Through The American
By Robert Fisk
27 December, 2003
very unpleasant is being let loose in Iraq. Just this week, a company
commander in the US 1st Infantry Division in the north of the country
admitted that, in order to elicit information about the guerrillas who
are killing American troops, it was necessary to "instill fear"
in the local villagers. An Iraqi interpreter working for the Americans
had just taken an old lady from her home to frighten her daughters and
grand-daughters into believing that she was being arrested.
A battalion commander
in the same area put the point even more baldly. "With a heavy
dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think
we can convince these people that we are here to help them," he
said. He was speaking from a village that his men had surrounded with
barbed wire, upon which was a sign, stating: "This fence is here
for your protection. Do not approach or try to cross, or you will be
Try to explain that
this treatment - and these words - offend the very basic humanity of
the people whom the Americans claimed they came to "liberate"
and you are met in Baghdad with the same explanation: that a very small
"remnant" of "diehards" - loyal to the now-captured
Saddam Hussein, etc, etc - have to be separated from the civilians whom
they are "intimidating".
To point out that
the intimidation is largely coming from the American occupation force
- to the horror of the British in southern Iraq who fear, understandably,
that Iraqi revenge will be visited upon them as it was on the Italians
and the Spanish - is useless.
Instead, we are
told that American troops are winning those famous hearts and minds
with the spirit of Christmas. There was a grim example of this - and
the inherent racism that pervades even reporting of such events - on
the Associated Press wire agency just this week.
Describing how an
American soldier in a Santa Claus hat was giving out stuffed animals
to children, reporter Jason Keyser wrote that one 11-year- old child
"looked puzzled, then smiled" as the soldier gave him a small,
stuffed goat. Then the report continued: "Others in the crowd of
mostly Muslims grabbed greedily at the box," adding the soldier's
remark that: "They don't know how to handle generosity."
I don't doubt the
soldier's wish to do good. But what is one to make of the "mostly
Muslims" who "grabbed greedily" at the gifts? Or the
soldier's insensitive remarks about generosity? Iraqi newspapers have
been front--paging a Christmas card produced by US troops in Baghdad:
"1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Wishes you a very Merry Christmas!"
But the illustration
is of Saddam Hussein in his scruffy beard just after his capture, with
a Santa hat superimposed on top of his head. Funny enough for us, no
doubt - I can't personally think of a better fall-guy for St Nicholas
- but a clear insult to Sunni Arabs who, however much they may loathe
the beast of Baghdad, will see in this card a deliberate attempt to
humiliate Muslim Iraqis. It is for Iraqis to demean their ex-president
- not their American occupiers.
It's almost as if
the occupying powers want to look through Alice's looking glass. This
week, we had the odd statement by British General Graeme Lamb that Saddam
could be compared to the Emperor Caligula. Now the good general was
probably relying on Suetonius's Twelve Caesars for his views on Caligula.
But if anything, the Roman was a good deal more insane than Saddam and
even more heedless of human life.
The crazy Uday Hussein,
son of Saddam, might have been a more appropriate parallel. But what
was all this supposed to achieve? A serious war crimes trial - preferably
outside Iraq and far from the country's contaminated judiciary - is
the way to define the nature of Saddam's repulsive regime.
All references to
the ex-dictator as Hitler, Stalin, Attila the Hun or Caligula - like
all suggestions that Tony Blair or George Bush are Winston Churchill
- are infantile. And again, they will appear insulting to the Sunni
Muslims of Iraq, the one community which the Americans should be desperate
to placate, since it is the Sunnis who are primarily resisting the occupation.
But the looking-glass
effect seems to have taken hold of US pro-consul Paul Bremer's entire
authority. Like President George Bush, Bremer has now taken to repeating
the absurdity that the greater the West's success in Iraq, the more
frequent will be the attacks on American troops.
feel that we'll actually have more violence in the next six months,"
he said a couple of week ago, "and the violence will be precisely
because of the fact that we're building momentum toward success."
In other words, the better things become, the worse they're going to
get. And the greater the violence, the better we're doing in Iraq.
I wouldn't worry
about this nonsense so much if it wasn't mirrored on the ground in Iraq.
Take the US claim - now regarded as an absurdity - that they killed
"54 insurgents" in Samara a month ago. The truth is that they
killed at least eight civilians and there's not a smidgen of evidence
that they killed anyone else. But still they insist on sticking to the
story of their great victory.
Last week, they
pushed out a similar version of the same story. This time there were
11 dead "insurgents" in Samara. But when The Independent investigated,
it could only find records of four dead civilians and a lot of wounded.
None of the wounded - presumably "insurgents" if the Americans
believe their own story - had been visited in hospital by US forces
who might, if they didn't question them, at least have apologised.
An even more peculiar
habit has now manifest itself among spokesmen for the occupation authorities.
When a tank drove over a prominent Shiite Muslim cleric in the Baghdad
suburb of Sadr City three weeks ago, they claimed this was a "traffic
accident", as if driving an M1A1 Abrams tank over a car and a robed
prelate is the kind of thing that can happen on any downtown street.
A few days later,
after a truck-bomber crashed into a car and killed 17 civilians, the
occupation lads churned out the same rubbish again. It was, they said,
a "traffic accident" involving a petrol tanker. But there
was no tanker attached to the lorry.
The first American
troops on the scene found the grenades intended to detonate the bomb
and the victims were all blasted to bits - not burned, as they would
have been if the petrol tanker had simply caught fire. Those of us who
reached the scene shortly after the slaughter could still smell the
explosives. But it was a "traffic accident".
Only yesterday we
had an equally bizarre event. Jets, C-130 aircraft mounted with chain
guns, and heavy artillery were all reported to be striking "guerrilla
bases" in Operation Iron Hammer south of Baghdad. But investigation
proved that the targets were empty fields and that some of the heavy
guns were firing blank rounds as part of an artillery maintenance routine.
So let's get this
right. Insurgents are civilians. Truck bombs and tanks that crush civilians
are traffic accidents. And the "liberated" civilians who live
in villages surrounded by razor wire should endure "a heavy dose
of fear and violence" to keep them on the straight and narrow.
the way, they will probably be told about democracy as well.
Coptright: The Independent