Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Info-ops: "Iraqis could attack Israel" and Cole helps move the story along

Michael Gordon of the NYT writes that "Hizbullah trains Iraqis in Iran, officials say", which in one sense isn't unusual, given the the NYT has hosted this genre of unattributed "information operations" stories since the era of Judith Miller and no doubt before that. But notice the reference to "Hizbullah" (meaning Lebanese Hizbullah), and how it is being introduced into the Iraq story. Notice too how American readers are encouraged to swallow the Hizbullah part of the story, and the implications of that.

Because here is the spin that Juan Cole puts on the NYT story. He says: "I am suspicious of this story not because it is necessarily untrue (how would I know?) but because it shares with typical Bush administration propaganda the 'gotcha' technique in which questions of proportionality, significance and causality do not arise." "Proportionality"--because the information is based on interrogation of only four captured persons. "Significance"--because given the size of the Mahdi Army, training a few of them in Iran is not that big a deal. And "causality"--same argument, a small amount of this type of training isn't in any sense a decisive thing. He doesn't mention Hizbullah.

Cole says, in effect: Assume the story is true, and ask yourself: so what?

Uncharacteristically, Cole fails to pay any attention to the top story on the front page of Azzaman this morning, where there is a very clear answer to the question "so what"?

The Azzaman story quotes the Iraqi Defense Minister to the effect Iraqi authorities have recently found, in the Basra area, a "huge ground-to-ground rocket of recent manufacture" with Iranian markings on it. The reporter then switches to quoting unnamed "intelligence sources" who had a lot to say about the capabilities of that rocket they found: (1) It is the first time they have ever found a rocket of this type in Iraq, and it is a type that is not available in the black market; (2) it is a "strategic rocket" with an "enormous destructive power"; (3) Lebanese Hizbullah used "a copy of that generation and of Iranian manufacture" in the war with Israel in 2006; (4) they agree with the Michael Gordon piece in the NYT to the effect Hizbullah is providing training-experience to Iraqi militias in Iran, and they add that this could include training in firing rockets of this type; (5) a rocket of this type could wipe out a whole city of tens of thousands of residents; (6) in order to fire this type of rocket, you need a team with several members that have "advanced technical training", normally available only by passing several qualifying courses, and not available to the militias in current [normal] circumstances.

So that's the first part of the answer to Juan Cole's "so what" question.

The second part of the answer is even more enlightening. The Azzaman reporter continues:
In answer to a question about the possibility of using this strategic rocket against neighboring countries and Israel, these intelligence sources said an extension of the range of the rocket is not a complicated operation, and could be done within Iraq if these was some support for that.

They explained that the discovery of this first stategic rocket in Basra constitutes a danger to the security of Iraq and to the security of the Middle East. They said they are worried about the existence of a large number of rockets of this type having been brought into Iraq together with launch teams, and they stressed that if that happens, then we are on the precipice of an Iraqi and regional catastrophe.
Cole advises dismissing the NYT story not because it isn't true, but because Hizbullah-training of the Mahdi Army or any other Iraqi militia would be insignificant in the larger scheme of things. To the extent that the bobbleheads who follow him (and presumably they are still a significant number) adopt the naturalness of Hizbullah doing a little training of Mahdi Army people, they are being set up for the next leg of the info-operation, already on the same day outlined in Azzaman, namely that Iraqi militia are getting the frightening capability for long-range rocket attacks on Israel.

The unfortunate appearance is that Cole is part of this operation, using his informed commentator status to encourage his readers to swallow the bait.

16 Comments:

Anonymous anomalous said...

You're pushing it Badger, more than a bit.
Cole has his limitations, and so do you. So do we all.

Cole's an American with American biases and American fears. And he's a public figure. He can't publicly shrug off the deaths of 4000 volunteers even if he wanted to. He's also a Bahá’í and his wife is Shia. Hussein killed a lot of his friends.
I prefer your comments to his for any number of reasons but there's no reason to over-determine every point

12:17 PM  
Blogger badger said...

