[News] Iraq through the American looking glass, By Robert Fisk

claude claude at freedomarchives.org
Sun Dec 28 11:08:14 EST 2003

>Iraq through the American looking glass
>Insurgents are civilians. Tanks that crush civilians are traffic accidents.
>And civilians should endure heavy doses of fear and violence
>By Robert Fisk in Baghdad
>26 December 2003
>Something 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 shot."
>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
>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!" it says.
>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.
>"I personally 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
>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
>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.
>Somewhere along the way, they will probably be told about democracy as

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