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[casi] Fisk interview with Democracy Now!

Un-embedded Journalist
by Robert Fisk
Democracy Now
March 25, 2003

Robert Fisk on Washington's 'Quagmire' in Iraq, Civilian Deaths and the
Fallacy of Bush's 'War of Liberation'

[Transcript of a Democracy Now! radio interview with Robert Fisk]


Amy Goodman, Democracy Now! Host: Robert, please set the scene for us in
Baghdad right now.

Robert Fisk, The Independent: Well, it's been a relatively-relatively being
the word-quiet night, there's been quite a lot of explosions about an hour
ago. There have obviously been an awful lot of missiles arriving on some
target, but I would say it was about 4 or 5 miles away. You can hear the
change in air pressure and you can hear this long, low rumble like drums or
like someone banging on a drum deep beneath the ground, but quite a ways
away. There have only been 2 or 3 explosions near the center of the city,
which is where I am, in the last 12 hours. So, I suppose you could say that,
comparatively, to anyone living in central Baghdad, it's been a quiet night.

The strange thing is that the intensity of the attacks on Baghdad changes
quite extraordinarily; you'll get one evening when you can actually sleep
through it all, and the next evening when you see the explosions red hot
around you.

As if no one really planning the things, it's like someone wakes up in the
morning and says, "Let's target this on the map today", and it's something
which sort of characterizes the whole adventure because if you actually look
at what's happening on the ground, you'll see that the American and British
armies started off in the border. They started off at Um Qasr and got stuck,
carried on up the road through the desert, took another right turn and tried
to get into Basra, got stuck, took another right at Nasiriyah, got stuck-it'
s almost as if they keep on saying, "Well let's try the next road on the
right", and it has kind of a lack of planning to it. There will be those who
say that, "No it's been meticulously planned," but it doesn't feel like it
to be here.

Amy Goodman:  Can you talk about the POWs and television - the charge that
they're violating the Geneva Convention by showing them on television?

Robert Fisk: Well, you know, the Geneva Convention is meant to protect
children, and hospitals are full of civilians, including many children who'
ve been badly wounded.

It seems to me that this concentration on whether television should show
prisoners or not is a kind of mischief: it's not the point. The issue, of
course, is that both sides are taking prisoners, and that both sides want
the other side to know of the prisoners they've taken. I watched CNN showing
a British soldier forcing a man to kneel on the ground and put his hands up
and produce his identity card and I've seen other film on British television
of prisoners near Um Qasr and Basra being forced to march past a British
soldier with their hands in the air. Well, they (the American soldiers)
weren't interviewed, it's true, although you heard at one point a man asking
questions, clearly to put any prisoner on air answering questions is against
the Geneva Convention. But for many, many years now, in the Middle East
television has been showing both sides in various wars appearing on
television and being asked what their names are and what their home
countries are.

And the real issue is that these prisoners should not be maltreated,
tortured, or hurt after capture. When you realize that 19 men have tried to
commit suicide at Guantanamo, that we now know that 2 prisoners at the US
base Bagram were beaten to death during interrogation. To accuse the Iraqis
of breaking the Geneva Convention by putting American POWs on television in
which you hear them being asked what state they're from in the states, it
seems a very hypocritical thing to do. But one would have to say,
technically, putting a prisoner of war on television and asking them
questions on television is against the Geneva Convention. It is quite
specifically so. And thus, clearly Iraq broke that convention when it put
those men on television - I watched them on Iraqi TV here. But, as I've
said, it's a pretty hypocritical thing when you realize, this equates to the
way America treats prisoners from Afghanistan - Mr. Bush is not the person
to be teaching anyone about the Geneva Convention.

Jeremy Scahill, Democracy Now! Correspondent: Robert Fisk, you wrote in one
of your most recent articles, actually, the title of it was "Iraq Will
Become a Quagmire for the Americans" and I think many people within the US
administration were surprised to find the kinds of resistance they have in
places like Nasiriyah. We have the two Apache helicopters that have
apparently been shot down and many US casualties so far. Do you think the
Americans were caught by surprise, particularly by the resistance in the
south where everyone was saying that the people are against Saddam Hussein?

