News media this week are devoting huge swathes of coverage to the report by General David Petraeus, the top US military commander in Iraq, on the impact of the so-called ‘surge’ of US troops. The surge boosted the number of US troops in Iraq earlier this year by 30,000 to 168,000.
BBC world affairs correspondent Paul Reynolds writes that Petraeus’s report “is expected to hold out just enough hope to enable the Bush administration to see off efforts by Democrats in Congress to set a timetable for a withdrawal.” (BBC news online, ‘Petraeus buys time for Iraq strategy,’ September 10, 2007)
But very little is being reported about the role of the surge in the violent suppression of the Iraqi resistance and in the deaths of innocent civilians.
About 70% of Iraqis believe security has deteriorated in the area covered by the surge. (BBC news online, ‘US surge has failed - Iraqi poll,’ September 10, 2007)
This has exacerbated the suffering of a nation where more than 2.2 million people out of a population of 27 million have fled their country, most to Syria and Jordan. Another 1.9 million Iraqis are refugees within their own country.
According to the Iraqi Red Crescent, the total number of internally displaced people has jumped from 499,000 to 1.1 million since the start of the surge. The UN-run International Organisation for Migration (IOM) also recently reported that refugees from the fighting in Baghdad had increased by a factor of 20 over the same period. (James Glanz and Stephen Farrell, ‘More Iraqis Said to Flee Since Troop Rise,’ New York Times, August 24, 2007)
In reporting these figures, the Independent commented:
“These damning statistics reveal that despite much-trumpeted security improvements in certain areas, the level of murderous violence has not declined.” (Leonard Doyle, ‘US surge sees 600,000 more Iraqis abandon home,’ The Independent, 25 August 2007)The presumption behind this comment is that only insurgent groups are responsible for “murderous violence” in Iraq. One might respond that the level of murderous violence has not declined for the simple reason that American murderous violence has increased!
In similar vein, the BBC’s James Robbins described the surge as "a strategy designed to overwhelm the violence" (BBC 1 News, August 15, 2007). Again, American killing is not “violence“; it is an attempt to stop “violence“.
And yet according to Dana Graber Ladek, Iraq displacement specialist for the Iraq office of IOM, military operations by surge troops and Iraqi government forces are a factor in the rise in refugees:
“If a surge means that soldiers are on the streets patrolling to make sure there is no violence, that is one thing. If a surge means military operations where there are attacks and bombings, then obviously that is going to create displacement.” (Glanz and Farrell, op. cit.)
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Increasing insecurity is leading to the failure of the monthly food rationing system on which five million Iraqis depend. Up to eight million people require immediate emergency aid, with nearly half this number living in “absolute poverty”. (IRIN, ‘Food rationing system failing as Ramadan approaches’, September 9, 2007)
In October 2006, a study in the Lancet journal estimated that 655,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the invasion.
These facts rarely make headlines. Instead, corporate news coverage is focused on wrangles in Washington over the Petraeus report, and on whether the Bush administration will be able to maintain its military strategy until Spring 2008 - when the extended 15-month US troop postings end. It is claimed that Bush is desperate to stave off Democrat demands for “rapid withdrawal” of US forces.
The stated aims of the surge have been sold by US-UK government and military sources, and by faithful corporate news media, as ‘stability’ and ‘reconstruction’ allowing an Iraqi ‘democracy’ to take root. Take, for example, the Independent’s political editor, Andrew Grice, who quoted Major-General Tim Cross, the most senior British officer involved in post-war planning in Iraq. Cross, said Grice, had “raised concerns over the numbers of troops on the ground available to maintain security and aid reconstruction in Iraq.” (Grice, The Independent, September 3, 2007)
Likewise, BBC business reporter Robert Plummer wrote:
“The US troop surge in Iraq has been accompanied by a similar surge in the amount of US funds devoted to Iraqi reconstruction.”
"Now the US wants Iraq to pass an oil law as a means of promoting reconciliation among different religious and ethnic groups." (Robert Plummer, 'Little progress on halting Iraq's decay,' BBC news online, September 6, 2007)
(After we challenged Plummer, he changed the wording to: "Now the US wants Iraq to pass an oil law, as what it says is a means of promoting reconciliation among different religious and ethnic groups.")
The rhetoric was echoed by another BBC report which claimed:
“The surge was designed to allow space for political reconciliation.” (BBC news online, ‘US surge “failure” says Iraq poll,’ September 10, 2007)
As ever, the BBC is presenting US pronouncements as fact.
