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>From the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,920806,00.html Flags in the dust Although coalition forces may be winning the military battle on land and in the air, political incompetence means that Iraq is winning the battle of hearts and minds, writes Brian Whitaker Monday March 24, 2003 One of the finest war photographs ever taken shows the raising of the American flag over Iwo Jima in February, 1945. The battle for this tiny island in the Pacific, just five miles long and two miles wide, lasted 31 days and cost 6,821 American lives. In the picture, six helmeted figures grapple with a pole, attempting to plant it on a rock-strewn mountain top. At the end of the pole, the Stars and Stripes flutters in the wind against a vast open sky. The symbolism of this picture, taken by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, was clear to everyone at the time. The huddle of human figures represented heroic endeavour, while the flag and the sky signalled hope and freedom. As an artistic composition, the photograph was so brilliant that ever since the day it appeared there have been people who claimed it was specially posed - though there is ample evidence that it was not. In just 1/400th of a second, Rosenthal's camera captured the spirit of the time. Maybe this was what someone had in mind early last Friday when invading American marines removed an Iraqi flag from a building in Umm Qasr, just across the border from Kuwait, and raised the Stars and Stripes. But what might have seemed a noble gesture in 1945 is open to different interpretations 58 years later. In Britain, even supporters of the war denounced the flag-raising as a stupid act, undermining claims that the goal is to liberate Iraq, not to conquer it - and by nightfall the Iraqi flag was back. In the midst of more dramatic events, this was a very minor incident, but a telling one nonetheless: it highlighted a credibility gap that may yet become a catastrophic flaw in America's war strategy. Most wars start by accident or with a flourish of misplaced jingoism. But this war is unique. It is hard to recall any conflict in history that aroused so much opposition even before it began. At best its legitimacy and purpose is in serious doubt. At worst, millions regard it as illegal and/or immoral. Besides that, it is led by a president for whom few outside the United States have any respect. Just as the onus was placed on Iraq, during the period of inspections, to prove that it had no weapons of mass destruction, the onus now is on the invasion forces to convince a sceptical world of their bona fides. This is probably impossible to do, since the official and unofficial aims of the war cannot be reconciled. One example of confused messages came on the first day with the attempt to assassinate Saddam Hussein. Apart from looking hasty and opportunistic, it conflicted with argument made during the UN inspection process that the main goal was to disarm Iraq. That might not have been so bad if, after Saddam had appeared on television to show that he was still alive, US officials had quashed speculation that he might be dead. Whatever private doubts they might have harboured (about the use of lookalikes, etc), joining in the guesswork merely cast doubt on their credibility as sources of authoritative information. The Centcom command centre in Qatar, with its hugely expensive press facilities, has also been slow to get its case across. It was not until Saturday that General Tommy Franks got round to speaking to the world's media, with a polished performance that said almost nothing. In the meantime, other officials made all sorts of statements that were contradictory in some cases and downright wrong in others. The battle for Umm Qasr, the small port near the border with Kuwait has been won and un-won so many times that by now most people have lost count. It's no excuse to attribute these failures to the "fog of war" or "psychological operations" against the Baghdad regime. Iraqi spokesmen, on the other hand, have been remarkably forthcoming and, if we disregard the usual rhetoric, the factual content of their statements has often been more accurate than that of the invasion forces. Their figures for Iraqi casualties have also been low enough to sound plausible. Friday brought the appalling "Shock n' Awe Show" which, in its visual effects, resembled something that might have been conceived by a big-budget Hollywood director. Its military purpose, if any, is still far from clear, and those shocked by it were mainly TV viewers outside Iraq. After decades of wars, sanctions and repression, Iraqis themselves have become inured to almost anything. As the attack was ending, some of the Arab TV channels lingered for a few seconds on a bizarre scene in flickering night-vision green: Iraqi spectators standing in open parkland on the opposite side of the river, watching the fireworks. Though this attack was meant to terrify the Baghdad regime into submission, nobody in Washington seems to have anticipated its effect on the rest of the world. To some in the Arab and Muslim countries, Shock and Awe is terrorism by another name; to others, a crime that compares unfavourably with September 11. To the homespun folks in Middletown, California - recorded by the BBC the other day singing patriotic songs around their dinner table - such perceptions may be utterly incomprehensible, but they are real and cannot be ignored. They explain why the American flag has become a liability and why westerners in Yemen, for example, have taken to flying the blue-and-gold European flag from their cars to discourage attackers. General Franks, of course, is at pains to point out that modern American missiles are extremely accurate and that every target is carefully selected to minimise civilian casualties. This may be, but it takes only a few exceptions to persuade people otherwise - as happened at the weekend when al-Jazeera television showed millions of Arab viewers the picture of a child with a shattered head. As the invasion forces move closer to Baghdad, it is still an open question as to whether ordinary Iraqis will view them as conquerors or liberators. The omens so far are not particularly good. When they arrived in Safwan last Friday, one Iraqi greeted them by saying: "What took you so long? God help you to become victorious." Possibly he meant it, though it's not hard to imagine similar words being addressed to anyone who arrived in town with a conspicuous display of weaponry. Two Reuters correspondents, travelling independently of the military, told a different story: "One group of Iraqi boys on the side of the road smiled and waved as a convoy of British tanks and trucks rolled by. But once it had passed, leaving a trail of dust and grit in its wake, their smiles turned to scowls. 'We don't want them here,' said 17-year-old Fouad, looking angrily up at the plumes of grey smoke rising from Basra. 'Saddam is our leader,' he said defiantly. 'Saddam is good'." All these effects were easily foreseeable, though not easily avoided once a decision was made to go to war. With less than a week gone, the invasion forces may be slowly winning the battle on land and in the air but Iraq is winning the battle of hearts and minds. To have reached such a position against an adversary who is demonstrably one of the world's most disgusting tyrants, to have transformed him into a hero figure, and to have transformed the American flag into a symbol of oppression, is not only unfortunate but reeks of political incompetence. __________________________________________________ Do you Yahoo!? Yahoo! Platinum - Watch CBS' NCAA March Madness, live on your desktop! http://platinum.yahoo.com _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email email@example.com All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk