Fisk: Iraq isn't working

Anon Anon inprekorr at
Thu Jul 31 19:35:19 MDT 2003

Iraq isn't working
By Robert Fisk

There is a veneer of normality about life in the new
Iraq. But America's failure to deliver on its promises
has triggered a spiral of murderous anarchy that
threatens to become an epic tragedy

The Independent
31 July 2003

Paul Bremer's taste in clothes symbolises "the new
Iraq" very well. He wears a business suit and combat
boots. As the proconsul of Iraq, you might have
thought he'd have more taste. But he is a famous
"antiterrorism" expert who is supposed to be
rebuilding the country with a vast army of
international companies - most of them American, of
course - and creating the first democracy in the Arab
world. Since he seems to be a total failure at the
"antiterrorist" game - 50 American soldiers killed in
Iraq since President George Bush declared the war over
is not exactly a blazing success - it is only fair to
record that he is making a mess of the
"reconstruction" bit as well.

In theory, the news is all great. Oil production is up
to one million barrels a day; Baghdad airport is
preparing to re-open; every university in Iraq is
functioning again; the health services are recovering
rapidly; and mobile phones have made their first
appearance in Baghdad. There's an Iraqi Interim
Council up and hobbling.

But there's a kind of looking-glass fantasy to all
these announcements from the Coalition Provisional
Authority (CPA), the weasel-worded title with which
the American-led occupation powers cloak their
decidedly undemocratic and right-wing credentials.
Take the oil production figures. Lieutenant-General
Ricardo Sanchez, the US commander in Iraq, even chose
to use these statistics in his "great day for Iraq"
press conference last week, the one in which he
triumphantly announced that 200 soldiers in Mosul had
killed the sons of Saddam rather than take them
prisoner. But Lt-Gen Sanchez was talking rubbish.
Although oil production was indeed standing at 900,000
barrels per day in June (albeit 100,000bpd less than
the Sanchez version), it fell this month to 750,000.
The drop was caused by power cuts - which are going to
continue for much of the year - and export smuggling.
The result? Iraq, with the world's second-highest
reserves of oil, is now importing fuel from other
oil-producing countries to meet domestic demands.

Then comes Baghdad airport. Sure, it's going to
re-open. But it just happens that the airport, with
its huge American military base and brutal US prison
camp, comes under nightly grenade and mortar attack.
No major airline would dream of flying its aircraft
into the facility in these circumstances. So weird
things are happening. The Iraqis are told, for
example, that the first flights will be run by
"Transcontinental Airlines" (a name oddly similar to
the CIA's transport airline in Vietnam), which is
reported to be a subsidiary of "US Airlines" and the
only flight will be between Baghdad and - wait for it
- the old East Berlin airport of Schönefeld. A British
outfit calling itself "Mayhill Aviation" has printed
advertisements in the Iraqi press saying that it
intends to fly a Boeing 747 once a week from Gatwick
to Basra, a route which suggests that it is going to
be British military personnel and their families who
end up using the plane.

Open universities are good news. And few would blame
Bremer for summarily firing the 436 professors who
were members of the Baath party. In the same vein, the
CPA annulled the academic system whereby student party
members would automatically receive higher grades.
This is real de-Baathification. But then it turned out
that there wouldn't be enough qualified professors to
go round. Quite a number of the 436 were party men in
name only and received their degrees at foreign
universities. So at Mustansiriyah University, for
example, the very same purged professors were re-hired
after filling out forms routinely denouncing the Baath
party. Bremer seems to have a habit of reversing his
own decisions; having triumphantly announced that he'd
sacked the entire Iraqi army, he was humiliatingly
forced to put them back on rations in case they all
decided to attack US soldiers in Iraq.

Health services? Well, yes, the new Iraqi health
service is being encouraged to rehabilitate the
country's hospitals and clinics. But a mysterious
American company called Abt Associates has turned up
in Baghdad to give "Ministry of Health Technical
Assistance" support to the US Agency for International
Development (USAid) and "rapid response grants to
address health needs in-country". It has decreed that
all medical equipment must accord with US technical
standards and modifications - which means that all new
hospital equipment must come from America, not from

And then there's the mobile phones. Just over a week
ago, my roaming Lebanese cellular pinged into life at
midnight and, after a few hours of scrambled voice
communication, picked up mobile companies in Kuwait,
Qatar and Bahrain (depending on where you happened to
be in Baghdad). Less than a week later, however, the
Americans ordered the system shut down because the
Bahrain operating company, by opening its service so
early, was supposedly not giving other bidders a fair
chance at the contract. Those other companies are
largely American.

