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February 10, 2008

“We’re Killing a Lot of People”

Posted in: Iraq

7f03c51c-50cb-43bf-ba6f-1a6128edb2b9.jpgWhile we were caught up in the political news, two separate news reports in the international press recounted the killings of Iraqi civilians by US forces in the past week.

The first told of the continued death toll from the expanded air strikes in residential areas:

The US military has admitted accidentally killing nine Iraqi civilians, including a child, during raids south of Baghdad. In a statement, it said the civilian deaths occurred on Saturday near the town of Iskandariya, 50km (30 miles) from the Iraqi capital.

It added that three more civilians, two of them children, were wounded "as coalition forces pursued al-Qaeda".

Witnesses say 20 people were killed in an US air strike in the area. They said the dead included 17 members of the same family.

In a statement, the US military said: "Shortly after the incident, coalition forces leaders met with a sheikh representing the citizens of the local area. The incident is under investigation. We offer our condolences to the families of those who were killed in this incident, and we mourn the loss of innocent civilian life."

The following day, another report:

An Iraqi couple and their son, 19, have been killed when US soldiers stormed a tiny one-room house north of Baghdad. The US military says its troops killed the two men in self-defence after gunfire came from the house, but local people say the victims were unarmed. At least one of the couple’s daughters was also wounded in the raid, in the village of al-Dawr, near Tikrit.

A cousin of the those killed in al-Dawr (about 175km or 110 miles north of Baghdad) said he watched the killings from his house across the street. Karim Hamad told Associated Press news agency that at about 2300 local time on Monday night US soldiers opened the door to the house and immediately opened fire, killing or injuring its unarmed occupants.

He identified the dead as Ali Hamad Shihab, 55, and his wife Naima Sulaiman, 40, and their son Diya, who was a member of a US-backed anti-al-Qaeda militia. He said the two wounded daughters were transported to hospitals and one of them had died.

AP says an Iraqi police officer speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed Mr Hamad’s account.

These reports – which include rare admissions by US forces of the killing of civilians – were ignored by the US press which instead continues to parrot the Petraeus propaganda that new insurgency measures are the key to sucess – or as David Ignatius celebrated today in his column "Learning to fight the war in Iraq, finally:"

The debate over troop numbers may be missing the point. What’s making the real difference isn’t how many Americans are on the ground, but how they are being used. That’s true at both ends of the spectrum — hard power and soft. And, as commanders learn to use these tools of counterinsurgency effectively, they may also be able to operate with fewer people and a lighter footprint.

Let’s start with the Special Forces: U.S. commanders say they are having increasing success targeting al-Qaeda operatives and sectarian militias in Iraq. "We’re killing a lot of people," is how one top officer bluntly puts it. Senior commanders describe an enemy that is on the run and can’t plan operations easily. But the recent suicide bombings in Baghdad were a reminder that this is still a very potent enemy, even when hobbled.

(snip)

As America looks to 2009 and beyond, it should consider that Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t all-or-nothing propositions. The U.S. is developing unconventional tools for unconventional wars. With this mix of hard and soft power, perhaps there is a way to stabilize these broken societies without the high human and economic cost — and political backlash — of a long-term U.S. military occupation.

Perhaps Mr. Ignatius would like to explain that last tally of the costs to the family of Ali Hamad Shihab?

Update: Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily have a devastating report, More Bombing Creates New Enemies about the air strikes south of Baghdad which confirms our earlier discussions here, here and here.

photo: U.S. Air Force photo of a "weapons load crew" from the Feb. 8 airpower summary.


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