At Large

Victory Monday

In the wake of the Constitution's victory in Iraq, allegations of U.S. killing of civilians -- new reports from post-Referendum Iraq.

By 10.18.05

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Monday Morning
BAGHDAD -- The reports so far are pretty unanimous. The Constitution has been approved by the voters of Iraq, according to most media sources. Some of the reporting seems to be substantiated by semi-official, or even leaked, information from provincial polling centers.

As if in an effort to muffle all the sound and fury of the past few months, the weather this morning is declaring the start of a dust storm. And I just read that the storm is complicating the movement of ballot boxes from the countryside into Baghdad since sandstorms cause problems for helicopters. The wind is blowing briskly, something it rarely does here. Skyline features ordinarily very clearly visible have disappeared from sight altogether. One of the veterans here tells me this is a sign the weather is going to start to turn noticeably colder "within the next three days." Maybe this guy should apply for a job at the Farmer's Almanac, but it was so much cooler this morning that I found myself trying to recall if I brought a sweater to Iraq. Probably not.

All the news reports today speak quite clearly about the "very apparent victory of the Constitution." In two of the "critical provinces," the Constitution is garnering over 70% of the vote and the anti-Constitution Sunnis only a bit over 20%. This is a huge and bitter disappointment for the them.

In order to defeat the Constitution, the Sunnis need 67% of the vote in at least three provinces. When the Shiites agreed to this provision, it seemed like an enormously bold and risky move from their standpoint. Lest any of us forget, now that the election is over, the final version of this document was a bitterly fought agreement. Most observers felt the U.S. backed government had simply taken an unjustifiably risky gamble in agreeing to the three-province veto rule. Most felt the Sunnis would, in all probability, exceed the results they needed and the Constitution would go down to defeat. But, the Shiites, by whatever means, appear to have prevailed. The Sunnis are now resorting the last refuge of all whiners. They are asking to be declared the winners even though they lost, simply to "keep peace in the family."

This is also a bitter pill for the American MSM. They were hoping the Constitution would lose, not because they felt that would be good or bad for Iraq, or that it would be good or bad for the U.S., but because it would enable them to stick a finger in President Bush's eye. That is all that matters to them. To hell with the U.S.! Let's bring down George Bush even if it hurts the country!

Monday Afternoon
I NOW SEEM TO BE GETTING at least a partial reply to a question I have been asking ever since Thursday. For four days, and for part of today, the U.S. Air Force was a very significant factor over this part of Iraq. Too high to be seen, but a very major presence with the roar of their jet engines which are obviously so much more powerful and noisy than the ones that drive civilian airliners.

The questions I kept asking were: Why is the Air Force out in such large numbers? This is the first time I have heard any of its aircraft since I arrived here seven months ago. Where are they headed? Obviously to the west. Does that mean Anbar or maybe even the Syrian border?

A few minutes ago the AP started reporting through their "Writer" Thomas Wagner that yesterday American planes "killed 70 militants" in an attack near Ramadi. He immediately added "that at least 39 of the dead were civilians."

Wagner went on to report that, according to the Air Force, "a crowd was setting another roadside bomb when F-15's hit them with a precision-guided bomb killing about 20 described by the military as 'terrorists.'" Wagner's use of quotation marks is an interesting exercise. If the military describes a group planting a roadside bomb as terrorists, he puts the word in quotes. When he uses the word civilians he uses no quotes, but gives no explanation for this inconsistency.

All this action took place around Ramadi, "a stronghold for Sunni insurgents" (not terrorists). "Few people cast ballots there... out of rejection of the Constitution." They might not have voted "out of rejection of the Constitution"? How would he know?

Throughout his report Wagner speaks of "witnesses" or of "witnesses who corroborated" certain versions of a story. However, the witnesses of whom he speaks "refused to give their names for fear of their safety." And on this preposterously unsubstantiated evidence we are supposed to believe that we have "killed 39 civilians"?

Wagner never says whether he was in, or even near, Ramadi for all this action. He tries very hard to give the impression that he was in Ramadi without actually saying so. But, he never says "witnesses told me," or "I saw." The story is datelined "Baghdad." I believe he wrote it in his Baghdad hotel room.

Ironically, as I was writing that last paragraph, Mike Boettcher of MSNBC was on my TV set telling me the same story about the 70 killed by air attack. He then went on to add that: "Other sources have reported that in this operation 39 civilians were killed." He concluded his report saying: "We are not at all prepared to say that 39 civilians were killed. And, if and when we sort it out, we will let you know." I will keep listening.

Monday Evening
AS THE DAY WEARS ON, what were described as the "apparent results of the election" this morning are now being offered as the definite final results by an increasing number of news outlets.

One story has it that "an anonymous foreign election observer speaking under rules of anonymity because he is forbidden to speak with the media [that disclaimer should really raise your trust level] stated in an interview with the Associated Press, that passage of the Constitution is almost certain."

As for Wagner's AP "report" it had an interesting day. The story's original headline was: "U.S.: 70 Insurgents Killed in Airstrikes." By 3;00 p.m. the headline changed to: "Iraqis: Civilians Killed in U.S. Bombing." The story ran without the change of a single word. At 5 p.m. the identical report became the lead story on Yahoo News with the headline: "Iraqis: 39 Civilians Killed in U.S. Bombing."

A guy can do a hell of a lot of damage to his country from a hotel room in Baghdad, or wherever he was when he wrote that.

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