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[casi] Articles from Baghdad by Robert Fisk

By Robert Fisk in Baghdad - 21st March, 2003

1) Shame Upon These Pygmies and Their Lies

BAGHDAD, 21 March 2003 — World War II was an
obscenity. It ended in 1945. Yet you would think,
listening to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US
President Bush who have launched a war in the Middle
East, that Hitler was still alive in his Berlin
bunker. You would think, too, that our leaders and
journalists and — let us be frank — the Arab dictators
too, have not understood this. The Luftwaffe, if you
listen to Messers Blair and Bush, is still taking off
from Cap Gris Nez, ready to bombard London after years
of appeasement of Nazi Germany. Saddam, of course, is

Yet it is our air forces that are about to strike from
Iraq’s ‘Cap Gris Nez’’; Kuwait and Qatar and Turkey
and assorted aircraft carriers — to pulverize not
London but Baghdad. What is it about our Lilliputian
leaders who dare to manipulate our massive sacrifice
in World War II for their squalid conflict against
Iraq, elevating the tinpot dictatorship of Saddam
Hussein into the epic historical tragedy of the
1939-1945 war?

George Bush Junior tried to don the mantle of
Churchill last year, pretending that he was the
Churchill who stood up against the “appeasement” of
anyone who objected to a war against Saddam. The theme
has run like a sick justification throughout this
fraudulent campaign for war. History, said Blair — who
has never seen a war in his life — had important
lessons for this crisis. Neville Chamberlain’s efforts
to appease Hitler were the work of a good man who made
the wrong decision, he told us. President Jacques
Chirac, defending his country from charges of
cowardice, recalled that when France wanted to take
action in the Balkans, the country found itself alone,
recalling “the West’s appeasement of Hitler.” Provoked
by the promised French veto in the UN Security
Council, the New York Post printed a photograph of
American soldiers’ graves in Normandy. “They died for
France but France has forgotten,” the paper announced
— as if liberation from the Nazis in 1944 involved
France’s surrender of free speech 58 years later.
“Where are the French now, as American soldiers
prepare to put their soldiers on the line to fight
today’s Hitler, Saddam Hussein?” the Post asked.

Even Winston S. Churchill, grandson of the great man,
weighed into the pages of the extreme right-wing Wall
Street Journal’ to complain that the East European
states which supported the US — with a motion drafted
by a former US government official, though he didn’t
say so — have not forgotten the debt of gratitude they
owe to the United States, first for liberating them
from the Nazis. Churchill was not alone. Saddam
Hussein himself has joined this cynical crowd.

In his interview with Tony Benn, the “Hitler of
Baghdad” advised his British visitor that if the
Iraqis are subjected to aggression or humiliation,
they would fight bravely — just as the British people
in World War II had defended their country in their
own way. His prime minister, Tariq Aziz, later told
the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that “the
truth is that Bush is dismantling the United Nations,
like the Third Reich in the 1930s nullified the League
of Nations.”

And so it goes, on and on and on. Poor old World War
II, you can’t help thinking. Barbara Amiel, wife of
the Daily Telegraph owner Conrad Black, told readers
of the Canadian Maclean’s’ Magazine that “destroying
Saddam’s regime will genuinely be a liberation for the
people of Iraq, and when it happens the liberators
will be greeted with the same extraordinary joy that
met the Allies in 1945 in France.”

But no matter. Forget that one of those nations which
wants to use its veto in the UN Security Council —
Russia — lost 20 million people (possible 30 million)
in its battle against the Nazis. Even the BBC is now
talking about “the Allies” who will invade Iraq. So
here’s a voice — one of many I have received in my
mailbag — from that appalling period of world history,
a letter from a British soldier in Burma, appalled by
the injuries inflicted on a young girl in an RAF air
raid and the 30 dead British infantrymen accidentally
slaughtered in a US bombing mission. “I cannot
understand,” he wrote to me, “what our prime minister
and Jack Straw think they are doing. The US policy on
Israel/Palestine is evil.”

