Touch With Reality
By Robert Fisk
21 September, 2003
culture of secrecy has descended upon the Anglo-American occupation
authorities in Iraq.
They will give no
tally of the Iraqi civilian lives lost each day.
They will not comment
on the killing by an American soldier of one of their own Iraqi interpreters
on Thursday he was shot dead in front of the Italian diplomat
who was official adviser to the new Iraqi ministry of culture
and they cannot explain how General Sultan Hashim Ahmed, the former
Iraqi minister of defence and a potential war criminal, should now be
described by one of the most senior US officers in Iraq as "a man
of honour and integrity."
On Thursday, in
a three-stage ambush that destroyed an American military truck and a
Humvee jeep almost a hundred miles west of Baghdad, a minimum of three
US soldiers were reported dead and three wounded local Iraqis
claimed the fatalities numbered eight yet within hours, the occupation
authorities were saying that exactly the same number were killed and
wounded in a sophisticated ambush on Americans in Tikrit.
Only two soldiers
were wounded in the earlier attack, they said.
And for the second
day running yesterday, the mobile telephone system operated by MCI for
the occupation forces collapsed, effectively isolating the 'Coalition
Provisional Authority' from its ministries and from US forces.
An increasing number
of journalists in Baghdad now suspect that US proconsul Paul Bremmer
and his hundreds of assistants ensconced in the heavily guarded former
presidential palace of Saddam Hussein in the capital, have simply lost
touch with reality.
Although an enquiry
was promised yesterday into the shooting of the Iraqi interpreter, details
of the incident suggest that US troops now have carte blanche to open
fire at Iraqi civilian cars on the mere suspicion that their occupants
may be hostile.
the Italian diplomat whom Bremmer appointed special adviser to the Iraqi
ministry of culture, was travelling to Mosul with his wife Mirella when
their car approached an American convoy.
According to Mr
Cordone, a soldier manning a machine gun in the rear vehicle of the
convoy appeared to signal to Mr Cordone's driver that he should not
attempt to overtake.
The driver did not
do so but the soldier then fired a single shot at the car, which penetrated
the windscreen and hit the interpreter who was sitting in the front
A few minutes later,
the man died in Mr Cordone's arms.
The Italian diplomat
later returned to Baghdad.
Yet the incident
was only reported because Mr Cordone happened to be in the car.
Every day, Iraqi
civilians are wounded or shot dead by US troops in Iraq.
Just five days ago,
a woman and her child were killed in Baghdad by an American soldier
after US forces opened fire at a wedding party that was shooting into
A 14-year old boy
was reported killed in a similar incident two days ago.
Then on Thursday
afternoon, several Iraqi civilians were wounded by US troops after the
Americans were ambushed outside the town of Khaldiya. At least two American
vehicles were destroyed and eyewitnesses described seeing body parts
on the road after the ambush.
Yet 12 hours later,
the authorities said that the Americans had suffered just two wounded
even though at least three Americans were first reported to have
died and witnesses said the death toll was as high as eight.
Then came the ambush
at Tikrit almost identical if the authorities are to be believed
-- in which exactly the same casualty toll was produced: three dead
and two wounded
On this occasion,
the incident was partly captured on videofilm.
During an arms raid
around Saddam's home town, guerrillas attacked not only the American
raiders but two of their bases along the Tigress river. It was, an American
spokesman said, a "coordinated" attack on soldiers of the
US 4th Infantry Division. Up to 40 men of "military age" were
In what must be
one of the more extraordinary episodes of the day, General Sultan Ahmad,
the former Iraqi ministry of defence, handed himself over to Major General
David Petraeus in charge of the north of Iraq after the
American commander had sent him a letter describing him as "a man
of honour and integrity." In return for his surrender or
so says the Kurdish intermediary who arranged his handover to US forces
the Americans had promised to remove his name form the list of
55 most-wanted Iraqis around Saddam.
I last saw the portly
General Ahmed in April, brandishing a gold-painted Kalashnikov in the
Baghdad ministry of information and vowing eternal war against his country's
It was Ahmed who
persuaded now retired General Norman Schwarzkopf to allow the defeated
Iraqi forces to use military helicopters on "official business"
after the 1991 US-Iraqi ceasefire agreed at Safwan.
were then used in the brutal repression of the Shia Muslim and Kurdish
rebellions against Saddam which had been encouraged by President George
was much talk of indicting General Ahmed as a war criminal, but US General
Petraeus seems to have thrown that idea in to the waste-bin.
His quite extraordinary
letter to Ahmed which preceded the Iraqi general's surrender
and was revealed by the Associated Press news agency described
the potential war criminal as "the most respected senior military
leader currently residing in Mosul" and promised that he would
be treated with "the utmost dignity and respect."
In the same letter
which may be studied by war crimes investigators with a mixture
of awe and disbelief -- the US officer said that "although we find
ourselves on different sides of this war, we do share common traits.
men, we follow the orders of our superiors. We may not necessarily agree
with the politics and bureaucracy, but we understand unity of command
and supporting our leaders in a common and just cause."
Thus far have the
Americans now gone in appeasing the men who may have influence over
the Iraqi guerrillas now killing US soldiers in Iraq.
What is presumably
supposed to be seen as a gesture of compromise is much more likely to
be understood as a sign of military weakness which it clearly
is and history will have to decide what would have happened if
similar letters had been sent to Nazi military leaders before the German
surrender in 1945.
also have to ruminate upon the implications of the meaning of "supporting
our leaders in a common and just cause." Are Saddam and Mr Bush
supposed to be these 'leaders'?