I don't see how that has anything to do with it. How does anything that you say about his bio explain inviting his readers to assume that Lebanese Hizbullah is training the Mahdi Army? And even if it did, how would that alter the meaning of it?

12:45 PM  
Anonymous CTuttle said...

Aloha, Badger! Uh-oh, I'm a Baha'i too... I posted yesterday about Gordon's stenography, I'm surprised you didn't mention the fact the four individuals were interrogated and the assertion that other foreign fighters were being trained based on hearing 'snippets' of conversations in different dialects and languages... BTW, did you see the Sunday Times article?

United States is drawing up plans to strike on Iranian insurgency camp

2:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if they'll ever display that rocket for all the world to see...

2:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ctuttle, what do you mean when you say badger didn't mention, 'the fact' of the 4 who were interogated? he did mention them. we ivaded iraq using 'confessions' of witnesses under interogation. the fact is we already know people torture so any intellegence gained thru interogation therefore is questionable. (at least in my mind)

annie

3:48 PM  
Blogger badger said...

CTuttle didn't mean it that way, annie. He was just underlining the lack of substance to the whole NYT story, and reminding us, via the Sunday Times article, that we're not just talking about polite small-talk here.

anonymous: I guess they figure showing the rocket wouldn't tell the story adequately, because how can you convey in a picture the fact that with a few minor adjustments you could hit Israel with it? Also to be convincing they'd need some kind of a group-photo of the highly-trained launch team.

CTuttle: You're trying to lure me into making some kind of a light-hearted Baha'i remark, but I'm not going to fall for that...

4:06 PM  
Blogger Bruno said...

Badger, with respect, I don't think that Cole was trying to make a case for Hezbollah training at all. He was at pains to point out the lengths the warmongers have gone to in order to deceive us before, and he points out the similarities between the previous attempts and this one. He even assumes the good possibility that these people were tortured (assuming that the whole story isn't a direct fabrication) and that people under torture say any old thing to get it to stop.

On the whole I think Cole's piece was a pretty strong argument AGAINST Hezbollah training Iraqis.

12:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

on yesterday's mosaic news there was a panning camera shot of a fenced-in weapons yard showing a range of medium to medium-large mortars, large artillary shells and two sizes of rockets. it was, i believe, the aliraqi news station. there was an interview going on that the munitions footage was background to. the iraq army officer being interviewed never linked the munitions footage to his accusing questions about iran's providing 'weapons'. also, over a year ago, in some ME source, i read a purported interview of a hezbollah 'commander' who said hezbollah had been training iraqi militia "in iraq". i've been trying to recover that hezbollah interview, if anyone knows where to find it.

5:27 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Bruno,

Not exactly. He argued against this particular allegation, which is a bit like arguing that the world isn't flat. But in the course of making all of the red-meat points, he suggests it wouldn't be unnatural for there to be some Hizbullah training of the Mahdi Army. That sticks out like a sore thumb, for reasons I think should be obvious. And particularly so from someone who purports to be a guide in the sense of orienting people.

The analogy is from the era when the Sunni resistance was public enemy number one. At that stage, you could say from time to time Cole said there is a difference between the takfiiris and the nationalist resistance, but there was an awful lot of ambiguous talk about "Sunni Arab insurgents" and smearing of Dhari, for instance, with the AlQaeda brush.

The parties in the AQ/national resistance broad-brush approach are completely different from this MahdiArmy/Hizbullah case. What is very similar is the appearance of facilitating American info-op policies by using the broad brush in this way. And I think it's important to pick up on it right away.

5:36 AM  
Blogger NonArab-Arab said...

Badger, you should keep one eye on Lebanon. As As'ad pointed out the other day, the US is trying to pull a Dahlan-Gaza there and it's erupting in the streets today. Obviously part of broader US strategy (if repeated utter immoral idiotic failure can be called a strategy) in the region

6:28 AM  
Anonymous dan said...

