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sábado, março 18, 2006

How US assault grabbed global attention

It was billed by the US military as "the largest air assault operation" since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, with attack and assault aircraft providing "aerial weapons support" for 1,500 US and Iraqi commandos moving in to clear "a suspected insurgent operating area north-east of Samarra."

US helicopters take off for an air offensive near the Iraqi city of Samarra

The international news agencies immediately rang the urgent bells on the story.

Around the world, programmes were interrupted as screens flashed the news, which dominated the global media agenda for the next 12 hours or more.

On the New York Stock Exchange, oil prices jumped $1.41 (£0.80) a barrel "with a massive US-led air assault in Iraq intensifying jitters about global supplies of crude", as one agency reported it.

By the middle of Day Two in the ongoing operation, it was clear from both US and Iraqi military sources that the advance had met no resistance.

There were no clashes with insurgents. No casualties were reported.


So how and why did this latest apparently routine combing operation, yielding a few arms caches and netting some low-grade suspects, manage to win stop-press coverage around the world?

The use of the phrase "the largest air assault operation" was clearly crucial, raising visions of a massive bombing campaign.

In fact, all the phrase meant is that more helicopters were deployed to airlift the troops into the area than in previous such operations.


But the massive press coverage was not just the result of a semantic misunderstanding.

Unusually, high-quality photographs and video footage of the initial deployment were made available to the press towards the end of Day One of what was billed as a campaign that would last several days.

Some international media were given unusually swift military embeds to the area.


Operation Swarmer was aimed at sweeping any insurgents out of an area north-east of Samarra where, local residents said, they had been active.

It was part of an ongoing campaign against the militants.

The reasons for it being given such high-profile publicity are clearly open to speculation.

The operation came at a time when support at home for President Bush and his campaign in Iraq is running very low, and when the international media were preparing to focus on the third anniversary of the war, just three days later.

BBC NEWS | Middle East | How US assault grabbed global attention


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