Iraq? Hooded Protest
And Masked Statistics
By Robert Fisk
21 March 2004
a year after the Anglo-American armies invaded Iraq, I found five young
men yesterday busy smashing up what was left of a Saddam statue in this
little dusty border village. The torso and head of the dictator had
long disappeared from his plinth at the frontier station but his legs
and one arm and a battery of monumental missiles still lay on the ground
in gleaming steel. Two American attack helicopters were racing up the
border - still trying to find Donald Rumsfeld's al-Qa'ida hordes as
they supposedly swarm into Iraq - but what caught my eye were the heads
of the five young men, so assiduously hammering and sawing and hacking
at the remains of the statue. Four of them were wearing black face masks,
the fifth had a black hood over his head. A year after the fall of Saddam,
Iraqis have to hide their identity when they attack his image. What
does that tell us about "new Iraq"?
If you are in Iraq,
in Baghdad, driving its dangerous roads, the evidence of collapse and
failure is everywhere. The few unarmed NGOs are marooned in the cities,
unable to travel on the highways, which have become the domain of assassins
and bandits. Now even the road south of Kerbala is the haunt of armed
gangs. When I drive these highways, I now wear a keffiyeh and thobe
on my head. My driver wears western trousers and shirt but I am in Arab
clothes to avoid being attacked. Other westerners are doing the same
thing. What does that tell us about Iraq a year after its "liberation"?
Many drivers now
refuse to work for western reporters - and who can blame them? Yesterday,
another journalist from the "Arabia" television station died
of wounds after being shot by US troops - no wonder his colleagues walked
out of Colin Powell's boastful Baghdad press conference yesterday. Three
journalists working for the American- funded television station have
been killed by insurgents. An old Iraqi friend of mine - one of Saddam's
most trenchant critics - approached me this week. He had wanted to work
for a "democratic" Iraq. Now he wanted my help in obtaining
a second passport. Could I speak to the Australian embassy, he asked?
He no longer believed that he would live in a stable country. What does
this also tell us about "new Iraq"?
For those who spend
time in Iraq, it is difficult to know whether to laugh or to cry when
the pro-war chorus bangs its drums again. Richard Perle, one of the
war's American neo-conservative Vulcans who did more than most to push
the Bush administration into this invasion, was arguing with me on a
radio show, praising the resumption of 24-hour electrical power in the
Iraqi capital. Alas, I could hear little of what he was saying because
of the roar of emergency generators around me in night-time Baghdad.
How do we explain
now the armies of truculent, often ill-disciplined mercenaries now roaming
Iraq on behalf of the Anglo-American occupation authorities. Many thousands
of them British, some are well trained, many are not. In my own hotel,
dozens of them swagger through the lobby with rifles and pistols, all
talking "security", all working for private security firms
hired by the occupation power or by private companies. They have no
rules of engagement and many of them drink too much. When I pleaded
with one British gunman in sunglasses last week to at least put a shirt
over his gun to conceal it when walking in and out of our hotel, he
pointed a finger at me. "Listen mate," he shouted. "If
I see someone with a gun come to shoot you, I am going to walk right
past and do nothing." But he is the risk to our security. The Iraqis,
of course, watch the coming and going of these young men and draw their
own conclusions. I fear I know what they are.
US troops and western civilians are daily increasing in Mosul. Two days
ago, three Iraqis were killed in Basra by a car bomb intended for a
British military patrol. Western troops will now only drive at night
north of Najaf in companies 200-strong. What happened to that nice little
neatly defined "Sunni triangle"? No wonder Spanish troops
are so keen to go home. Now that Poland's Prime Minister says he was
"deceived" about weapons of mass destruction, how soon before
the Polish contingent follow the Spanish? Never is it reported that
Polish troops are attacked almost every night around the city of Hilla.
David Kay's astonishing interview in yesterday's Le Figaro - "we
must recognise our mistakes in order to restore our credibility"
- is being widely broadcast in Baghdad. "I don't think there was
any serious chance of proving the existence of weapons of mass destruction,"
he said. "Because the best evidence suggests they did not exist."
Still, the occupying
power, the "Coalition Provisional Authority", refuses to keep
statistics on the dozens of innocent Iraqis dying each week under their
mandate, in massive car bombs and in roadside killings. The US military
searches of Iraqi Sunni villages, the Israeli-style battering down of
doors and houses, the constant American killing of innocents is embittering
a new generation of Iraqis. And soon we will have "democracy"
Copyright: The Independent.