Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Neverending War

Recently, but only in bits and pieces, military officials in Washington have acknowledged that after the U.S. and Britain withdraw the bulk of their ground troops, the American air component will be kept in the region to support the American-trained Iraqi ground forces who will be taking over the ground war. While the Pentagon doesn't say anything about increasing air power in Iraq, other military sources—speaking anonymously because the information is classified—confirm that the plans call for the air war to be beefed up and kept that way for years to come. These sources also point to Iran and its nuclear ambitions as a reason for keeping air power at a high-alert level in the region.

Since air strikes cause a significant percentage of civilian casualties, the air war's continuance ensures that the U.S. will wear a bull's-eye on its back indefinitely in the Middle East. It also means that the American press will have to push harder to provide more detailed and regular coverage of the air war.

Some reporters have already made the air war a separate, high-priority subject. The Washington Post's Ellen Knickmeyer, in a lengthy article this past December 24, described the air-strike toll on civilians during Operation Steel Curtain in far western Iraq. In the town of Husaybah alone, one week into the operation, a doctor, Zahid Mohammed Rawi, said medical workers had recorded 97 civilians killed. Rawi said "at least 38 insurgents" were also killed. "I dare any organization, committee, or the American Army to deny these numbers," Rawi told Knickmeyer. Her story pointed out that the military and Iraqi civilian casualty reports "often diverge sharply." She also clearly explained that the insurgents, in this mostly urban war, forcibly embed themselves amid civilian families—both as a shield and to make sure that the Americans will be unable to avoid killing civilians.

What we need is more reporting like hers, from the field and from Washington.
Sydney Schanberg, who has been one of my favorite reporters since his work in Viet Nam, is one of the most connected people in DC and NY, and his sourcing is impeccable. And obviously, as he covered (and uncovered) much of the Viet Nam war, his experience as a war reporter has been highlighted in this series of articles he's done, critiquing media coverage of Iraq.

Along with Seymour Hersh, he is the last of the giants in a field that has seen giantude diminished to easily-squashable-bugness.

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