Robert Fisk: Well, they shouldn't have been caught by surprise; there were
plenty of us writing that this was going to be a disaster and a catastrophe
and that they were going to take casualties. You know, one thing I think the
Bush administration has shown as a characteristic, is that it dreams up
moral ideas and then believes that they're all true, and characterizes this
policy by assuming that everyone else will then play their roles. In their
attempt to dream up an excuse to invade Iraq, they've started out, remember,
by saying first of all that there are weapons of mass destruction. We were
then told that al Qaeda had links to Iraq, which, there certainly isn't an
al Qaeda link. Then we were told that there were links to September 11th,
which was rubbish. And in the end, the best the Bush administration could do
was to say, "Well, we're going to liberate the people of Iraq". And because
it provided this excuse, it obviously then had to believe that these people
wanted to be liberated by the Americans. And, as the Deputy Prime Minister
Tariq Aziz said a few hours ago, I was listening to him in person, the
Americans expected to be greeted with roses and music - and they were
greeted with bullets. I think you see what has happened is that - and as he
pointed out - the American administration and the US press lectured
everybody about how the country would break apart where Shiites hated Sunnis
and Sunnis hated Turkmen and Turkmen hated Kurds, and so on. And yet, most
of the soldiers fighting in southern Iraq are actually Shiite. They're not
Sunnis, they're not Tikritis, they're not from Saddam's home city. Saddam
did not get knocked off his perch straight away, and I think that, to a
considerable degree, the American administration allowed that little cabal
of advisors around Bush - I'm talking about Perle, Wolfowitz, and these
other people - people who have never been to war, never served their
country, never put on a uniform - nor, indeed, has Mr. Bush ever served his
country - they persuaded themselves of this Hollywood scenario of GIs
driving through the streets of Iraqi cities being showered with roses by a
relieved populace who desperately want this offer of democracy that Mr. Bush
has put on offer-as reality. And the truth of the matter is that Iraq has a
very, very strong political tradition of strong anti-colonial struggle. It
doesn't matter whether that's carried out under the guise of kings or under
the guise of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath party, or under the guise of a total
dictator. There are many people in this country who would love to get rid of
Saddam Hussein, I'm sure, but they don't want to live under American
occupation. The nearest I can describe it - and again, things can change -
maybe the pack of cards will all collapse tomorrow - but if I can describe
it, it would be a bit like the situation in 1941- and I hate these World War
II parallels because I think it's disgusting to constantly dig up the second
world war - Hitler is dead and he died in 1945 and we shouldn't use it, but
if you want the same parallel, you'll look at Operation: Barbarosa, where
the Germans invaded Russia in 1941 believing that the Russians would
collapse because Stalin was so hated and Communism was so hated. And at the
end of the day, the Russians preferred to fight the Germans to free their
country from Germany, from Nazi rule, rather than to use the German invasion
to turn against Stalin. And at the end of the day, a population many of whom
had suffered greatly under Communism fought for their motherland under the
leadership of Marshal Stalin against the German invader. A similar situation
occurred in 1980 when Saddam himself invaded Iran. There had just been, 12
months earlier, a revolution in Iran and the Islamic Republic had come into
being. It was believed here in Baghdad that if an invasion force crossed the
border from Iraq - supported again in this case by the Americans - that the
Islamic Republic would fall to pieces; that it would collapse under its own
volition; that is couldn't withstand a foreign invasion. I actually crossed
the border with the Iraqi forces in 1980, I was reporting on both sides, and
I remember reaching the first Iranian city called Horam Shar and we came
under tremendous fire; mortar fire, sniper fire, and artillery fire, and I
remember suddenly thinking as I hid in this villa with a number of Iraqi
commandos, "My goodness, the Iranians are fighting for their country". And I
think the same thing is happening now, and, obviously, we know that with the
firepower they have the Americans can batter their way into these cities and
they can take over Baghdad, but the moral ethos behind this war is that you
Americans are supposed to be coming to liberate this place. And, if you're
going to have to smash your way into city after city using armor and
helicopters and aircraft, then the whole underpinning and purpose of this
war just disappears, and, the world - which has not been convinced thus far,
who thinks this is a wrong war and an unjust war - are going to say, "Then
what is this for? They don't want to be liberated by us." And that's when we
're going to come down to the old word: Oil. What's quite significant is in
the next few hours the Oil Minister in Iraq is supposed to be addressing the
press, and that might turn out to be one of the more interesting press
conferences that we've had, maybe even more interesting, perhaps, than the
various briefings from military officials about the course of the war.

