken for WSWS
“Special Groups” is a category invented by the US military authorities, meant to describe those in the Shia areas who are perceived as an opposing the American occupation. The Pentagon has used this jargon to portray the resistance as the work of “rogue” elements directed, trained and armed by Iran.
The US military has regularly targeted Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, which dominates in Sadr City and is accused by the Americans of widescale criminal activity and sectarian killings of Sunnis.

Sadr, whose movement is the most powerful popular force in Iraq, declared a six-month freeze on militia activities in August, including a halt to attacks on US-led troops.

But his political bloc pulled out of the Shiite alliance that leads Iraq's coalition government in September following a boycott by his six ministers in April, further upsetting Iraq's already fractured political landscape. ...

US forces have welcomed the Sadr freeze but continue to target fighters who it says have broken away from the main Mahdi Army and formed special groups allegedly aided by Iran.

Context And Reaction

Sattar Raheem and Aseel Kami for Reuters:
The Iraqi government protested against a raid by U.S. forces in Baghdad on Sunday in which the military said 49 gunmen were killed in fierce fighting, but police and witnesses said claimed the lives of many civilians. ...

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki protested about the "excessive force" against civilians in the Sadr City raid in his weekly meeting with General David Petraeus, the U.S. commander Iraq, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in an interview with CNN's Late Edition.

Iraqi officials have criticized the U.S. military in the past for operations that have resulted in the loss of civilian life, especially the use of air strikes in built-up areas.
Bill Van Auken for WSWS
The carnage in Sadr City erupted in the context of intensified US attacks throughout Iraq. Just a day earlier, US troops raided neighborhoods in the southern city of Diwaniyah, supposedly in search of leaders of the Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. US attack helicopters were called in and fired on the area, destroying at least five homes. The US military reported detaining 30 people in the raid, while again claiming that the bombardment caused no civilian casualties.

On October 11, US air strikes against a home in Samarra killed 34 people, including nine children, one of the deadliest such attacks to be acknowledged by the US military since the 2003 invasion.
Canadian Press
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said all the dead were civilians.

Al-Dabbagh said on CNN that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, had met with the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, to protest the action.
Christian Berthelsen in the Austin-American Statesman
Sunday's fighting follows incidents in recent weeks in which U.S. forces killed 15 civilians in an attack on alleged leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq, and Western private security contractors shot and killed unarmed Iraqi civilians, inflaming anti-U.S. sentiment.

In Parliament on Sunday, Iraqi officials discussed the possibility of placing restrictions on U.S. military operations in Iraq when it negotiates the terms of the U.N. resolution that authorizes the U.S. presence here. The resolution comes up for its annual reauthorization before year's end.
"What happened today in Sadr City is part of a series of conspiracies led by the US against the Sadrists. Sadrists who are always demanding the exit of the occupier," said Sadr MP Saleh al-Igaili.

"The Sadrists condemn the barbaric action and hold the Iraqi government and the occupier responsible for the attack.

"The occupier's declaration that it killed 49 criminals is a lie. The occupier's forces actually killed only 10 and wounded 62, but most of them were children and women," he said.
Canadian Press
An Iraqi military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, said the government would ask the Americans for an explanation of Sunday's raid and stressed the need to avoid civilian deaths.

The government has issued mixed reactions to the raids and airstrikes, particularly those that have targeted Sunni extremists.

U.S. troops backed by attack aircraft killed 19 suspected insurgents and 15 civilians, including nine children, in an operation Oct. 11 targeting al-Qaida in Iraq leaders northwest of Baghdad.

Al-Maliki's government said those killings were a "sorrowful matter," but emphasized that civilian deaths are unavoidable in the fight against al-Qaida in Iraq.
Christian Science Monitor
"People are very angry at the silence of the Iraqi government over these unprovoked actions by the US military," said Mr. Okaili, the Sadrist parliamentarian.

On Sunday, hundreds of local residents, wailing and chanting "There is no God but Allah," carried wooden coffins through the streets.
Bill Van Auken for WSWS
On Saturday, US troops also raided and ransacked the headquarters of the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) in Baghdad, leaving it in a shambles. The IIP, which is the largest Sunni party in Iraq, is led by Iraq’s Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi.

Al-Hashemi has provoked the ire of both Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki, and the US occupation authorities in recent weeks with his highly publicized visits to crowded detention camps, where predominantly Sunni prisoners have told him that they are innocent, have been arrested without charges and have been subjected to torture.

The United Nations humanitarian mission in Iraq recently released a report estimating that there were some 44,000 detainees in Iraqi or US custody as of last June—a total that had increased by at least 10 percent just over the previous two months as a result of increased US raids. No doubt this prison population has grown sharply since then.

The UN report cited “widespread and routine torture and ill-treatment of detainees.”