Last week, when Bush, Blair and Spanish Prime Minister
Aznar met in the Azores, World War II symbolism
reached its apogee. The Big Three — Churchill,
Roosevelt and Stalin — met in Potsdam to decide the
future of the post-Nazi world. On Sunday, the Little
Three — two prime ministers who no longer represent
their people and a US president who may not even have
been fairly elected — met on an obscure Portuguese
island to decide the future of the Middle East. Shame
upon these pygmies and their lies. Who remembers now
that the BBC broadcast the first news of the 1944
Normandy landings with these words: “The armies of the
United Nations have landed on the beaches of France.”
That’s what we called ourselves then. So delete the
recording. Erase the tape. Let the grass grow over the
mass graves of 60 million dead. But for God’s sake,
leave them in peace.

2)Bubbles of fire tore into the sky above Baghdad

It was like a door slamming deep beneath the surface
of the earth; a pulsating, minute-long roar of sound
that brought President George Bush's supposed crusade
against "terrorism" to Baghdad last night.

There was a thrashing of tracer on the horizon from
the Baghdad air defences – the Second World War-era
firepower of old Soviet anti-aircraft guns – and then
a series of tremendous vibrations that had the ground
shaking under our feet. Bubbles of fire tore into the
sky around the Iraqi capital, dark red at the base,
golden at the top.

Saddam Hussein, of course, has vowed to fight to the
end but in Baghdad last night, there was a truly
Valhalla quality about the violence. Within minutes,
looking out across the Tigris river I could see
pin-pricks of fire as bombs and cruise missiles
exploded on to Iraq's military and communications
centres and, no doubt, upon the innocent as well.

The first of the latter, a taxi driver, was blown to
pieces in the first American raid on Baghdad yesterday
morning. No one here doubted that the dead would
include civilians. Tony Blair said just that in the
Commons debate this week but I wondered, listening to
this storm of fire across Baghdad last night, if he
has any conception of what it looks like, what it
feels like, or of the fear of those innocent Iraqis
who are, as I write this, cowering in their homes and

Not many hours ago, I talked to an old Shia Muslim
lady in a poor area of Baghdad. She was dressed in
traditional black with a white veil over her head. I
pressed her over and over again as to what she felt.
In the end, she just said: "I am afraid."

That this is the start of something that will change
the face of the Middle East is in little doubt; that
it will be successful in the long term is quite
another matter.

The sheer violence of it, the howl of air raid sirens
and the air-cutting fall of the missiles carried its
own political message; not just to President Saddam
but to the rest of the world. We are the super-power,
those explosions said last night. This is how we do
business. This is how we take our revenge for 11

Not even George Bush made any pretence in the last
days of peace to link Iraq with those international
crimes against humanity in New York, Washington and
Pennsylvania. But some of the fire that you could see
bubbling up through the darkness around Baghdad last
night did remind me of other flames, those which
consumed the World Trade Centre. In a strange way, the
Americans were – without the permission of the United
Nations, with most of the world against them – acting
out their rage with an eerily fiery consummation.

Iraq cannot withstand this for long. President Saddam
may claim, as he does, that his soldiers can defeat
technology with courage. I doubt it. For what fell
upon Iraq last night – and I witnessed just an
infinitely small part of this festival of violence –
was as militarily awesome as it was politically
terrifying. The crowds outside my hotel stood and
stared into the sky at the flashing anti-aircraft
bursts, awed by their power.


3) By first light, the rumbling explosions were
already mixed with calls to prayer

Initially, the city of Baghdad was stunned by the
onset of war. For more than an hour, I watched the
tracers racing across the pre-dawn sky above the city
and the yellow flash of anti-aircraft batteries
positioned on a ministry roof. The sound was
impressive – the Iraqis have always been good at
London Blitz-style sound effects – but by first light
the few rumbling explosions were already mixed with
the call to the Fajr prayer from the minarets of
Baghdad. How many times under siege over the past
1,000 years, I wondered, must that call have echoed
across this city?