Amy Goodman:  We're speaking to Robert Fisk in Baghdad, Iraq. Robert, we
also have word that the Turks have also crossed over the border - thousands
of Turkish soldiers - into northern Iraq.

Robert Fisk: I wouldn't be surprised, I really don't know. You've got to
realize that, although electricity and communications continue n Baghdad, I
only know what I hear on the radio and television, and, as in all wars,
covering it is an immensely exhausting experience. I simply haven't been
able to keep up with what's happening in the north. I rely on people like
you, Amy, to tell me. I have a pretty good idea of what's happening in the
rest of Iraq, but not in the north.

Amy Goodman:  Well can you tell us what is happening and what it's like to
report there? How are you getting around and do you agree with the Iraqi
General Hazim Al-Rawi that you quoted that Iraq will become a quagmire for
the Americans?

Robert Fisk:  Well, it's not just Rawi, we've had Vice President Ramadan,
[and] the Minister of Defense just over 24 hours ago giving the most
detailed briefings. One of the interesting things is whether or not you
believe these various briefings are correct, the detail is quite
extraordinary, and certainly we're being given more information about what's
been going on at the front - accurate or not - than most of the Western
correspondents have been getting in Qatar. I mean, you'll see pictures of
journalists saying, "Well, I'm with the US Marines near a town I can't name,
but we're having some problems, here's Nasiriyah and here's a bridge". If
you go to the Iraqi briefing, they'll tell you it's the third corp, 45th
Battalion, they're actually giving the names of the officers who are in
charge of various units and what position they're in, and where the battles
are taking place. There is actually more detail being given out by the
Iraqis than by the Americans or the British, which is quite remarkable, it's
the first time I've ever known this. Now, again, it may be plausible to
think that all this information is accurate - when the Iraqis first said
they had taken American prisoners, we said, "Oh, more propaganda" - then up
comes the film of the prisoners. Then they said they'd shot down a
helicopter, and the journalists here in the briefing sort of looked at each
other and said, "There's another story", and suddenly we're seeing film of a
shot down helicopter - then another film of a shot down helicopter. Then
they said they had attacked and destroyed armored personnel carriers
belonging to the US armed forces, and we all looked at each other and said,
"Here we go again, more propaganda", and then we see film on CNN of burning
APCs. So, there's a good deal of credibility being given to the Iraqi
version of events, although I'd have to say that their total version of how
many aircraft have been shot down appears to be an exaggeration. So, we do
have a moderately good idea, in that sense, of what's actually happening.
There are Iraqis moving around inside Iraq and arriving in Baghdad and
giving us accounts of events that appear to be the same as accounts being
given by various authorities. And no journalist can leave Baghdad to go to
the south to check this out, but I do suspect that will happen in due
course, I do think they will get journalists to move around inside Iraq
providing they can produce a scenario that is favorable to Iraq. But
frankly, any scene that a journalist sees that is opposition to the United
States would be favorable to Iraq. But, it may well be that, with the
Americans only about 50 miles away from where I am, if they're going to try
to enter Baghdad or if a siege of Baghdad begins, of course the Iraqis have
boasted for a long time that this would be a kind of Stalingrad - here come
the World War II references again - we won't have to go very far to see the
Americans fighting the Iraqis, we'll see them with our own eyes. The
Americans won't be arriving close to Baghdad; they already are close. When
we'll be moving around - you asked me about reporting - it's not nearly as
claustrophobic as you might imagine. I can walk out from my hotel in the
evening, and, if I can find a restaurant open, I can get in a cab and go to
dinner, no one stops me. When I'm traveling around during the day, if I want
to go and carry out any interviews, if I want to do anything journalistic, I
