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[casi] P: 'Does Tony have any idea what the flies are like that

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Focus: Part one The human cost -
'Does Tony have any idea what the flies are like that
feed off the dead?'
By Robert Fisk
Independent, January 26, 2003
26 January 2003

On the road to Basra, ITV was filming wild dogs as
they tore at the corpses of the Iraqi dead. Every few
seconds a ravenous beast would rip off a decaying arm
and make off with it over the desert in front of us,
dead fingers trailing through the sand, the remains of
the burned military sleeve flapping in the wind.

"Just for the record,'' the cameraman said to me. Of
course. Because ITV would never show such footage. The
things we see - the filth and obscenity of corpses -
cannot be shown. First because it is not "appropriate"
to depict such reality on breakfast-time TV. Second
because, if what we saw was shown on television, no
one would ever again agree to support a war.

That of course was in 1991. The "highway of death",
they called it - there was actually a parallel and
much worse "highway of death" 10 miles to the east,
courtesy of the US Air Force and the RAF, but no one
turned up to film it - and the only true picture of
the horrors we saw was the photograph of the
shrivelled, carbonised Iraqi soldier in his truck.
This was an iconic illustration of a kind because it
did represent what we had seen, when it was eventually

For Iraqi casualties to appear on television during
that Gulf War - there was another one between 1980 and
1988, and a third is in the offing - it was necessary
for them to have died with care, to have fallen
romantically on their backs, one hand over a ruined
face. Like those First World War paintings of the
British dead on the Somme, Iraqis had to die benignly
and without obvious wounds, without any kind of
squalor, without a trace of shit or mucus or congealed
blood, if they wanted to make it on to the morning
news programmes.

I rage at this contrivance. At Qaa in 1996, when the
Israelis had shelled Lebanese refugees at the UN
compound for 17 minutes, killing 106 civilians, more
than half of them children, I came across a young
woman holding in her arms a middle-aged man. He was
dead. "My father, my father," she kept crying,
cradling his face. One of his arms and one of his legs
was missing - the Israelis used proximity shells which
cause amputation wounds - but when that scene reached
television screens in Europe and America, the camera
was close up on the girl and the dead man's face. The
amputations were not to be seen. The cause of death
had been erased in the interests of good taste. It was
as if the old man had died of tiredness, just turned
his head upon his daughter's shoulder to die in peace.

Today, when I listen to the threats of George Bush
against Iraq and the shrill moralistic warnings of
Tony Blair, I wonder what they know of this terrible
reality. Does George, who declined to serve his county
in Vietnam, have any idea what these corpses smell
like? Does Tony have the slightest conception of what
the flies are like, the big bluebottles that feed on
the dead of the Middle East, and then come to settle
on our faces and our notepads?

Soldiers know. I remember one British officer asking
to use the BBC's satellite phone just after the
liberation of Kuwait in 1991. He was talking to his
family in England and I watched him carefully. "I have
seen some terrible things," he said. And then he broke
down, weeping and shaking and holding the phone
dangling in his hand over the transmission set. Did
his family have the slightest idea what he was talking
about? They would not have understood by watching

Thus can we face the prospect of war. Our glorious,
patriotic population - albeit only about 20 per cent
in support of this particular Iraqi folly - has been
protected from the realities of violent death. But I
am much struck by the number of letters in my postbag
from veterans of the Second World War, men and women,
all against this new Iraqi war, with an inalienable
memory of torn limbs and suffering.

I remember once a wounded man in Iran, a piece of
steel in his forehead, howling like an animal - which
is, of course, what we all are - before he died; and
the Palestinian boy who simply collapsed in front of
me when an Israeli soldier shot him dead, quite
deliberately, coldly, murderously, for throwing a
stone; and the Israeli with a chair leg sticking out
of her stomach outside the Sbarro pizzeria in
Jerusalem after a Palestinian bomber had decided to
execute the families inside; and the heaps of Iraqi
dead at the Battle of Dezful in the Iran-Iraq war -
the stench of their bodies wafted through our
helicopter until the mullahs aboard were sickened; and
the young man showing me the thick black trail of his
daughter's blood outside Algiers where armed
"Islamists" had cut her throat.

But George Bush and Tony Blair and Dick Cheney and
Jack Straw and all the other little warriors who are
bamboozling us into war will not have to think of
these vile images. For them it's about surgical
strikes, collateral damage and all the other examples
of war's linguistic mendacity. We are going to have a
just war; we are going to liberate the people of Iraq
- some of whom we will obviously kill - and we are
going to give them democracy and protect their oil
wealth and stage war crimes trials and we are going to
be ever so moral, and we are going to watch our
defence "experts" on TV with their bloodless sandpits
and their awesome knowledge of weapons which rip off

Come to think of it, I recall the head of an Albanian
refugee, chopped neatly off when the Americans, ever
so accidentally, bombed a refugee convoy in Kosovo in
1999 which they thought was a Serb military unit. His
head lay in the long grass, bearded, eyes open,
severed as if by a Tudor executioner. Months later, I
learned his name and talked to the girl who was hit by
the severed head during the US air strike and who laid
the head reverently in the grass where I found it.
Nato, of course, did not apologise to the family. Nor
to the girl. No one says sorry after war. No one
acknowledges the truth of it. No one shows you what we
see. Which is how our leaders and our betters persuade
us - still - to go to war.

26 January 2003 06:17

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