The Air War in Iraq

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Seymour Hersh predicted it a few months ago, but today Knight Ridder is reporting that the air war in Iraq, which has involved hundreds of strikes over the past few years on a variety of targets, could “intensify” in the coming months as U.S. troops draw down. Today in Mother Jones, Michael Schwarz argues that “The new American strategy, billed as a way to de-escalate the war, is a formula for the slaughter of Iraqi civilians.” His argument’s well worth reading.

And anyway, even if Schwarz’ estimates—he says up to 20,000 civilians could, in theory, be killed as “precision bombs” continue striking suspected insurgent “safe houses”—are too pessimistic, there are still very obvious problems here.

Even a “precision bomb” that doesn’t kill any civilians can still level or damage, say, the house of the Sunni family next door, or else cut off their already-sporadic electricity and water, or disrupt their life in other very serious ways, and Sunnis that saw the insurgents next door as a dangerous but acceptable annoyance will naturally be extremely pissed off at the United States and the newly elected Iraqi government. Especially since the Bush administration has decided to cut off any further funds for reconstruction to the country it smashed to bits. One could argue that an air campaign is “necessary” in the long-run to defeat the insurgents in Iraq and make the country free and democratic, but in the short run, try telling that to the family whose house was just demolished. And not surprisingly, Knight Ridder quotes a number of military and intelligence analysts who don’t think an air war is a good way to wage counterinsurgency anyway.

In related news, meanwhile, one of the leading Shiite clerics, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, announced today that he wasn’t interested in making concessions on the constitution to the Sunnis, as had been vaguely promised before the election. Maybe he’ll change his tune in a day or two, but that pretty much puts a knife in any hope at reconciliation in Iraq. Roughly, it looks like the Shiites in power are ready for a gunfight, and are happy to use American airpower to do the fighting for them. A casual observer might suggest that this isn’t really a good way for the new government to build legitimacy, or end the war anytime soon, but that’s where all signs are pointing.

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