If we needed any evidence that the propaganda war between the U.S.-led coalition
and the Iraqi regime was ratcheting up, the sight of U.S. Assistant Defence Secretary Victoria Clarke showing
horrific footage of a victim of Halabja was it. If the Pentagon is forced to dredge up 15-year-old incidents
to counter the heart wrenching scenes of Iraqi casualties, then it's surely showing its desperation.
To some eyes, including mine, this repetitive demonising of the Iraqi regime could be construed as a cheap shot, but it is understandable from the point of view of the American administration. Its members flex their military muscles and boast about the thousands of coalition missiles and bombs, which have rained down on Iraqi towns and cities since the war began, but the harrowing outcome flashed across our television screens nightly is not for public consumption.
I suppose by the same token, Iraq's Minister of Information Mohammed Saeed Al Sahaf could screen equally grotesque and distressing images of Iraqi babies, born with deformities due to America and Britain's use of depleted uranium during the 1991 Gulf War if he felt so disposed. Or he could go even further back to show Vietnamese civilians disfigured by American napalm.
As it happens, Al Sahaf doesn't need to resort to historical perspectives. The televising of the suffering of more current victims of U.S. aggression speaks for itself. Against the "advice" of the U.S. administration, independent reporters – as opposed to those in bed with the coalition forces – are still reporting out of Baghdad. The result is not to the liking of the Bush/Blair camp.
We, the public, were not supposed to see a resolute young boy, victim of a market bombing, making a victory sign with his one remaining hand, his other arm having just been amputated – one of the bravest acts I've ever witnessed.
Joe public was not destined to see the baby wincing while shrapnel was being removed from her face, the little girl who now has a stump instead of a leg, the infant which was burned over two thirds of its tiny body, or hear the despairing wails of those parents who had just seen the remains of their loved ones on the cold trays of a hospital morgue.
We were also not supposed to view the petrified expressions of the "invincible" American military personnel in the hands of the Iraqis, and we were not supposed to know that allied planes and helicopters have been downed, or see the corpses of British soldiers.
Those corpses were used not only by the Iraqis as a propaganda tool but also by the British prime minister when, without a scrap of evidence, he accused the Iraqi regime of having executed the two unfortunates before launching himself into a tirade against the evils of Saddam.
Little did he know, the families of the two "executed" soldiers had already been informed by comrades-in-arms of their loved ones that the soldiers had lost their lives in the heat of battle. Blair left it to a junior minister to offer a half-hearted apology the next day.
Theirs was to have been a sanitised war. In the same fashion as the liberating armies freed the city of Paris at the end of World War II and were greeted rapturously as heroes, we were to see the American and British occupying armies welcomed by the long-suffering Iraqis.
That hasn't worked out. The Baghdad-based international press corps didn't flee in terror and neither did the Iraqi information minister and, as a result, Iraq's television station has been pounded and the ministry of information destroyed, the former arguably a war crime.
Hoping for a free rein in the propaganda stakes, George Bush tells us that an Iraqi woman who waved to allied troops was hanged. Other collaborators get their tongues cut out and are made to sit in market squares, he says.
The idea of Iraqis hanging their womenfolk, for those of us who have spent time in the Arab world, requires a huge stretch of the imagination. For those who dance to sound bites, his words will resonate.
Sadly for Bush, Iraqi television manages to resurrect itself after every attack, the information minister pops up again with a wry smile and even during the times it is unavoidably off-air, its material is often re-broadcast by Al Jazeera, once again the subject of heated controversy.
The embedded media tells us that the residents of Basra are being shot at by militias attempting to keep them within the city's parameters as human shields, but this does not explain how so many hundreds are walking out of Basra each day, and what is more to the point... eager to get back inside the city.
Let's cut to the bottom line. The Iraqis don't want to be "liberated". They don't want an invading western force stomping all over their land and dropping their state-of-the-art bombs, destroying lives, homes, and depriving them of water and electricity.
The Shia population of the South was thought to be a pushover, but there has been a gross miscalculation. They rose up against the Iraqi regime during the Gulf War, but were later abandoned by the allies, left to face the bloody consequences of their insurgency alone.
This time around, the arrival of American and British troops on Iraqi soil is being seen, rightly or wrongly, throughout the Muslim world as the outcome of George Bush's unfortunate use of the word "crusade" – a war against Islam.
A militant pan-Arab fervour is building on the streets of Cairo, Amman and Damascus. Shia clerics in Beirut, Baghdad and Najaf have issued fatwas telling their people to fight the infidel invaders. Hundreds, if not thousands of young Muslim men enthused with the call to jihad are crossing Iraq's borders prepared to offer their lives to the cause.
Saddam Hussain, once detested by all and sundry, has metamorphosed into Salah Eddin, his picture carried on high by demonstrators offering him their blood and even their souls. Nervous Arab leaders appeal to Bush and Blair to stop the war before it's too late.
Do they listen? Do camels do pirouettes? Even while their front line cavalry members are reduced to one meal a day because its supply lines have been cut off, and their generals mutter that there are not enough troops in theatre for a successful outcome, it's carry on propaganda time.
They tell the frustrated reporters who dutifully turn up for Pentagon press briefings in Qatar that all is going swimmingly and victory is certain. When asked about their errant missiles killing innocents in Baghdad market places, they say that they're investigating. After incidents of friendly fire, their investigations are strangely speedier, nay, almost instantaneous. Apo-logies swiftly ensue.
Naturally, while thousands of missiles have been targeted on Baghdad why, on earth would we suppose that two were responsible for the market explosions? Ah, yes. These are laser or satellite-guided smart bombs. Not smart enough to avoid falling down in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran but on a Baghdad souk? Impossible. Must have been that dastardly Saddam again.
The credibility of the American and British administrations is being severely eroded both in Iraq and around the world. Their leaflets promised the Iraqis in the south supplies of food and water and we were shown a distraught woman with four children waving one daily army ration, asking how could she feed her family on that.
In the town of Safwan bordering Kuwait, aid packages were chucked out of the backs of lorries, rather like throwing dollar notes amid the shoppers of Manhattan, leading to an inevitable free-for-all scrum. Women, children and the elderly were left without.
We were regaled with the much publicised docking of the Sir Galahad into the port of Umm Qasr carrying just enough supplies to put a sticking plaster on the wound. Then what do we hear during an Iraqi briefing?
"The British, not the Americans but the British," said Al Sahaf, destroyed warehouses in Basra containing baby milk, sugar, tea and cooking oil. This was confirmed by a Reuters' report, which said that an Al Jazeera cameraman went missing while he was filming this incident. Al Jazeera again! No wonder its Kabul office was bombed by the U.S!
If the British army did, indeed, destroy warehouses of food, then this is certainly one of the most shocking incidents of this unjust war. It means that the coalition is paying lip service to caring for the needs of the Iraqi people. It means that they are prepared to lay siege to Basra forcing its residents to quit the city so as to be rewarded with American and British largesse.
The U.S. Assistant Defence Secretary can then put forward in one of her press briefings how Saddam Hussain had been starving his people, fortunately saved by the benevolence of the Americans and the British.
Like the elusive Osama bin Laden, Saddam's weapons of mass destruction could also be relegated to the annals of history. Judging by the comments of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, it could be next stop Syria. Now that Al Qaida has been "eliminated", and Iraq on its way to being "disarmed", Syria's night-goggle vendors should beware. And so should the rest of us.
Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs.
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