Badger

I presume that you understand that the whole rocket story is, er, total bollix. In fact it's such total bollix that it makes for pretty ineffective propaganda as it's so utterly and transparently ludicrous.

For a "rocket" to hit Israel from Iraq it would need to be something on the order of a long-rage scud. These aren't exactly small, weigh 1000's of kilos and require specialised crews and ancillary equipment, vehicles and supplies to actually launch. I dimly recall that Saddam launched scuds against Israel in 1991 - from the Western Desert, which is 800km closer to Israel than Basra - and that they may have killed a couple of people. No cities destroyed though.

The only type of weapon that could actually fit the "city-destroying" criteria of the Azzaman story would be a nuclear weapon.

I doubt that it would be possible for the Iranians to casually drive all this stuff over the border without being noticed, and I doubt that the facilities exist in Iraq ( outside US mil bases possibly ) to assemble all the bits if they tried to bring the stuff in in kit form. Although why they would bother to do so is beyond me.

This isn't some little piece of kit like the rockets Hizbullah used against Israel in 2006, it's a huge, fuck-off piece of equipment that requires a huge fuck-off vehicle called a transport-erector launcher to get going, a fuelling vehicle with specialised fuel, unless we're talking about a solid-fuelled long range cruise missile type of affair, and a few other odds and sods. In short, don't bother asking for a picture of the rocket, ask for a picture of the TEL.

It's possible that Azzaman is "sexing up" the modified katyushas with 40km ranges that Hizbullah used in 2006, and it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that such weapons exist in Iraq - they certainly had plenty of these before the invasion.

9:01 AM  
Blogger badger said...

That's enlightening. I had the impression of reading fiction when reading that Azzaman story, but not on that level of detail. Of course the whole package including the NYT and Azzaman was fiction from beginning to end, but here's the thing:

When you're talking about scaring people, plausibility isn't necessarily your main benchmark. It's things like: "What if Saddam gave nuclear bombs to AQ"? Then more recently, "AQ might take over Iraq if we don't stay". It isn't the plausibility they're looking for, it's that visceral trigger. And in order to activate that, first you have to paint a dark picture where among the Arabs it's "Saddam/AQ what's the difference really", or "AQ more or less = Sunni resistance"--that kind of thing. And in this case it seems to me the background picture could be "Hizbullah/Mahdi Army, what's the difference really"? We're not talking facts and plausibility, we're talking on a whole different level.

Which is not to say the ludicrous features of the Azzaman story aren't important to know about. Missing links needs a military attache. Keep us informed.

9:43 AM  
Anonymous dan said...

Badger

It would be surprising if the average Iraqi readers of Azzaman couldn't work the fictional kinks out on this one all by themselves.

The only propaganda utility that I could imagine is the well-worn route of story-laundering into the US media cycle. In this instance, however, the story is simply too ludicrous to pass muster...unless they can be launched within 45 minutes of an order to do so.

For the record, I have no military expertise or claim to any specialised knowledge.

10:19 AM  
Blogger badger said...

roger

10:31 AM  
Anonymous Lysander said...

Dan,

Loved your comments on moon of alabama (way back when) about the possibilty of war with Iran. Is your opinion still the same? (i.e. very little chance of war) There hs been lots of talk (again) about that in recent days.

Thanx

6:19 PM  
Anonymous dan said...

Lysander

No change. "Chatter" always increases when there is a carrier rotation in the Persian Gulf ( as is the case at present ), and also tracks the diplomatic schedule quite closely - ie IAEA board meetings/Iran sessions, EU-Iran sessions, UNSC P5 discussions.

The point of the propaganda is, I guess, "to keep hope alive"; it's more of a comfort mechanism for those with damaged egos and reps due to Iraq rather than a substantive representation of likely near-term military options with regards to Iran.

For the sake of fairness, it's worth pointing out that US/neocon policy towards Iran is to achieve regime change from within - and there is no "military" route to this objective.

4:55 AM  

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