A number of bloggers noticed recently that the US government had altered its vocabulary: instead of referring to enemy Iraqis killed in battle as “insurgents”, or “militants”, it seems that these people are now referred to as members of Al Qaeda. And the mainstream media, being essentially parrots with journalism degrees, have made sure to incorporate this new phrasing to their reportage.
Is it possible that the US is really whomping Al Qaeda fighters in the past few weeks? Sure. But given the abrupt change, with no comment or explanation as to why Al Qaeda members are suddenly getting killed, it just seems fishy. I mean, if there was a huge upswing in the number of Al Qaeda kills, you think the Bush administration would capitalize on that fact, talk about new tactics, a new area of operations, or say who it’s proof that the “surge” is working. But they aren’t. It’s like they’re trying to act like the enemy is Al Qaeda, the enemy has always been Al Qaeda, like Orwellian history-doctoring.
It’s a decent propaganda move on the part of the government. “Even if Iraq is still a roiling pit of violence and despair, at least we’re killing off those Al Qaeda bastards every day.” That belief seems unlikely to take hold though, in my opinion. I don’t think the average American pays enough attention to the war coverage these days to notice the change in wording, simply turning off the television with a depressed sigh at the first glimpse of desert and gunfire.
And our suspicions that the new military line is deceptive has already borne fruit. The BBC notes that a US military report claiming that American forces had dispatched “17 Al Qaeda gunmen” in the village of al-Khalis was heartily disputed by the people of al-Khalis. According to the residents, the men killed were not terrorists, but “village guards”, armed to protect the village from insurgent activity. In fact, the people of al-Khalis even claim that just before they were killed by US helicopter gunships, the village guards were working with Iraqi police to investigate a suspected insurgent hideout.
Which means that the US did not kill “17 Al Qaeda gunmen”. They didn’t even kill 17 insurgents. 17 innocent people. Not so much a small victory as a small massacre.
They didn’t even just kill 17 innocent people. They killed 17 people who were actively working to defeat the Iraqi insurgency. 17 allies.
Yeah, there’s a tiny chance that the villagers are lying to cover up their involvement with Al Qaeda, but I doubt it. The village is mostly Shia, Al Qaeda are Sunni, it’s doubtful that the Shia village is trying to protect Sunni terrorists.
Glenn Greenwald also points out that the US media ran with this story, despite the fact that nearly all of their content was derived from a single press release from the US military. I don’t understand those guys. Don’t the media feel betrayed after being deceived again and again and again? Aren’t they angry? Bitter? The slightest bit more wary?
Bush himself is even getting into the action today, today, telling soldiers on July 4 that:
Many of the spectacular car bombings and killings you see are as a result of al Qaeda — the very same folks that attacked us on September the 11th. A major enemy in Iraq is the same enemy that dared attack the United States on that fateful day…However difficult the fight is in Iraq, we must win it — we must succeed for our own sake; for the security of our citizens, we must support our troops, we must support the Iraqi government, and we must defeat al Qaeda in Iraq.
I was thankful that when I heard this quote on the radio (NPR), the reporter actually mentioned a “recent study” which showed that Al Qaeda had not been a problem in Iraq until after the US invaded the country. Score one for the meeting keeping its eye on the ball.
Al Qaeda in Iraq attacks and kills US soldiers. But the main problem in Iraq is the ongoing civil war/mutual ethnic cleansing by the Shia and Sunni. It seems to me that “victory” in the Iraq war, by most people’s standards, would be for the civil war violence to drop down to a level that makes the Iraqi “government” seem like a non-joke. If this happened, I think even Bush and Cheney would feel comfortable sending some of the troops home (and sending the rest to the
permanent super-bases new embassies in Iraq. I hear one of them is the size of the Vatican City). Al Qaeda has very little to do with any of that.
But Al Qaeda isn’t our only omnipresent enemy. The NY Times recently reported on the threat posed by Iran to the US, for maximum fear effect. Clever journalist Michael Gorden argues that Iran is directly responsible for US soldiers dying in Iraq, because a US military spokesman told him that the Quds Force (a largely independent group inside Iran’s Revolutionary Guard), has used members of Hezbollah to train Shia in Iraq, who then kill Americans. Which implies that the Iranian government is itself killing Americans, in which case we should declare war on them and finally taste the sweet, sweet nectar of armageddon.
But another positive sign is that the NY Times went back into the article and added more context, opposing views, and skepticism (perhaps due to a highly critical piece by blogger Glenn Greenwald (link above). Greenwald also notes that Michael Gordon co-wrote a number of now-discredited pieces about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction –including the alumnium tubes “story”–in the run-up to the war).
So it’s not entirely true that the White House is trying to recast the Iraq war as a battle with Al Qaeda. It is trying to recast the Iraq war as a battle against Al Qaeda and Iran. I know that the White House said “Saddam” and “terrorist” in the same sentence enough times that people started to believe it, but I don’t think these ploys are going to wash. Americans are so tired of the war that they just want this shit over.