If this was the start of George Bush's "war on
Saddam", it was unimpressive. Two dull thumps of sound
far to the south yesterday morning and a burst of
tracer and anti-aircraft fire overhead, and all you
could conclude was that the Anglo-American conflict
had begun with a whimper, not a bang. Thirty-five
Cruise missiles – at a cost of $40m (£25m) as well as
four attacks by aircraft – could not destroy Saddam
Hussein. In other words, the Americans missed.

And, within an hour, at 5.30 yesterday morning, there
was President Saddam himself on Iraqi state
television, specifying the exact minute and hour of
his post-attack appearance, looking tired perhaps but
very much the gravel-voiced Tikriti we have come to
know. "You will be victorious, Iraqi people," he
announced. "Your enemy will go to hell and will be
killed, God willing." As always, he did not forget his
repetitive military rhetoric. "Use your sword, don't
be afraid. Use your sword. Don't fear anybody. Use
your sword and it will be your witness."

So Round One to President Saddam. All day, the Iraqis
pondered what on earth the Americans were doing. They
had heard how Mr Bush was talking up a "coalition" of
35 nations, although they know well that only the
British are prepared to fight alongside the Americans.
They could not comprehend why Mr Bush, having boasted
of the "shock" and "awe" of his air bombardment,
should have begun like this. They expected a lion's
roar. And all the Iraqis got was a mouse, a "target of
opportunity", as the Pentagon called it, that simply

Meanwhile, life of a sort went on in the capital.

A few Iraqis bought their
all-too-government-controlled papers, printed too late
for the air raid, but filled with the usual
exhortations to fight. Only a few food shops were
open; my search for vegetables and fresh fruit was
hopeless. There were more soldiers on the streets and
policemen in new steel helmets with plastic camouflage
strips and squads of young men digging pits and
surrounding them with sandbags. Yet I saw only two
armoured vehicles in the entire city and most of the
troops grinned at journalists and dutifully gave "V"
for victory signs. Could they have done anything else?

There was much discussion in Iraq – as there must have
been in Europe and America – about President Bush's
extraordinary suggestion that his war "could last
longer and be more difficult than expected". An Iraqi
businessman, lunching at one of the few remaining city
hotels to stay open, concluded that the difficulties
of the Bush conflict had been deliberately kept from
the Americans and British until it was too late to
turn round. Even the scarce Westerners in Baghdad were
floored. As one of them put it: "He hadn't told us
that before."

Around Baghdad, President Saddam's soldiers are
digging in. On a 20-mile journey out of the city
yesterday, I saw troops building artillery revetments
on the approaches to the city and military trucks
hidden under motorway overpasses – and barracks
already deliberately abandoned by their soldiers.
These are standard tactics for any defending army –
the Serbs did just the same before the Nato
bombardment in 1999 – while every major facility was
guarded by Baathist volunteers and local tribesmen.

At one grain silo I visited – there were still two
Australian female human shields there – almost every
other worker was armed with a Kalashnikov rifle.

The Iraqi Minister of Trade, flanked by two dozen
Iraqi cameramen, turned up to express his gratitude to
the two ladies. They beamed into the cameras although
later, of course, when the war is over, they may find
their participation in this bit of theatre something
to forget rather than to remember. It all depends, of
course, on what bats fly out of the box if the United
States "prevails" – as Mr Bush likes to say – and how
the world then looks back upon President Saddam's

But yesterday, it was still very much alive. Every
railway crossing was guarded by soldiers and
militiamen, most crossroads boasted a military
checkpoint. Yet Iraq is a country that has already
been at war for too long. The unpainted houses of the
suburbs, the untended bougainvillea, the empty wagons
and idle diesel locomotives that haunt the railway
yards, speak of tiredness and economic ruin. The
platforms of the great Baghdad railway station – an
empire folly built by the British in the post-1914-18
war mandate complete with pseudo-Islamic dome – are
lined with grass and weeds. What a place for Messrs
Bush and Blair to fight over, one couldn't help

And it was only back in Baghdad, where you can watch
the butane gas burning off from the oil refineries,
that it was possible to remember what has made Iraq so
tempting a target since 1917

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