There are two ways of framing the story of our troop deployment in Iraq. They go roughly like this:
The Official Version : We are going to Iraq solely to train Iraqis. We will not be engaged in combat against the Islamic State. Our troops will be safely behind the wire at all times.
The Alternative Version: Besides training the Iraqis, some of our forces will be engaged in intelligence gathering, which – among other things – will involve identifying targets for air strikes and providing the co-ordinates to increase the accuracy and effectiveness of bombing raids. This is highly dangerous work. Canadian special forces engaged in air strike assistance in Iraq this year have repeatedly come under fire from Islamic State fighters.
So far, no coalition forces engaged in this work have been captured and executed, but doing so would be a high priority for IS.
No prizes for guessing which version the Key government has been promoting, to the point of being actively misleading. Compare for instance, these two statements. Here’s Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee on 12 February in reply to a question in the House from Greens MP Kennedy Graham:
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: “I would caution the member about making a lack of distinction between the activities that the Canadians are undertaking at the moment. They do have people there who are in assist missions. We have no intention of being in those.” [My emphasis]
Compare that assurance with what Prime Minister John Key said at the post-Cabinet press conference yesterday as, under questioning, Key outlined what intelligence gathering by our troops in Iraq would entail:
“Intelligence gathering has been a function that we have done in the past in lots of locations. We’ve certainly done that in places like Afghanistan that’s been well and truly documented… It could be airstrike assists, [My emphasis] it could be for a variety of different reasons.”
So… over the course of a fortnight, we’ve had a 180 degree change of direction from this government, on the issue of our troops being engaged in air strike assistance. Or – more likely – Brownlee was delivering wrong information in the House on 12 February either deliberately or through incompetence. Later today, we will hear the full details of the deployment. In Australia, our contribution was already being reported three days ago as constituting 100 troops, to be co-located with an Australian contingent at Camp Taji, 30 kms north of Baghdad. Once again, the political massaging of the news about the Iraq deployment has trumped the public’s ready access to the actual information about it.
Change of subject. Kathie Crutchfield, who hails from Alabama and records under the name Waxahatchee is about to release her third album, and her confidence keeps growing. She may still sounds like a 1990s indie throwback, but Crutchfield has a distinctive songwriting style: her lyrics are intelligent, and her delivery of them is always emotionally direct. As breakup songs go, “Air” – which is the first single from the new album – is a compassionate, adult take on a relationship split. Lines like “I left you out like a carton of milk” convey her own rueful sense of being part way responsible for the break-up she’s describing. She’s got a good take on other subjects, too. Her breakthrough song in 2012 “Be Good” was an argument for the advantages of non-romantic relationships:
It’s unclear now, what we intend
We’re alone in our own world
You don’t wanna be my boyfriend
And I don’t wanna be your girl
And that, that’s a relief
We’ll drink up our grief
And pine for summer
And we’ll buy beer to shotgun
And we’ll lay in the lawn
And we’ll be good
Now I’m laughing at my boredom
At my string of failed attempts
Because you think that it’s important
And I welcome the sentiment
Here’s “Air” and by way of contrast, Waxahatchee’s original, low fi version of “Be Good”.