Iraq occupation: Three years on and still they're lying to us

As global protests mark the day the invasion began, Raymond Whitaker examines the latest example of the self-delusion and spin that have characterised the occupation

Hundreds of American and Iraqi troops are engaged this weekend in Operation Swarmer, described as "the largest air assault operation" since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. But yesterday, as protesters marched in dozens of cities around the world to mark the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, it became clear that this "assault" was little more than a propaganda exercise.

Three days into the offensive against suspected insurgents, there had been no clashes and no casualties among American or Iraqi troops. Fifteen caches of weapons and explosives were said to have been found, but television footage showed little more than the kind of small arms most rural Iraqis keep to protect their homes. An American spokesman said 83 people had been detained, of whom 17 were later released.

"This was an operation to achieve military aims. This was not a PR exercise," Lt-Col Edward Loomis, spokesman for the 101st Airborne Division, said in Tikrit. But far from being a major counter-insurgency campaign of the kind which demolished Fallujah in November 2004 at the cost of thousands of lives, Operation Swarmer was a "sweep" exercise in a sparsely populated desert area. The only departure from routine was in the number of troops - particularly Iraqi troops - deployed. While it was true that more aircraft had been used than at any time since the war, they were all troop-carrying helicopters.

There were no air strikes, despite the impression created by describing Swarmer as an air assault operation.

Again the contrast with Fallujah, which saw dozens of heavy air strikes in 2004, was telling. In that assault, 17,000 American troops were deployed, compared with a few hundred last week. By the second day of Operation Swarmer, the total force - Americans and Iraqis - had already been scaled down to 900.

The main purpose of the much-publicised "assault", apart from capturing the news agenda as the third anniversary of the war approached, appeared to be to highlight the ability of newly-trained Iraqi troops to operate independently - an essential precondition for the withdrawal of British and American troops. John Reid, the Secretary of State for Defence, who is visiting Iraq, said yesterday: "This operation is Iraqi-led, something that on this size and scale would not have been possible 12 months ago."

Although he conceded that Iraqi troops were not capable of taking control yet in any of Iraq's 18 provinces, he insisted the army was growing in strength, saying there were now 240,000 troops, with 59 battalions capable of taking the lead in operations.

On Friday Lt-Gen Peter Chiarelli, the second-ranking US commander in Baghdad said Iraqi troops would control about three-quarters of the country as early as this summer, considerably more ambitious than the goal set by George Bush only a few days earlier. The President said his aim was to have Iraqis control more territory than coalition forces by the end of 2006.

These upbeat projections will be irrelevant, however, if another problem alluded to by Mr Reid - Iraq's failure to form a government, three months after the election - is not solved. "The most urgent need at the moment is the speedy formation of a government of national unity," he said before meeting Iraqi politicians. "As the weeks pass and the months pass ... a political vacuum allows people of malevolent intent, and people who would use violence and terrorism, opportunities to step into that vacuum."

The first meeting of the Iraqi parliament last week set in motion a timetable under the constitution for the appointment of the president, the prime minister and the cabinet. Deadlines have been consistently missed, however, and many politicians believe talks could drag on until the summer. So far the main Shia bloc has insisted that Ibrahim al-Jaafari should continue as Prime Minister, despite calls for him to step aside by President Jalal Talabani, among others. Mr Jaafari is bitterly opposed by Sunnis, Kurds and secular Shias, all of whom mistrust his links to the militias doing much to worsen and prolong sectarian violence.

Yesterday Mr Reid said civil war was neither imminent nor inevitable, but admitted violence between Sunnis and Shias was worsening. As he spoke, the bodies of six men, some handcuffed, some blindfolded, were found in a Shia district of Baghdad.

Mr Bush faces a difficult balancing act between downplaying difficulties in Iraq and raising expectations of a pullout of American forces. In his weekly radio address yesterday he urged Americans to resist the temptation to retreat from Iraq. Despite "horrific" images, he said, progress was being made on the political and military fronts.

"These past three years have tested our resolve. We've seen hard days and setbacks," Mr Bush said. But his administration was "fixing what has not worked". With the President reduced to appealing to Iraqi leaders to achieve a consensus, however, the limits on his ability to influence events were clear.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
i100
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late singer Whitney Houston, poses at the premiere of
people
News
people
News
The frequency with which we lie and our ability to get away with it both increase to young adulthood then decline with age, possibly because of changes that occur in the brain
scienceRoger Dobson knows the true story, from Pinocchio to Pollard
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Life and Style
health
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen