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.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering