By Robert Fisk
13 January, 2005
yields a world of clichés but here, for once, the first cliché
that comes to mind is true. Baghdad is a city of fear. Fearful Iraqis,
fearful militiamen, fearful American soldiers, fearful journalists.
That day upon which
the blessings of democracy will shower upon us, 30 January, is approaching
with all the certainty and speed of doomsday. The latest Zarqawi video
shows the killing of six Iraqi policemen. Each is shot in the back of
the head, one by one. A survivor plays dead. Then a gunman walks up
behind him and blows his head apart with bullets. These images haunt
everyone. At the al-Hurriya intersection yesterday morning, four truckloads
of Iraqi national guardsmen - the future saviours of Iraq, according
to George Bush - are passing my car. Their rifles are porcupine quills,
pointing at every motorist, every Iraqi on the pavement, the Iraqi army
pointing their weapons at their own people. And they are all wearing
masks - black hoods or ski-masks or keffiyahs that leave only slits
for frightened eyes. Just before it collapsed finally into the hands
of the insurgents last summer, I saw exactly the same scene in the streets
of Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad. Now I am watching them in the capital.
At Kamal Jumblatt
Square beside the Tigris, two American Humvees approach the roundabout.
Their machine-gunners are shouting at drivers to keep away from them.
A big sign in Arabic on the rear of each vehicle says: "Forbidden.
Do not overtake this convoy. Stay 50 metres away from it."
The drivers behind
obey; they know the meaning of the "deadly force" which the
Americans have written on to their checkpoint signs. But the two Humvees
drive into a massive traffic jam, the gunners now screaming at us to
When a taxi which
does not notice the US troops blocks their path, the American in the
lead vehicle hurls a plastic bottle full of water on to its roof and
the driver mounts the grass traffic circle. A truck receives the same
treatment from the lead Humvee. "Go back," shouts the rear
gunner, staring at us through shades. We try desperately to turn into
Yes, the Russians
would probably have chucked hand grenades in Kabul. But here were the
terrified "liberators" of Baghdad throwing bottles of water
at the Iraqis who are supposed to enjoy an American-imposed democracy
on 30 January.
The rear Humvee
has "Specialist Carrol" written on the windscreen. Specialist
Carrol, I am sure, regards every damn one of us as a potential suicide
bomber - and I can't blame him. One such bomber had just driven up to
the police station in Tikrit, north of Baghdad, and destroyed himself
and the lives of at least six policemen.
Round the corner,
I discover the reason for the jam: Iraqi cops are fighting off hundreds
of motorists desperate for petrol, the drivers refusing to queue any
longer for the one thing which Iraq possesses in Croesus-like amounts
I drop by the Ramaya
restaurant for lunch. Closed. They are building a 20-floor security
wall around the premises. So I drive to the Rif for a pizza, occasionally
tinkling the restaurant's piano while I watch the entrance for people
I don't want to see. The waiters are nervous. They are happy to bring
my pizza in 10 minutes. There is no one else in the restaurant, you
see, and they watch the road outside like friendly rabbits. They are
waiting for The Car.
I call on an old
Iraqi friend who used to publish a literary magazine during Saddam's
reign. "They want me to vote, but they can't protect me,"
he says. "Maybe there will be no suicide bomber at the polling
station. But I will be watched. And what if I get a hand-grenade in
my home three days' later? The Americans will say they did their best,
Allawi's people will say I am a 'martyr for democracy'. So, do you think
I'm going to vote?"
university - one of Iraq's best - students of English literature are
to face their end-of-term exam. January marks the end of the Iraqi semester.
But one of the students tells me that his fellow students had told their
teacher that - so fraught are the times - they were not yet prepared
for the examination. Rather than giving them all zeros, the teacher
meekly postpones the exam.
I drive back through
the al-Hurriya intersection beside the "Green Zone" and suddenly
there is a big black 4x4, filled with ski-masked gunmen. "Get back!"
they scream at every motorist as they try to cut across the median.
I roll the window down. The rear door of the 4x4 whacks open. A ski-masked
Westerner - blond hair, blue eyes - is pointing a Kalashnikov at my
car. "Get back!" he shrieks in ghastly Arabic. Then he clears
the median, followed by three armoured pick-ups, windows blacked, tyres
skidding on the road surface, carrying the sacred Westerners inside
to the dubious safety of the "Green Zone", the hermetically-sealed
compound from which Iraq is supposedly governed. I glance at the Iraqi
press. Colin Powell is warning of "civil war" in Iraq. Why
do we Westerners keep threatening civil war in a country whose society
is tribal rather than sectarian? Of all papers, it is the Kurdish Al
Takhri, loyal to Mustafa Barzani, which asks the same question. "There
has never been a civil war in Iraq," the editorial thunders. And
it is right.
So, "full ahead
both" for the dreaded 30 January elections and democracy. The American
generals - with a unique mixture of mendacity and hope amid the insurgency
- are now saying that only four of Iraq's 18 provinces may not be able
to "fully" participate in the elections.
Good news. Until
you sit down with the population statistics and realise - as the generals
all know - that those four provinces contain more than half of the population
Copyright: The Independent.