have a driver and I have what is called a minder; a person provided by the
ministry to travel with me. This means that nobody I speak to is able to
speak freely. I've gone up to people in the streets - shopkeepers - and
talked to them, but it's quite clear that there's a representative of the
authority with me, and I, in fact, don't do any interviews like that any
more, I think it's ridiculous. Many of my colleagues continue to point
microphones at these poor people and ask them questions which they cannot
possibly respond to freely. So I simply do not do interview stories, I think
it's too intimidating to the person one is talking to, it is unprofessional
and it is unethical to travel with anyone else on an interview of that kind.
But, you know, as I say, I can get into a car without a minder and go to a
grocery shop and pick up groceries, bottles of water, biscuits, vegetables -
I don't need to travel around with a minder in that case and nobody minds.
In other words, it's not as though you're under a great oppressive watch.
Television reports now, by and large, when reporters are making television
interviews, or when they're being interviewed by the head offices, now
require a ministry minder to sit and listen. It doesn't mean they are being
censored, but it means that they bite their lip occasionally. I will not do
any television interviews with minders present so I don't appear on
television here. The odd thing is that there is no control at all attempted
over written journalism or radio journalism. While I'm talking to you now, I
'm sure this phone is being listened to, but whether they have the ability
to listen to every phone call in Baghdad, but I doubt very much. I can say
anything I want, and I do. And when I write, I'm not worried at all about
being critical of the regime here and I am. So, it's really a television
thing here that I think the authorities are more fixated with and the actual
presence of the minder, who, in my case is a pleasant guy who does not have
a political upbringing particularly. It's more of a concern, which I suppose
one could understand if you saw it through Iraqi eyes or the eyes of the
regime, that the reporter is not doing some kind of dual purpose. Obviously,
there is a tradition that journalists sometimes, unfortunately, turned out
to work for governments as well as for newspapers or television, and I think
the concern of the Iraqis is that some vital piece of information doesn't
get out to what is referred to by them as the enemy, and, secondly, that
reporters are what they say they are. But, you know, this happened in
Yugoslavia when I was covering the Serbian war. I was in there from the
beginning of the war and most journalists were thrown out but I managed to
hang on. And at the beginning, one couldn't travel anywhere in Serbia or
Yugoslavia at all without a government official. And, after days and weeks
went by, and you turned out to be who you said you were, and you were not at
all interested in working for anyone but your editor and your newspaper, a
form of trust build up where they know that you disapprove of their regime,
but they vaguely know you're going to tell the truth, even if it's critical
towards Britain or America or whoever. And they leave you alone, by and
large. I have been to Iraq many times and I know a lot of people here, both
in authority and civilians. I think people generally realize that The
Independent really is an independent newspaper. So, there's no great attempt
to influence me or force me to praise the regime, for example, which is kind
of a Hollywood version of what happens in these places. I've written very
critically, with condemnation of Saddam and the regime and of all the human
rights abuses here and the use of gas in Halabja and so on. And I think
there's a sort of understanding that as long as you're a real journalist you
will have to say these things, and indeed one has to, one should, but that
doesn't mean that we are laboring under the cruel heel-to use Churchill's
phrase-of some kind of Gestapo. Again, this is not a free country, this is a
dictatorship, this is a regime that does not believe in the free speech that
you and I believe in. One has to do ones best to get the story out.

Amy Goodman: Do you think Saddam Hussein is in control?