“In addition to routine beatings with hosepipes, cables and other implements,” the report states, “the methods cited included prolonged suspension from the limbs in contorted and painful positions for extended periods, sometimes resulting in dislocation of the joints, electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body; the breaking of limbs; forcing detainees to sit on sharp objects, causing serious injury and heightening the risk of infection; and severe burns to parts of the body through the application of heated implements.”
Mourners tied wooden coffins onto the tops of minivans while a plume of black smoke rose in the background.
Bill Van Auken for WSWS
Meanwhile, one of Washington’s principal Iraqi collaborators and an architect of the US-imposed regime declared in a television interview that the American intervention has brought only “chaos and instability.”

Feisal Amin Istrabadi, who resigned in August as Iraq’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, told NBC News Friday that “there is no Iraqi government,” only an “appearance of institutions.”

Istrabadi, a US-born lawyer who was a leading figure among the exile circles promoting a US invasion and later played the key role in drafting Iraq’s interim constitution, blamed the catastrophe confronting Iraq on Washington’s drive to hold early elections in which the population was pushed to support competing ethno-religious-based parties.

“What did we accomplish, exactly [with] this push towards an appearance of institutions ... merely an appearance?” he asked. “Except that an American politician can stand up and say, ‘Look what we accomplished in Iraq.’ When in fact, what we accomplished in Iraq over the last three years has been chaos and instability.”
Christian Berthelsen in the Austin-American Statesman
The White House declined to comment on the clash.

What Does It Mean?

Among other things, this event shows how much the American military respects the wishes of the Iraqi Prime Minister and his supposedly sovereign government.

It also shows that the tactic of bombing residential areas -- killing hundreds of innocent people in the hope of eliminating just one bad guy -- is American still policy, just as it was in Korea, just as it was in Vietnam, just as it has been in Somalia, and in many other places before and since.

Canadian Press
The sweeps into Sadr City have sent a strong message that U.S. forces plan no letup on suspected Shiite militia cells despite objections from the Shiite-led government of al-Maliki, who is working for closer cooperation with Shiite heavyweight Iran.
Bill Van Auken for WSWS
There is growing evidence that the use of air strikes against the Iraqi people has grown considerably since the military “surge” ordered by the Bush administration at the beginning of the year, even as it goes largely unreported by the US media.

The US Air Force posts daily accounts of its operations, listing between 50 and 70 “close-air-support missions” each day. According to a survey by the Associated Press, the number of bombs dropped by US war planes on Iraq increased fivefold during the first six months of 2007, compared to the same period a year earlier. The Air Force has for the first time this year deployed powerful B1-B bombers in Iraq, capable of carrying up to 24 tons of bombs.

This increasing use of air power inevitably entails a growing toll in terms of civilian dead and wounded, referred to by military officials a “collateral damage.” The study of excess Iraqi deaths published in the authoritative British medical journal Lancet a year ago estimated that 13 percent of all violent deaths in Iraq were caused by US air strikes. The report’s authors estimated that these strikes were responsible for fully 50 percent of the violent deaths of children under the age of 15.
The increasing use of such air power—and the indiscriminate bloodshed that it entails—is a measure of the growing crisis of the American occupation and the Pentagon’s fears about the demoralization and disintegration of US ground forces in Iraq. The deliberate aerial bombardment of crowded civilian neighborhoods—a war crime—is designed both to further terrorize the Iraqi population and cut the number of US casualties.


I mentioned headlines. Now that you know what's in the articles, look at some of these headlines:

Reuters : U.S. military says kills 49 in Baghdad raid

ABC : US: Raid of Baghdad's Sadr City Kills 49

AFP : US forces kill 49 in Baghdad Shiite stronghold

Xinhua : US troops kill up to 49 in Baghdad's Sadr City

Washington Post : US: Raid of Baghdad's Sadr City Kills 49

BBC : US raid kills Iraqi 'criminals'

Canadian Press : U.S. forces kill 49 militants in Sadr City; Iraqis report civilians killed

Christian Science Monitor : US targeted Iran-tied group in raid

AP : US: Raid of Baghdad's Sadr City Kills 49

AP : 13 Said Killed As U.S. Stages Iraq Raid

Citizen (Zambia) : 10 killed in clashes with US in Baghdad Shiite bastion

Malaysia Sun : Criminals and civilians killed in Iraq operation

Austin-American Statesman : U.S., Iraq differ on toll after Sadr City raid

New York Times : Confusion on Deaths After Fighting in Sadr City

WSWS : US raid on Baghdad’s Sadr City leaves many dead and wounded

Gulf Daily News : Toddlers killed

When Will We Ever Learn?

Thirty-five years ago an airstrike on civilians was captured in a photograph which appeared on the front pages of newspapers everywhere and became world-famous within 24 hours.

It changed the nature and the intensity of the anti-war movement overnight. And some of us thought it had changed humanity forever. What did we know?

That little girl lived. But this little boy died. And you won't see his photo on the front page of any newspaper, let alone all of them.

What's it going to take this time?


Read more about airstrikes on civilians, from Chris Floyd:
Rain of terror in the U.S. air war in Iraq

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