Burning Astronomical Sums
The Financial Times reports that the war in Iraq and “efforts to rebuild the country” have cost British taxpayers around £6.6 billion to date. (Alex Barker, ‘Total cost of conflict in Iraq hits Pounds 6.6bn,’ Financial Times, August 27, 2007). This is a third more than funds set aside by Gordon Brown when he was chancellor of the exchequer. The FT noted that the figure is likely an underestimate because hidden costs, such as salaries, are excluded.
In addition, truly astronomical sums of US public money are being consumed by the war; journalist Ed Harriman reports a “burn rate” of $10 billion every month. A fraction of that – a still considerable figure – has gone to Iraqi ‘reconstruction’.
But according to the most recent quarterly report to Congress of the US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (Sigir), almost all the American money set aside to rebuild Iraq – more than $21 billion appropriated by Congress four years ago – has already been spent. So, too, has $20 billion of Iraqi money handed over by Paul Bremer, Bush’s proconsul in Baghdad in the first year of the occupation. Harriman reports:
“Much of the money was used to pay for American goods and services and never reached Iraq. Much of the rest disappeared and has never been properly accounted for.” (Ed Harriman, ‘Burn Rate,’ London Review of Books, Vol 29, No 17, September 6, 2007)
Last year, Congress approved $2.2 billion for “Iraqi relief and reconstruction“. Much of this money is for so-called Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). Ten of these “civilian-military” teams are “embedded within brigade combat teams“, with a “primary mission of supporting counterinsurgency operations“. As Sigir explains, “though referred to under the umbrella term, +reconstruction+, the PRT mission includes ‘counterinsurgency and stability operations’.”
Thus, considerable sums of money for ‘reconstruction‘ are actually being used to attack and kill Iraqis.
About $700 million of the $2.2 billion fund has been devoted to something called the Commanders Emergency Response Program (CERP). A report by the Congressional Research Service explains that the money is “available to pacify the local population where PRTs reside“. The ‘US Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual’, co-authored by General Petraeus himself, describes this as “Money as a Weapons System“. Few people know exactly where the money goes; Congress has not asked for detailed accounts, and Sigir found that “there is no mechanism in place to specifically measure the outputs and outcomes of CERP-funded projects.” Harriman notes that these US funds are “functionally very similar to the slush funds used to buy local support during the Vietnam War.” (Ibid.)
As ever, media observers would be hard pressed to find any of this discussed in mainstream news reports.
‘Reconstruction’ = Preparation For Permanent Occupation
The rhetoric of ‘reconstruction’ bears further investigation. Consider that a new BBC poll of 23,000 people across 22 countries reveals that most (67%) believe US troops should withdraw within one year. (BBC news online, ‘Most people "want Iraq pull-out",' September 7, 2007) Half of those polled (49%) “believed the US would have bases in Iraq permanently”.
But, quite apart from public belief, there is substantial +evidence+ that the US plans a permanent presence in Iraq. 'The Bases Are Loaded', a powerful documentary made by Alternate Focus (www.alternatefocus.org), an independent US-based film company, sums up the reality:
"Will the US ever leave Iraq? Official policy promises an eventual departure, while warning of the dire consequences of a 'premature' withdrawal. But while Washington equivocates, facts on the ground tell another story. Independent journalist Dahr Jamail, and author Chalmers Johnson, are discovering that military bases in Iraq are being consolidated from over a hundred to a handful of 'megabases' with lavish amenities. Much of what is taking place is obscured by denials and quibbles over the definition of 'permanent.'" (The Bases Are Loaded)
The documentary begins with President Bush’s address to the Iraqi people on the eve of the invasion in March 2003:
“The goals of our coalition are clear and limited. We will end a brutal regime, whose aggression and weapons of mass destruction make it a unique threat to the world. Coalition forces will help maintain law and order, so that Iraqis can live in security. We will respect your great religious traditions, whose principles of equality and compassion are essential to Iraq’s future. We will help you build a peaceful and representative government that protects the rights of all citizens. And then our military forces will leave.” (Bush, address to the Iraqi people, March 2003)
Journalist James Goldsborough responds:
“I don’t think the Bush government has any intention of leaving Iraq. They want permanent US bases there.” (‘The Bases Are Loaded,’ op. cit.)
Dahr Jamail, who has bravely reported as an unembedded journalist from Iraq, fills out the picture:
“There were over a hundred bases and forward operating bases in Iraq at one point but they’re slowly consolidating them over time and so now the number’s under 55 – I think it’s 53 or 54. But they’re consolidating them down to, it looks now like a minimum number of 6 of these megabases, and a maximum of probably 12.” (‘The Bases Are Loaded,’ op. cit.)