Robert Fisk: Oh yes, absolutely. There have been a few incidents, I mean
there was a little bit of shooting last night and there were the rumors that
people had come from Saddam City and there were clashes with security forces
or security agents, and rumors of a railway line being blown up, which was
denied by the authorities, but there is no doubt Saddam is in control. It's
very funny sitting here, in a strange way, I suppose, if you could listen to
some of the things that were said about the United States here, you'd laugh
in America, but I've been listening to this uproariously funny argument
about whether Saddam's speech was recorded before the war and whether they
have look-alikes. So, that in fact, the speech that Saddam made 24 hours
ago, less than 24 hours ago, a speech that was very important if you read
the text carefully and understand what he was trying to do, it has been
totally warped in the United States by a concentration not on what he was
saying, but whether it was actually him that was saying it. The American
correspondent was saying to me yesterday morning, "This is ridiculous, we
simply can't report the story, because every time we have to deal with
something Saddam says, the Pentagon claims it's not him or it's his double
or it was recorded 2 weeks ago". So, the story ceases to be about what the
man says, the story starts to be this totally mythical, fictional idea that
it really isn't Saddam or it's his double, etcetera. I watched this
recording on television, all his television broadcasts are recordings
because he's not so stupid as to do a live broadcast and get bombed by the
Americans while he's doing it. The one thing you learn if you're a target is
not to do live television broadcasts, or radio for that matter, or, indeed
telephone. But if you listen and read the text of what Saddam said, it has
clearly been recorded in the previous few hours, and I can tell you, having
once actually met the man, it absolutely was Saddam Hussein. But that's the
strange thing, you see, that in the US, the Pentagon only has to say it's
not Saddam, that it's a fake, it was recorded years ago, or that it's a
double, and the Hollywood side of the story, which is quite rubbish, it's
not true - it is him, then takes over from the real story, which is 'What
the hell is this guy actually saying?'.

Amy Goodman:What is he saying?

Robert Fisk: There were several themes. The first one; 14 times he told the
Iraqis, "Be patient". Oddly enough, that's what Joseph Stalin told the
Russian people in 1941 and 1942; be patient. He made a point of specifically
naming the army officers in charge of Um Qasr, Basra, and Nasiriyah and the
various other cities in which are holding out against the Americans. It was
important that he kept saying, 'the army, the army, the Ba'ath party militia
'. He was constantly reiterating that these things were happening; they were
opposing the Americans and the Americans were taking casualties. In some
ways, his speech was not unlike that of George W. Bush, he talked about
fighting evil, of fighting the devil. And, although there's no connection,
that's something that bin Laden used to say a lot. The idea of good versus
evil has become part of kind of a patoire for every warring leader whether
it be Bush or Saddam or anyone else. But there was also this constant
reference to the anti-colonial history of Iraq, the need to remember this
was a battle against an invader; that these people were invading from
another country. This was not Iraq invading the US - this was the US
invading Iraq. It was not a speech that was delivered with a great deal of
passion, and Saddam is capable of emotion. He read from a text, it wasn't
Churchillian - here we go again, World War II grasping at me like a ghost.
But it was an interesting text because of its constant repetition; wait, we
will win eventually. And it was quite clear what came over from it; Saddam
believes Iraq's salvation - at least the salvation of the regime, shall we
say - is just keeping on fighting and fighting and fighting until the moral
foundations and underpinnings which America has attached to this invasion
have collapsed. In other words, if you can keep holding out week after week,
if you can suck the Americans into the quagmire of Baghdad and make them
fight, and use artillery against them in civilian areas, that will undermine
the whole moral purpose they've strapped onto this war. Frankly, having
listened to the various meretricious reasons put forward for this war, I
think he's understood one of the main reasons why it's taking place and thus
has decided he's going to go on fighting. And, of course, once you apply
unconditional surrender - World War II - isn't that what Roosevelt did at
Casablanca, there is no way out. It was an interesting moment last night
when Tariq Aziz was asked by a journalist, "Can you see a way out?" Is it
possible to have another peace?" Tariq Aziz looked at the journalist as if
he'd seen a ghost and he said, "What are you talking about? There is a war".
I asked Tariq Aziz, I said, "You've given us a very dramatic description of
the last 7 days of the war, can you give us a dramatic description of the
next 7 days?" "Just stay on here in Baghdad and you'll find out", he said.

