An Iraqi fighter plane was returning to base on Monday after a sortie against ISIS militants when a large bomb it carried was deployed – cause yet undetermined – and obliterated several houses in an east Baghdad neighborhood. The latest butcher’s bill tallies at least 12 killed in the explosion, including women and children, along with at least 25 more wounded.
Also on Monday, Iraqi forces endeavored to fight their way to the gates of Fallujah, a major city under the control of ISIS. Vast swaths of Anbar Province, which includes Fallujah, have been under the control of the militants for months in this ongoing multi-civil war our wars created, and this action represents the Iraqi Army’s first attempt to retake the city and the territory at large since last year. Note well: Iraqi forces want to simply make it to the gates, not take the city. That attempt comes next, if they succeed in getting that far, in what is likely to involve horrific house-to-house urban warfare.
The point of the exercise is to clear the way toward re-taking the city of Ramadi, which fell to ISIS in May in a stinging defeat, and to disrupt ISIS supply lines. As I described in September of 2014, after Mosul fell to a similar fate, the crux of the dilemma is what to do once Iraqi forces reach a city riddled with dug-in ISIS forces. Airstrikes won’t get it done.
Urban warfare eats armies – it sure as hell took some big, bloody bites out of US forces after 2003 – and these ISIS troops aren’t just pissed-off teenagers with AK-47s. They are the trained, battle-tested remnants of Iraq’s old Ba’athist Army, which the US disbanded and scattered for reasons passing understanding once they reached Baghdad more than a decade ago.
That capability assessment goes double for the old-guard officer corps now calling the shots for ISIS. These fellows know what they’re about; they have seen the elephant. Dislodging them from Fallujah, much less Ramadi or Mosul, will require some remarkable turns of events on the order of The Miracle at Dunkirk, but in reverse.
Don’t hold your breath.
The day after the United States celebrated its Independence Day, ISIS suicide bombers attacked the strategically vital Haditha Dam in Al Anbar province, killing 30 people, including 10 Iraqi soldiers. Some 15 others were wounded.
From that same Independence Day into Sunday, US forces launched 38 air attacks against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria. The focus of the attacks was in the city of Raqqa, in Syria, on the shore of the Euphrates River, the self-proclaimed capitol ISIS. As of this writing, ISIS is counter-attacking in Raqqa.
These ongoing attacks have motivated millions to flee Syria into Turkey – just as they fled Iraq into Syria not so long ago for the same reasons – and Turkey is badly spooked. Turkey had a front-row seat to witness the terrible damage the Iraq refugee crisis did to Syria, and is deeply concerned a similar fate awaits it as people run from border to border to its border seeking an escape from US ordnance and the consequences of the detonations.
Almost 25 years ago, in 1991, a member of the House of Representatives named Bernie Sanders, Independent from Vermont, took to the floor to denounce the Gulf War approval vote that had just taken place, and which he voted against:
We should make no mistake about it, today is a tragic day for humanity, for the people of Iraq, for the people of the United States, and for the United Nations as an institution. It is also a tragic day for the future of our planet and for the children, 30,000 of whom in the Third World will starve to death today as we spend billions to wage this war – and 25 percent of whom in our own country live in poverty in our country because we apparently lack the funds to provide them with a minimal standard of living.
I believe that in the long run, the action unleashed last night will go strongly against our interests in the Middle East. Clearly the United States and allies will win this war, but the death and destruction caused, will, in my opinion, not be forgotten by the poor people of the Third World and the people of the Middle East in particular.
I fear that one day we will regret that decision, and that we are in fact laying the groundwork for more and more wars for years to come.
Pro tip: Be prepared to hear the words “Bernie was right” come up more and more often in your political conversations, even with conservatives and anyone who thinks winning alone is a fulsome end unto itself, as we crawl toward the two Novembers to be passed before this contest is decided.
Some 25 years later – after the first Gulf War that was a slaughter, the years of sanctions that were a slower slaughter, the re-invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq which amounted to wholesale slaughter over more than ten years, the ultimate creation of ISIS in aftermath, which has about as many US-made weapons as those who oppose them, and now the daily body count that never seems to end, all of which has been a voluptuous quarter-century payday for a very small clutch of people you will never meet – one is left to wonder, in deep fear, what the next 25 years will hold.
There are those who say, “These people in DC haven’t learned a damned thing.”
Sure they have. They learned how to destroy, displace and plunder – right on live TV – while frightening people into line as they simultaneously peddle globally the unimaginably lethal warfare hardware that guarantees the next round of cash-register bells will keep on ringing, and ringing, and ringing. This isn’t a Republicans vs. Democrats thing. This is Welcome My Friends To The Show That Never Ends, and if some bodies bleed out into the sand or dust or mud, well, that’s the price of doing business.
The business is death, and business is good.