Of course, Iraqis protest at much of this. They
protest in the streets, especially against the
aggressive American military raids, and they protest
in the press. Much good does it do them. When ex-Iraqi
soldiers demonstrated outside Bremer's office at the
former Presidential Palace, US troops shot two of them
dead. When Falujah residents staged a protest as long
ago as April, the American military shot 16 dead.
Another 11 were later gunned down in Mosul. During two
demonstrations against the presence of US troops near
the shrine of Imam Hussein at Karbala last weekend, US
soldiers shot dead another three. "What a wonderful
thing it is to speak your own minds," Lt-Gen Sanchez
said of the demonstrations in Iraq last week. Maybe he
was exhibiting a black sense of humour.

All this might be incomprehensible if one forgot that
the whole illegal Iraqi invasion had been hatched up
by a bunch of right-wing and pro-Israeli ideologues in
Washington, and that Bremer - though not a member of
their group - fits squarely into the same bracket.
Hence Paul Wolfowitz, one of the prime instigators of
this war - he was among the loudest to beat the drum
over the weapons of mass destruction that didn't exist
- is now trying to deflect attention from his
disastrous advice to the US administration by
attacking the media, in particular that pesky,
uncontrollable channel, Al-Jazeera. Its reports, he
now meretriciously claims, amount to "incitement to
violence" - knowing full well, of course, that Bremer
has officially made "incitement to violence" an excuse
to close down any newspaper or TV station he doesn't

Indeed, newspapers that have offended the Americans
have been raided by US troops in the same way that the
Americans have conducted raids on the offices of the
Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq,
whose leader, Ayatollah Mohammed al-Hakim, is a member
of the famous Interim Council - not exactly a bright
way to keep a prominent Shia cleric on board. But the
council itself is already the subject of much humour
in Baghdad, not least because its first acts included
the purchase of cars for all its members; a decision
to work out of a former presidential palace; and -
this the lunatic brainchild of the Pentagon-supported
and convicted fraudster Ahmed Chalabi - the declaring
of a national holiday every 9 April to honour Iraq's
"liberation" from Saddam.

This sounds fine in America and Britain. What could be
more natural than celebrating the end of the Beast of
Baghdad? But Iraqis, a proud people who have resisted
centuries of invasions, realised that their new public
holiday would mark the first day of their country's
foreign occupation.

"From its very first decision," an Iraqi journalist
told me with contempt, "the Interim Council
de-legitimised itself." And so there has begun to grow
the faint but sinister shadow of a different kind of
"democracy" for Iraq, one in which a new ruler will
have to use a paternalistic rule - moderation mixed
with autocracy, à la Ataturk - to govern Iraq and
allow the Americans to go home. Inevitably, it has
been one of the American commentators from the same
failed lunatic right as Wolfowitz - Daniel Pipes of
the Middle East Forum think tank, which promotes
American interests in the region - to express this in
its most chilling form. He now argues that
"democratic-minded autocrats can guide [Iraq] to full
democracy better than snap elections". What Iraq
needs, he says, is "a democratically-minded [sic]
strongman who has real authority", who would be
"politically moderate" but "operationally tough" (sic

Of course, it's difficult to resist a cynical smile at
such double standards, although their meaning is
frightening enough. What does "operationally tough"
mean, other than secret policemen, interrogation rooms
and torturers to keep the people in order - which is
exactly what Saddam set up when he took power,
supported as he was at the time by the US and Britain?
What does "strongman" mean other than a total reversal
of the promise of "democracy" which Bush and Tony
Blair made to the Iraqi people?

Democracies are not led by autocrats, and autocrats
are not led by anyone but themselves. The Pipes
version of the strongman democracy, by the way,
involves the withdrawal of American troops to
"military bases away from population centres" where
they "serve as the military partner of the new
government [sic], guaranteeing its ultimate
security..." In other words, US forces would hide in
the desert to avoid further casualties unless it was
necessary to storm back to Baghdad to get rid of the
"strongman" if he failed to obey American orders.