Jeremy Scahill: Robert Fisk, what are you seeing in terms of the
preparations for the defense of Baghdad? The people that we've been
interviewing inside of Iraq- both ordinary Iraqis as well as journalists and
others, are saying that there aren't really visible signs that there are any
overt preparations underway. What's your sense?

Robert Fisk:  Well, it doesn't look like Stalingrad to me, but I guess in
Stalingrad there probably weren't a lot of preparations. I've been more than
20 miles outside of Baghdad, and you can certainly see troops building big
artillery vetments around the city. I mean, positions for heavy artillery
and mortars, army vehicles hidden under overpasses, the big barracks of long
ago - as in Serbia before the NATO bombardment - have long been abandoned.
Most of these cruise missiles that we hear exploding at night are bursting
into government buildings, ministries, offices and barracks that have long
ago been abandoned. There's nobody inside them; they are empty. I've watched
ministries take all their computers out, trays - even the pictures from the
walls. That is the degree to which these buildings are empty; they are
shells. Inside the city, there have been a lot of trenches dug beside roads,
sandbag positions set up. In some cases, holes dug with sandbags around them
to make positions on road intersections to make positions for snipers and
machine gunners. This is pretty primitive stuff. It might be WW2 in
fabrication, but it doesn't look like the kind of defenses that are going to
stop a modern, mechanized army like that of the United States or Britain - I
think the US is a little more modern than we are. I don't think it needs to
be, because America's power is in its firepower, its mechanized state, its
sophistication of its technology. Iraqi military power is insane; these
people are invading us and we continue to resist them - active resistance is
a principle element of Iraq's military defense. It's in the act of
resistance, not whether you can stop this tank or that tank. And, the fact
of the matter is, and it's become obvious in the Middle East over the last
few years; the West doesn't want to take casualties. They don't want to die.
Nobody wants to die, but some people out here realize a new form of warfare
has set in where, the United States, if they want to invade a country, they
will bombard it. They will use other people's soldiers to do it. Look at the
way the Israelis used Lebanese mercenaries of the South Lebanon army in
Lebanon. Look at the way the Americans used the KLA in Kosovo or the
Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. But here in Iraq there isn't anyone they
can use; the Iraqi opposition appears to be hopeless. The Iraqis have not
risen up against their oppressors as they did in 1991 when they were
betrayed by the Americans and the British after being urged to fight Saddam
- they're staying at home. They're letting the Americans do the liberating.
If the Americans want to liberate them, fine, let the Americans do it - but
the Americans aren't doing very well at the moment. You see, we've already
got a situation down in Basra where the British army have admitted firing
artillery into the city of Basra, and then winging on afterward talking
about 'We're being fired at by soldiers hiding among civilians'. Well, I'm
sorry; all soldiers defending cities are among civilians. But now the
British are firing artillery shells into the heavily populated city of
Basra. When the British were fired upon with mortars or with snipers from
the cragg on the state or the bogside in Delhi and in Northern Ireland, they
did not use artillery, but here, apparently, it is ok to use artillery on a
crowded city. What on Earth is the British army doing in Iraq firing
artillery into a city after invading the country? Is this really about
weapons of mass destruction? Is this about al Qaeda? It's interesting that
in the last few days, not a single reporter has mentioned September 11th.
This is supposed to be about September 11th. This is supposed to be about
the war on terror, but nobody calls it that anymore because deep down,
nobody believes it is. So, what is it about? It's interesting that there are
very few stories being written about oil. We're told about the oil fields
being mined and booby-trapped, some oil wells set on fire - but oil is
really not quite the point. Strange enough, in Baghdad, you don't forget it,
because in an attempt to mislead the guidance system of heat seeking
missiles and cruise missiles, Iraqis are setting fire to large berms of oil
around the city. All day, all you see is this sinister black canopy of oil
smoke over Baghdad. It blocks out the sun, it makes the wind rise and it
gets quite cold; here, you can't forget the word oil. But I don't hear it
too much in news reports.

