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Iraq Air War: Where's the Coverage?

Don't expect to find it in the US media.

| Wed Jan. 11, 2006 3:00 AM EST

One of the true scandals of media coverage of the war in Iraq has been the simple fact that you -- relatively small numbers of you anyway -- had to visit Tomdispatch.com, or Juan Cole's invaluable Informed Comment blog, or Antiwar.com, or other Internet sites to find out anything about the fierce (if limited) ongoing air war in that country. The American media's record on coverage of the air campaign against the Iraqi insurgency since Baghdad was taken in early April 2003 has been dismal in the extreme. Our military has regularly loosed its planes in "targeted" attacks on guerrillas in Iraq's heavily populated urban areas (where much of the fighting has taken place), sometimes, as in largely Shiite Najaf and largely Sunni Falluja in 2004, destroying whole sections of major cities, in part from the air. Despite this, American reporters in Iraq have essentially refused to look up, or even to acknowledge the planes, predator drones, and low-flying helicopters passing daily overhead.

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In these years, only one journalist, Bradley Graham of the Washington Post, seems to have visited an American air base in Iraq and written a piece about it -- an anodyne piece from an otherwise good reporter. As far as I can tell, no American reporters have been assigned to, or written about, the part of the American air campaign that has been mounted from outside Iraq -- from air bases in places like the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, or from aircraft carriers; and hardly more has been written from the United States where our fleet of unmanned but deadly Predator drones are (remotely) controlled. Because the military has continued to release limited amounts of information on its air campaign, the odd line or even paragraph (clearly taken from military press releases or news conferences) about bombing or missile runs on Iraq's urban areas made it into boilerplate wire-service news stories; otherwise the air campaign has simply been missing in action.

There was no excuse for this. To take just this site: If, in August 2004, you had read What Do We Call the Enemy?, you would have known that the air war, to my mind, was already the number-one missing story in Iraq coverage (followed closely, as is still true, by the issue of administration plans for maintaining permanent bases in Iraq). As I wrote then, "Air power has been at the heart of the American-style of war since World War II." For war reporters with even the slightest historical memory, that alone should have made it an obvious topic of interest. Several months later, in December 2004, I devoted a dispatch to the subject, Icarus (Armed with Vipers) Over Iraq, writing:

"The complete absence of coverage [of the American air campaign]? is a little harder to explain. Along with the vast permanent military base facilities the U.S. has been building in Iraq to the tune of billions of dollars? the loosing of air power on Iraq's cities is the great missing story of the postwar war. Is there no reporter out there willing to cover it? Is the repeated bombing, strafing, and missiling of heavily populated civilian urban centers and the partial or total destruction of cities such a humdrum event, after the last century of destruction and threatened destruction, that no one thinks it worth the bother to attend to? Is the Bush administration really to be given another remarkable free ride?"

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