Indeed, confirmation comes from Major Joseph Breasseale, a senior spokesman for the coalition forces' headquarters in Iraq, who told The Independent on Sunday last year:
"The current plan is to reduce the coalition footprint into six consolidation bases." (Andrew Buncombe, 'US and UK establish "enduring bases" in Iraq,' Independent on Sunday, April 2, 2006)
Chalmers Johnson, author of the 'Blowback' trilogy on American Imperialism, points out that the vast amounts of money being spent on these megabases “are just simply unbelievable. These supplementary appropriations every year [are] in the $75-$100 billion range, at least half of it is going for base-building in Iraq, and is almost totally unsupervised by anybody.” (‘The Bases Are Loaded,’ op. cit.)
One of the biggest sites under construction is the US embassy in Baghdad. The massive $592-million compound, due to be completed this month, “may be the most lasting monument to the U.S. occupation in the war-torn nation”, according to David Phinney, a researcher with CorpWatch. Much of the construction work is being done by Asian migrants who work 12 hours a day, often seven days a week, and earn as little as $500 a month performing tasks considered unsuitable for US personnel.
“The 1,000 or more U.S. government officials calling the new compound home will have access to a gym, swimming pool, barber and beauty shops, a food court and a commissary. In addition to the main embassy buildings, there will be a large-scale US Marine barracks, a school, locker rooms, a warehouse, a vehicle maintenance garage, and six apartment buildings with a total of 619 one-bedroom units. Water, electricity and sewage treatment plants will all be independent from Baghdad's city utilities. The total site will be two-thirds the area of the National Mall in Washington, DC.” (Phinney, ‘Baghdad Embassy Bonanza. Kuwait Company’s Secret Contract & Low-Wage Labor,’ CorpWatch, February 12, 2006)
Jamail points out that the megabases, including the huge Balad air base, are "very similar as far as amenities, and infrastructure of the base, and the size, and the number of people there as you would see in, for example, [permanent] American bases in Germany, American bases in Okinawa, American bases in South Korea, American bases in other parts of the Middle East. [...] these are the same types of bases that are being built in Iraq." (‘The Bases Are Loaded,’ op. cit.)
An Associated Press (AP) news report explains the importance of the Balad air base:
“In the counterinsurgency fight, Balad’s central location enables strike aircraft to reach targets in minutes. And in the broader context of reinforcing the U.S. presence in the oil-rich Mideast, Iraq bases are preferable to aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, said a longtime defense analyst.” (‘Extended presence of U.S. in Iraq looms large. $1 billion for construction of American military bases and no public plans,’ AP press release from Balad Air Base, March 21, 2006)
“Carriers don’t have the punch,” according to Gordon Adams of Washington’s George Washington University. “There’s a huge advantage to land-based infrastructure. At the level of strategy it makes total sense to have Iraq bases.”
As AP noted, one US congressional study cited another - less discussed - use for Iraq bases: to install anti-ballistic ‘defenses’ against Iran. (Ibid.) Needless to say, the intention is to strengthen the grip of the US on the Middle East.
Chalmers Johnson emphasises that the number of US military bases in the Middle East and around the world is huge and, indeed, unknown:
“In the past, empires used to be noted in terms of colonies. Today it’s military bases and the current number is 737. That’s the Pentagon’s number; it’s not accurate. There’s any number of bases that they don’t include in the Base Structure Report every year. [...] the Report is an annual inventory, and it is not classified. But they do not include any of the espionage bases. They do not include any of the bases that are deeply embarrassing to us or to the regime that allowed us to build a base there. [...] for example, our headquarters in the Middle East today is in Qatar. We don’t list any of the bases in Qatar in the Base Structure Report.” (‘The Bases Are Loaded,’ op. cit.)
As researcher Jules Defour notes, this global network of military bases enables US “control of humanity's economic, social and political activities.” Two major elements of this global domination are US control of the world economy and its financial markets, and control of primary resources and nonrenewable sources of energy. The latter control mechanism constitutes “the cornerstone of US power through the activities of its multinational corporations”. (Defour, ‘The worldwide network of US military bases,’ July 1, 2007)
Iraq, in particular, is of crucial importance as it has the third largest oil reserves on the planet. As Nadia Keilani, an Iraqi-American attorney, says:
“When Saudi oil has long run out, when all Gulf nations are without any more petroleum resources, Iraq would still sit on a sea of oil. The country that controls Iraq is the country that will essentially get to dictate the world economy for the next generation and possibly more.” (‘The Bases Are Loaded,’ op. cit.)
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