Amy Goodman:  We're talking to Robert Fisk in Baghdad, Iraq. I wanted to get
you comment on Richard Perle's piece in The Guardian where he said "Saddam
Hussein's reign of terror is about to end. He will go quickly, but not
alone. In a parting irony, he will take the UN down with him".

Robert Fisk:  Well, poor old UN. Very soon, the Americans are going to need
the United Nations as desperately as they wanted to get rid of them. Because
if this turns into the tragedy that it is turning into at the moment, if the
Americans end up, by besieging Baghdad day after day after day, they'll be
looking for a way out, and the only way out is going to be the United
Nations at which point, believe me, the French and the Russians are going to
make sure that George Bush passes through some element of humiliation to do
that. But that's some way away. Remember what I said early on to you. The
Americans can do it - they have the firepower. They may need more than
250,000 troops, but if they're willing to sacrifice lives of their own men,
as well as lives of the Iraqis, they can take Baghdad; they can come in.
But, you know, I look down from my balcony here next to the Tigris River -
does that mean we're going to have an American tank on every intersection in
Baghdad? What are they there for - to occupy? To repress? To run an
occupation force against the wishes of Iraqis? Or are they liberators? It's
very interesting how the reporting has swung from one side to another. Are
these liberating forces or occupying forces? Every time I hear a journalist
say 'liberation', I know he means 'occupation'. We come back to the same
point again which Mr. Perle will not acknowledge; because this war does not
have a UN sanction behind it - I mean not in the sense of sanctions but that
it doesn't have permission behind it, it is a war without international
legitimacy, and the longer it goes on, the more it hurts Bush and the less
it hurts Saddam. And we're now into one week, and there isn't even a single
American soldier who has even approached the city of Baghdad yet. And the
strange thing, looking at it from here in Baghdad, is the ad hoc way in
which this war appears to be carried out. We heard about the air campaign.
There is no air campaign; there was not a single Iraqi airplane in the sky.
This isn't Luftwaffe faces the Battle of Britain or the Royal Air Force or
the USAF - this is aerial bombardment. The fighting is going on on the
ground. There wasn't meant to be any fighting, but there is. It's the way in
which during the first night there was some distant rumbling, and we were
told that the war had begun, but it wasn't really the bombing of Baghdad,
but a one off attempt to kill Saddam. I guess someone walked into the White
House and said, "Mr. President, we're not planning to start until tomorrow,
but we've got this opportunity to kill Saddam". "OK, let's have a go, let's
try it, let's try it". Then we have this big blitz the following night, and
a much bigger one the next night, where I was literally standing in the
middle of Baghdad literally watching buildings blow up all over Baghdad
around me - a whole presidential palace went into flames right in front of
me, it was extraordinary. An anarchical sight of red and gold colors and
tremendous explosions and leaves dropping off the trees like autumn in the
spring. And then the next night was quite quiet, and then last night, for
example, most of the attacks by the cruise missiles were in the suburbs, and
it was possible - until you rang, of course, to sleep. It's as if someone
down there in Qatar or in CentCom in Tampa, Florida, or somewhere is saying,
"Ok, let's send another 20 tonight, let's send 300 tonight, where should we
send them, let's send them here". It's as if the whole idea of the war was
not planned militarily, it was planned politically, it was planned
ideologically, as if there's an ideological plan behind the war. It started
with al Qaeda, it moved on to weapons of mass destruction, then we're going
to liberate the people - and it's all going wrong. Whatever kind of
ideological plan there was has fallen to bits. Now, of course, maybe Saddam
falls in the next few days, maybe Baghdad collapses. I actually believed and
wrote in the paper a few days ago that it's possible that one day we'll all
get up and all the militias and the Iraqi soldiers will be gone and we'll
see American soldiers walking through the streets. But I don't believe that

Amy Goodman:  Last question - have you been to the hospitals of Baghdad?

