Meejit 30/11/06

Guerrillas in the mist

So, the Irish Mail on Sunday reckons that non-violent actions that have allegedly been proposed in support of the Shell to Sea campaign amount to “guerrilla” tactics? This column noted a couple of weeks back how averse the media are to using the term “civil disobedience” to describe the Mayo campaign, so it was predictable that such creative terminology would emerge.

This would be a sick joke even if Ireland weren't involved in shipping Americans to Iraq to kill and die in what is, among other things, an actual guerrilla war. But with the carnage in Iraq staring us in the face and the Irish authorities complicit in it, the irony turns too black to be enjoyed.

I recently attended a conference in UCD's Clinton Institute where international scholars were discussing Iraq and the United States. The genuine and humbling depth of their expertise was only surpassed by the depth of their pessimism about the future of both countries. However, when trying to size up the situation today, all their analytical rigour and historical knowledge often ran up against limits imposed by western journalism, and what it is failing to tell us about events in Iraq.

An air of expertise

Thus, for example, it was broadly assumed that the vast bulk of the killing in Iraq is being done by Iraqis. I didn't hear all of the conference but during the parts I attended no one discussed the continuing US air war with the partial exception of the excellent Lara Marlowe (of the Irish Times), who observed that even a full US troop withdrawal from Iraq would probably be followed by aerial bombardment of the remnants of that country. (She said Israel might join in that activity.)

An excellent article by Tom Engelhardt on the website of a US journal, The Nation, documents some of the reality of the heavy aerial bombardment that is already taking place, and the news media's stunning ignorance of it. Engelhardt had to look no further than the US air force's website to find strike missions running at more than 30 per day in mid-November, earning, at the very most, single-paragraph mentions in war-news round-ups. Many of the missions were in and around Iraqi cities. (The air force, staggeringly, still refers to its targets down there as “anti-Iraqi forces”, a phrase as amenable to psychoanalysis as that other US favourite, “foreign fighters”.)

A winning mentality

In this context, perhaps George Bush's comment last month that “we're winning” shouldn't be read (simply) as the ravings of an idiot. If the ambition is the systematic destruction of a country and its people – a task now indeed being taken up with gusto, in fact if not in intent, by Iraqis – then victory is indeed in sight. (Enriching kleptocratic pals has gone extremely well for Bush too.) It's only against the PR targets of “stability”, “democracy”, “freedom”, etc that the media are measuring Bush's failure.

As I've noted here previously, the best measure among many of America's bloody demolition job is in the Lancet-published study on Iraqi mortality – which includes deaths resulting from war-induced poverty, lack of food, healthcare, infrastructure, etc. The researchers' best estimate, an extraordinary 650,000 dead human beings as of a couple of months ago – including 75,000 killed directly by air strikes –  seems to be regarded with some embarrassment, even by journalists and others who are critical of the war. At the conference, Marlowe, for example, preceded it with the phrase “as many as”, indicating that it is at the top end of the possible range.

Would that this were the case. In fact, the top end of the Lancet study's likely range is nearly one million dead. This range may or may not be accurate; we may never know, and methodologically it's the best we've got. It's legitimate to doubt it, but we should at least report it accurately.