Who knew that our political and military leaders were such a bunch of ol' sentimental softies? As a gift for the Iraqi people to mark the third invasion of their country, our leaders got them a miniature version of the invasion, Operation Swarmer. The mini-invasion has all feature that made that full-sized original so special. Lots of hardware directed against a virtually nonexistant but relentless overhyped threat? Yes. True motive hidden behind a threadbare pretext? Check. A spoon-fed media willing to portray the action as a pageant of unrelenting heroism? Of course. Though there are exceptions.
Time magazine's Brian Bennett was one of the reporters on the ground in southern Salah Ad Din province (population 1,500) for the invasion, and, unlike his colleagues in television, he's not interested in swallowing the story the military wants to fed him.
The press, flown in from Baghdad to this agricultural gridiron northeast of Samarra, huddled around the Iraqi officials and U.S. Army commanders who explained that the “largest air assault since 2003” in Iraq using over 50 helicopters to put 1500 Iraqi and U.S. troops on the ground had netted 48 suspected insurgents, 17 of which had already been cleared and released. The area, explained the officials, has long been suspected of being used as a base for insurgents operating in and around Samarra, the city north of Baghdad where the bombing of a sacred shrine recently sparked a wave of sectarian violence.
But contrary to what many many television networks erroneously reported, the operation was by no means the largest use of airpower since the start of the war. (“Air Assault” is a military term that refers specifically to transporting troops into an area.) In fact, there were no airstrikes and no leading insurgents were nabbed in an operation that some skeptical military analysts described as little more than a photo op. What's more, there were no shots fired at all and the units had met no resistance, said the U.S. and Iraqi commanders.
Some weapons caches were discovered, but weapons caches can be discovered anywhere in Iraq, and there was nothing spectacular about the ones in Salah Ad Din. So, what was the point of invading a rural area with a massive number of troops (“doubl[ing] the population of the flat farmland in one single airlift” as Bennett notes), when there's no one there to fight? For the answer, we turn to Chris Allbritton, a freelance journalist living and working in Baghdad.
On his website, Back to Iraq 3.0, Allbritton explains what Operation Swarmer is really all about:
“Operation Swarmer” is really a media show. It was designed to show off the new Iraqi Army — although there was no enemy for them to fight. Every American official I've heard has emphasized the role of the Iraqi forces just days before the third anniversary of the start of the war. That said, one Iraqi role the military will start highlighting in the next few days, I imagine, is that of Iraqi intelligence. It was intel from the Iraqi military intelligence and interior ministry that the U.S. says prompted this Potemkin operation. And it will be the Iraqi intel that provides the cover for American military commanders to throw up their hands and say, “well, we thought bad guys were there.”
According to etiquette books, the traditional third anniversary gift is leather, which is nice enough, but hardly seems adequate for the third anniversary of invading a country on false premises. No, for that kind of anniversary, the only appropriate gift is the one we got the Iraqis: a Potemkin operation.
As Nick Schou notes in his interview with Hollywood starlet/war protester Mamie Van Doren in the current Weekly: “On Saturday, with protests taking place all over the country, the Orange County Peace Coalition will host what they hope will be a massive noon gathering at Hart Park in Orange.” Speakers at the Hart Park protest will include the Weekly's Jim Washburn and Rebecca Schoenkopf.