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Operation Swarmer Is More Hype

A US Army soldier mans a machine gun as part of Operation Swarmer near Samarra. Photo by 3rd Class Shawn Hussong, US Army. Courtesy of AFP.
by Sana Abdallah
Amman, Jordan (UPI) Mar 20, 2006
Operation Swarmer, a joint U.S.-Iraqi offensive around the northern Iraqi city of Samarra in Salaheddine province, went into its fourth day Sunday with very little to verify why it has been described as the largest assault operation since the American-led invasion of Iraq three years ago.

According to U.S. military information, 80 people were arrested, 20 of whom were later released, and weapons were confiscated since the operation was kicked off early Thursday to crack down on the Iraqi insurgency in the area.

There have been no reports of casualties or exchange of fire, although the offensive involves 1,500 American and Iraqi troops and 50 helicopters, but no air strikes were reported.

Other high-profile military operations, with sexier code names targeting insurgents, have by far included thousands of more troops and fighter jets, air strikes and thousands of casualties, many of them Iraqi civilians.

Operation Swarmer is said to bear no comparison to the assault on Fallujah in November 2004 and last year's operations involving air strikes and ground forces near the Syrian border in western Iraq.

However, Arab analysts say the lack of independent reports from Salaheddine has raised questions on the accuracy and credibility of the reports being given by the U.S. military authorities in Iraq, leaving room for speculation.

They say the "media blackout" on the ongoing operation against Samarra and surrounding areas, the third in the area in the past two years, might have caused unreported casualties and destruction similar to what happened in Fallujah.

The London-based al-Quds al-Arabi's chief editor, Abdul Bari Atwan, wrote in a front-page commentary Sunday that "no one knows what is happening in the city or the number of victims who have fallen from this assault because the American forces have imposed a total media blackout."

Atwan, who runs the independent Palestinian daily, said "we will not be surprised to discover, after the liberation of Samarra for the third time, that horrifying massacres have taken place and a new mass grave has been dug up to fit the bodies of the victims of this city."

He speculated the Americans will destroy Samarra "just like they destroyed it in the past, but they will definitely not be able to end the resistance and achieve the stability they seek in Iraq."

Whether the size of Operation Swarmer will reveal such a result when the offensive ends Monday or Tuesday remains to be seen. But the statements by the U.S. and Iraqi forces so far indicate little is being achieved in terms of capturing key insurgents or seizing substantial weapons.

So why this hype over Operation Swarmer that had television networks interrupt their programs to break the news and had oil prices surge when the offensive is appearing more of a regular routine combing exercise?

Independent analysts say the targeted area may be one reason. Samarra was home to the Shiite Imam al-Askari shrine that was bombed and destroyed on Feb. 22, sparking off sectarian fighting and reprisals that left hundreds of people dead and threatened to take the country into an all-out civil war.

The timing of Operation Swarmer is another important element. It came amid declining support at home for President George W. Bush and his war on Iraq and as U.S. and Western anti-war protests were scheduled to mark the third anniversary of the invasion.

But military experts say the offensive also constitutes a shift in the operations that have so far been conducted in Iraq under occupation in terms of Iraqi participation and intelligence information.

They say the "backbone" of the participating troops is made up of Iraqi soldiers trained by the Americans and that the intelligence information which led to the assault had been collected by the Iraqi intelligence services, not by the Americans.

Therefore, the experts add, this operation could be construed as being more Iraqi than American to show that a new Iraqi army is suddenly ready to take over the country's military and security reins when the U.S. withdraws from the country or move to permanent bases it sets up in Iraq.

Arab analysts say the U.S. forces cannot remain in Iraq much longer as pressure mounts on the administration, even from some Republicans, to end what is being widely seen as an American failure in Iraq that stands on the edge of a civil war.

It is a civil war, they insist, in which the United States does not want to be caught, especially as America prepares for legislative elections this year.

Operation Swarmer, therefore, may be nothing more than a PR campaign, rather than a campaign against the insurgency, to promote the Iraqi army's ability to confront the rebels and foreign fighters - with U.S. backing - to begin the process of establishing permanent American bases in Iraq and leaving direct combat to the Iraqis.

Source: United Press International

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