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[casi] Bombs and biscuits,3604,926004,00.html

Bombs and biscuits

Every Iraqi child is now an unwitting participant in
this obscene war. And every one of us is morally

Madeleine Bunting
Monday March 31, 2003
The Guardian

After the bombings, the ambushes and assaults, the
newsreaders' voices lighten as they reach the
humanitarian aid slot in the story running order. The
images of bloodied limbs and bombed buildings are
replaced by jostling crowds being roughly corralled by
British troops distributing bottles of water. This is
the battle for hearts and minds, we are repeatedly
told. The crude attempt at manipulation beggars
belief: whose heart and mind are won by such images of
angry desperation? Certainly not the Iraqis,
bewildered by the invader who has deprived them of the
water in the first place, who kills their children and
then throws them the paltry solace of one bottle -
enough to last one person a couple of hours.
Humanitarian experts believe the amount of aid needed
to support the 16 million Iraqis dependent on aid is
32 times the pitiful cargo the Sir Galahad finally
delivered last week. The enormity of this dwarfs the
capacity of the one port of Umm Qasr, a tight funnel
for both the huge military and humanitarian supplies
now needed. The well-being of an entire population is
now the legal responsibility of the Americans and the
British, as Kofi Annan reminded them, and the prospect
of them being able to meet it is fanciful. No, the
real hearts and minds the Americans and the British
are hoping to win by this grotesque charade are those
of their domestic audiences at home, and then the
global audience watching this war. The aim is to
reassure supporters and dampen protests. So far, it
seems at least to be having some success at home;
British public opinion rallies behind its brave
squaddies as they throw the boxes of water into the
outreached hands.

The issue of aid and how it's being played on our
television screens reminds us what this war is all
about. Not oil, not weapons of mass destruction, but a
demonstration of US power, necessary after 9/11 to
impress appropriate fear and respect in the hearts and
minds across the globe - in Europe as much as in the
Middle East. The assumption was that Iraq offered a
suitable stage for this performance - not too
dangerous or too strong and with some oil booty thrown
in. The media would convey the two crucial lessons
which the American administration believed the world
needed to be taught: of the terrifying technological
prowess of American weaponry and the benign nature of
the Pax Americana.

Only 12 days in and the war has failed to demonstrate
either of these. Firstly, the "shock and awe" has
failed. The most sophisticated military machine in the
world got bogged down in sandstorms and rain; the
prospect dawns of a bloody and protracted urban
guerrilla war in which much of America's cleverest
weaponry could prove useless. America is not
invincible after all, its room for manoeuvre severely
restricted by the need to win Iraqi allies and avoid
totally destroying the second of its lessons - the
benign bit.

This was supposed to be a war of liberation, but the
Iraqis are now going to have to be "forced to be
free", a delusion which will cost thousands of lives.
The Camp David press conference last week was the most
obscene piece of political theatre I have ever seen:
when has a British prime minister so publicly murdered
his own integrity? Not because of the quavering voice
berating Saddam's depravity for the alleged executions
of British soldiers. That was bad enough, but it was
the grimness with which Mr Blair declared to the
Iraqis, "we will liberate you. The day of your freedom
draws near," which sent shivers of horror down the
spine. The reaction of intense fear was reinforced by
the blatant contradiction of his words when juxtaposed
with images of burning cities and bloated bodies in
the desert. Wrenching the concept of freedom out of
all normal usage to justify violence was a plague of
the 20th century, beloved of totalitarian
dictatorships. Now the poison of political leaders who
declare black is white is infecting a new millennium;
President Bush promised this Iraqi adventure was
intended to make the "world more peaceful," a
ludicrous claim across a Muslim world convulsed with

So America is well on the way to losing the peace as
the inherent contradictions of this war of liberation
become apparent: you can't instill fear and respect at
the same time, you can't bomb and hand out biscuits.
And this is where the future becomes truly frightful
because there's no way back, and if America and
Britain are not going to be welcomed and loved on the
streets of Basra and Baghdad, they will make
themselves feared instead. Here, the logic of war
takes grip and choices narrow. This war has to be won,
and in the end the US will use any means necessary to
do so - dragging its British ally with it into a
bloody mess. In 1939, did the British ever imagine
they could commit the Dresden atrocity? War corrupts
all of its participants.

Already, the pressure is evident on Britain's army in
the plaintive comment of Major Charlie Lambert of the
Royal Scots Dragoon Guards: "When people don't play by
the rule book, it is easy to make things very
difficult for a much larger force which does play by
the rules." At one point will American and British
niceties about avoiding civilian casualties be relaxed
as an unaffordable luxury? At what point will the
nerves of frightened soldiers tautened by ambushes and
suicide attacks - smiling peasant one moment,
terrorist Fedayeen the next? - turn ordinary decent
men into monsters?

The coalition forces will give up on the rules while
Saddam Hussein has never abided by them anyway. Like
anyone who has been cornered, he will in his
desperation resort to anything - and all he has now
are the lives of his people. He's used them cheaply
many times before and now with 24/7 global media
coverage, their blood is his most potent pawn, and he
won't hesitate to spend it freely in urban warfare as
shields, bombers, even targets. It will be grotesque,
and it doesn't require a complicated understanding of
moral reasoning to grasp that we will bear some
responsibility for the atrocities he may commit in
defending his country and regime. It is we who have
invaded a sovereign nation, and there has always been
a legitimate principle of self-defence.

In the 20th century, civilians became the greatest
casualties of war but they were still collateral
damage; in this first major war of the 21st century,
the nightmare scenario is that the last vestiges of a
distinction between combatant and civilian
disintegrates. Every child is an unwitting participant
in the battle, their dull reproachful eyes from
hospital wards become Saddam's most lethal weapon.

So we sit in our armchairs confronted with painful
moral ambiguities which we either ignore (it's too
depressing so we switch channels) or against which we
can only helplessly rail. We've done our marching, but
it's made no difference, we are still morally
implicated. Will our children be apologising to the
Iraqi people a generation hence? Will they ask us how
we could ever have let this happen? And will our
defence - we did what we could but we had families to
care for, work to be done - stand up to their

I have never before written a column in which I so
fervently wanted every one of my fears to be proved
unfounded. For every word of it to be wrong.

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