Robert Fisk:  Yes; quite a few of them. The main visit I made was to one of
the main government hospitals on Saturday morning after a pretty long night
of explosions around the city in which of course quite a lot of these cruise
missiles exploded right on their targets. Others missed them and crashed
into civilian areas. I went to one hospital where - the doctors here are not
Ba'ath party members - the chief doctor I spoke to was trained in
Edinborough where he got his FRCF. He went very coldly down his list of
patients and he had 101, whom he estimated 16 were soldiers 85 were
civilians, and of the 85 civilians, 20 were women, 6 were children. One
child and one man had died in the operating theater during surgery. Most of
the children were pretty badly hurt, one little girl had shrapnel from an
American bomb in her spine and her left leg was paralyzed. Her mother was,
rather pathetically, trying to straighten out her right leg against it as if
both the legs, if pointed in the same direction, she'd somehow regain
movement in the left side of her body, which, of course, she did not. Other
children were on drip feeds and had very serious leg injuries. One little
girl had shrapnel in her abdomen, which had not yet been removed. They were
clearly in pain, there was a lot of tears and crying from the children, less
so from the young women who had been hit - one woman was actually 17, they
weren't all young. In one case a woman and her daughter were there. The
woman said to me that she had gone to see a relative and she had gotten out
of a taxi, her daughter, whom I also spoke to, was standing in front of her
and there was a tremendous explosion, noise, and white light, as the woman
said. The girl was hit in the legs and the woman was hit in the chest and
legs by shrapnel. They were lying next to each other in hospital beds. This
is not the worst kind of injuries I have ever seen, and I've seen just about
every injury in the world including people who've virtually got no heads
left and are still alive, and I didn't see that. But, if you're going to
bomb a country, you will wound and kill civilians; that is in the nature of
warfare. We bomb, they suffer, and nothing I saw in that hospital surprised

Amy Goodman:  Well, Robert Fisk, we're going to let you go to sleep. General
Colin Powell said that foreign journalists should leave as the campaign of
so-called 'shock and awe' is initiated - and it has started. Why have you
chosen to remain in Baghdad?

Robert Fisk:  Because I don't work for Colin Powell, I work for a British
newspaper called The Independent; if you read it, you'll find that we are.
It's not the job of a journalist to snap to the attention of generals. I
wrote a piece a couple of weeks ago in my newspaper saying that before the
war began in Yugoslavia, the British Foreign Office urged journalists to
leave and then said the British intelligence had uncovered a secret plot to
take all the foreign reporters hostage in Belgrade. I decided this was a lie
and stayed - and it was a lie. In Afghanistan, just before the fall of
Khandahar, as I was entering Afghanistan, the British Foreign Office urged
all journalists to stay out of Taliban areas and then said the British
intelligence had uncovered a plot to take all the foreign reporters hostage.
Aware of Yugoslavia, I pressed on to Khandahar and it proved to be a lie.
Just before the bombardment here, the British Foreign Office said that all
journalists should leave because British intelligence had uncovered a plot
by Saddam to take all journalists hostages, at which moment I knew I'd be
safe to stay because it was, of course, the usual lie. What is sad is how
many journalists did leave. There were a very large number of reporters who
left here voluntarily before the war believing this meretricious nonsense. I
should say that the Iraqis have thrown quite a large number of journalists
out as well. But I don't think it's the job of a journalist to run away when
war comes just because it happens to be his own side doing the bombing. I've
been bombed by the British and Americans so many times that it's not 'shock
and awe' anymore, it's 'shock and bore', frankly.

Amy Goodman:  Thank you, Robert. Good night, be safe.

Robert Fisk:  Good night, Amy, I'm going to bed.

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