In addition to our largely ignored permanent bases in Iraq, here’s another mystery of Iraqi (and Afghani) media coverage: The essential American way of war — air power — has long been completely MIA, except at a few websites. Until last week, there had been not a single mainstream piece of any significance on the air war these last years, with the exception of journalist Seymour Hersh’s remarkable December 2005 report, “Up in the Air,” in the New Yorker. (“A key element of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the President’s public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower. Quick, deadly strikes by U.S. warplanes are seen as a way to improve dramatically the combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat units.”) It is, of course, an irony that the only American reporter in these last years to look up and notice all those planes, helicopters, and Hellfire-missile-armed Predator drones overhead has never been to Iraq.
Such modest coverage of the air war in Iraq as exists in our press generally comes in the form of infrequent paragraphs buried in wire service round-ups as in a November 14th Associated Press piece headlined, “U.S. General Confronts Iraqi Leader on Security”:
“On Monday night, U.S. forces raided the homes of some Sadr followers, and U.S. jets fired rockets on Shula, their northwest Baghdad neighborhood, residents said. Police said five residents were killed, although a senior Sadr aide put the death toll at nine. The U.S. military said it had no comment.”
This incident assumedly took place somewhere in the vast Baghdad slum of Sadr city. In other words, we’re talking about American planes regularly sending rockets or bombs into relatively heavily populated urban areas. All you have to do is imagine such a thing happening in an American city to grasp the barbarism involved. And yet, over these years in which such targeting has been commonplace and, in larger campaigns, parts of cities like Najaf and Falluja have been destroyed from the air, hardly a single reporter has gone to an air base like Balad and simply spent time with American pilots.
(Last week, David S. Cloud of the New York Times finally became the first reporter to get in a plane, a B-1 bomber, take off from an unidentified “Middle Eastern airfield” for an eleven-hour mission at 20,000 feet over Afghanistan and to report a staggering rise in the use of air power in that embattled country — 2,095 air strikes in the last six months. In passing, however, Cloud offered a far too low figure for strikes in Iraq in the same period and the piece inside appeared deep inside the Times.)