But today Bremer is the strongman, and under his rule
US troops are losing hearts and minds by the bucketful
with each new, blundering and often useless raid
against the civilians of Iraq. Still obsessed with
capturing ­ or, rather, killing ­ Saddam, they are
destroying any residual affection for them among the
population. On a recent operation in the town of
Dhuluaya, for example, two innocent men were killed
and the Americans' Iraqi informer ­ originally paraded
before those he was to betray in a hood to keep his
identity secret ­ was executed by his own father. The
enterprising newspaper Iraq Today found that the
"intelligence" officers of the 4th Infantry Division
even left behind mug shots, aerial reconnaissance
photographs and secret operational documents ­
complete with target houses and briefing notes ­ at
the scene. The paper, in the true tradition of
journalism, gleefully published the lot, including the
comment of the father of Sabah Salem Kerbul, the young
informer who worked for the Americans during
"Operation Peninsula Strike". He shot his son first in
the foot and then in the head. "I have killed him," he
said. "But he is still a part of my heart."

Indeed, anarchic violence is now being embedded in
Iraqi society in a way it never was under the
genocidal Saddam. Scarcely a day goes by when I do not
encounter the evidence of this in my daily reporting
work in Baghdad. Visiting the Yarmouk hospital in
Baghdad on Monday to seek the identity of civilians
killed by American troops in Mansur the previous day,
I came across four bodies lying out in the yard beside
the building in the 50C heat. All had been shot. No
one knew their identities. They were all young, save
one who might have been a middle-aged man, with a hole
in his sock. Three days earlier, on a visit to a local
supermarket, I noticed that the woman cashier was
wearing black. Yes, she said, because her brother had
been murdered a week earlier. No one knew why.

In a conversation with my driver's father ­ who runs a
photocopying shop near Bremer's palace headquarters ­
a young man suddenly launched into praise for Saddam
Hussein. When I asked him why, he said that his
father's new car had just been stolen by armed men.
Trying to contact an ex-prisoner illegally held by the
Americans at his home in a slum suburb of Baghdad, I
drove to the mukhtar's house to find the correct
address. The mukhtar is the local mayor. But I was
greeted by a group of long-faced relatives who told me
that I could not speak to the mukhtar ­ because he had
been assassinated the previous night.

So if this is my experience in just the past four
days, how many murders and thefts are occurring across
Baghdad ­ or, indeed, across Iraq? Only two days ago,
for example, five men accused of selling alcohol were
reportedly murdered in Basra. Again, there was no
publicity, no official statement, no death toll from
the CPA. Only a few days ago, I sat in the conference
hall that the occupation authorities use for their
daily press briefings, follies that are used to
condemn "irresponsible reporting", but which record
only a fraction of the violence of the previous 24
hours ­ violence which, of course, is well known to
the authorities.

And there was a disturbing moment when Charles
Heatley, the British spokesman from the Foreign
Office, appointed by Tony Blair at the behest of
Alastair Campbell, talked about the reports of
abduction and rape in Iraq. He acknowledged that there
had been some cases, but then ­ I enjoyed the
beautiful way in which he tried to destroy any
journalistic interest in this terrible subject ­
talked about the number of "rumours" that turned out
to be untrue when checked out. But this is not the
experience of The Independent, which in just one day
recently discovered the identity of one young woman
who had been kidnapped, raped and then freed ­ only to
attempt suicide three times at her home. Another
family gave the paper a photograph of their abducted
daughter in the hope that it might be printed in the
Iraqi press.

Why don't the occupation authorities realise that Iraq
cannot be "spun"? This country is living a tragedy of
epic proportions, and now ­ after its descent into
hell under Saddam ­ we are doomed to suffer its
contagion. By our hubris and by our lies and by our
fantasies ­ including the fantasies of Tony Blair ­ we
are descending into the pit.

For the people of Iraq, the next stage in their long
suffering is under way. For us, a new colonial
humiliation, the like of which may well end the
careers of George Bush and Tony Blair, is coming. Of
far more consequence is that it is likely to end many
innocent lives as well.

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