By Robert Fisk in Baghdad
The Independent - August 1, 2004
The war is a fraud. I'm not talking about the weapons of mass destruction
that didn't exist. Nor the links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida which
didn't exist. Nor all the other lies upon which we went to war. I'm
talking about the new lies.
For just as, before the war, our governments warned us of threats that did
not exist, now they hide from us the threats that do exist. Much of Iraq
has fallen outside the control of America's puppet government in Baghdad
but we are not told. Hundreds of attacks are made against US troops every
month. But unless an American dies, we are not told. This month's death
toll of Iraqis in Baghdad alone has now reached 700 - the worst month
since the invasion ended. But we are not told.
The stage management of this catastrophe in Iraq was all too evident at
Saddam Hussein's "trial." Not only did the US military censor the tapes of
the event. Not only did they effectively delete all sound of the 11 other
defendants. But the Americans led Saddam Hussein to believe - until he
reached the courtroom - that he was on his way to his execution.
Indeed, when he entered the room he believed that the judge was there to
condemn him to death. This, after all, was the way Saddam ran his own
state security courts. No wonder he initially looked "disorientated" -
CNNs helpful description - because, of course, he was meant to look that
way. We had made sure of that.
Which is why Saddam asked Judge Juhi: "Are you a lawyer?
..Is this a trial?" And swiftly, as he realised that this really was an
initial court hearing - not a preliminary to his own hanging - he quickly
adopted an attitude of belligerence.
But don't think we're going to learn much more about Saddam's future court
appearances. Salem Chalabi, the brother of convicted fraudster Ahmad and
the man entrusted by the Americans with the tribunal, told the Iraqi press
two weeks ago that all media would be excluded from future court hearings.
And I can see why. Because if Saddam does a Milosevic, he'll want to talk
about the real intelligence and military connections of his regime - which
were primarily with the United States.
Living in Iraq these past few weeks is a weird as well as dangerous
experience. I drive down to Najaf. Highway 8 is one of the worst in Iraq.
Westerners are murdered there. It is littered with burnt-out police
vehicles and American trucks. Every police post for 70 miles has been
abandoned. Yet a few hours later, I am sitting in my room in Baghdad
watching Tony Blair, grinning in the House of Commons as if he is the hero
of a school debating competition; so much for the Butler report.
Indeed, watching any Western television station in Baghdad these days is
like tuning in to Planet Mars. Doesn't Blair realise that Iraq is about to
implode? Doesn't Bush realise this? The American-appointed "government"
controls only parts of Baghdad - and even there its ministers and civil
servants are car-bombed and assassinated. Baquba, Samara, Kut, Mahmoudiya,
Hilla, Fallujah, Ramadi, all are outside government authority. Iyad Allawi,
the "Prime Minister," is little more than mayor of Baghdad. "Some
journalists," Blair announces, "almost want there to be a disaster in
Iraq." He doesn't get it. The disaster exists now.
When suicide bombers ram their cars into hundreds of recruits outside
police stations, how on earth can anyone hold an election next January?
Even the National Conference to appoint those who will arrange elections
has been twice postponed. And looking back through my notebooks over the
past five weeks, I find that not a single Iraqi, not a single American
soldier I have spoken to, not a single mercenary - be he American, British
or South African - believes that there
will be elections in January. All said that Iraq is deteriorating by the
day. And most asked why we journalists weren't saying so.
But in Baghdad, I turn on my television and watch Bush telling his
Republican supporters that Iraq is improving, that Iraqis support the
"coalition," that they support their new US-manufactured government, that
the "war on terror" is being won, that Americans are safer. Then I go to
an internet site and watch two hooded men hacking off the head of an
American in Riyadh, tearing at the vertebrae of an American in Iraq with a
knife. Each day, the papers here list another construction company pulling
out of the country. And I go down to visit the friendly, tragically sad
staff of the Baghdad mortuary and there, each day, are dozens of those
Iraqis we supposedly came to liberate, screaming and weeping and
cursing as they carry their loved ones on their shoulders in cheap
I keep re-reading Tony Blair's statement. "I remain convinced it was right
to go to war. It was the most difficult decision of my life." And I cannot
understand it. It may be a terrible decision to go to war. Even
Chamberlain thought that; but he didn't find it a difficult decision -
because, after the Nazi invasion of Poland, it was the right thing to do.
And driving the streets of Baghdad now, watching the terrified American
patrols, hearing yet another thunderous explosion shaking my windows and
doors after dawn, I realise what all this means. Going to war in Iraq,
invading Iraq last year, was the most difficult decision Blair had to take
because he thought - correctly - that it might be the wrong decision. I
will always remember his remark to British troops in Basra, that the
sacrifice of British soldiers was not Hollywood but "real flesh and
blood." Yes, it was real flesh and blood that was shed - but for weapons
of mass destruction that weren't real at all.
"Deadly force is authorised," it says on checkpoints all over Baghdad.
Authorised by whom? There is no accountability. Repeatedly, on the great
highways out of the city US soldiers shriek at motorists and open fire at
the least suspicion. "We had some Navy Seals down at our checkpoint the
other day," a 1st Cavalry sergeant says to me.
"They asked if we were having any trouble. I said, yes, they've been
shooting at us from a house over there. One of them asked: That house? We
said yes. So they have these three SUVs and a lot of weapons made of
titanium and they drive off towards the house. And later they come back
and say 'We've taken care of that.' And we didn't get shot at any more."
What does this mean? The Americans are now bragging about their siege of
Najaf. Lieutenant Colonel Garry Bishop of the 37th Armoured Divisions 1st
Battalion believes it was an "ideal" battle (even though he failed to kill
or capture Muqtada Sadr whose "Mehdi army" were fighting the US forces).
It was "ideal," Bishop explained, because the Americans avoided damaging
the holy shrines of the Imams Ali and Hussein. What are Iraqis to make of
this? What if a Muslim army occupied Kent and bombarded Canterbury and
then bragged that they hadnt damaged Canterbury Cathedral? Would we be
What, indeed, are we to make of a war which is turned into a fantasy by
those who started it? As foreign workers pour out of Iraq for fear of
their lives, US Secretary of State Colin Powell tells a press conference
that hostage-taking is having an "effect" on reconstruction. Effect! Oil
pipeline explosions are now as regular as power cuts. In parts of Baghdad
now, they have only four hours of electricity a day; the streets swarm
with foreign mercenaries, guns poking from windows, shouting abusively at
Iraqis who don't clear the way for them. This is the "safer" Iraq which Mr
Blair was boasting of the other day.
What world does the British Government exist in?
Take the Saddam trial. The entire Arab press - including the Baghdad
papers - prints the judge's name. Indeed, the same judge has given
interviews about his charges of murder against Muqtada Sadr. He has posed
for newspaper pictures. But when I mention his name in The Independent, I
was solemnly censured by the British Government's spokesman. Salem Chalabi
threatened to prosecute me. So let me get this right. We illegally invade
Iraq. We kill up to 11,000 Iraqis. And Mr Chalabi, appointed by the
Americans, says I'm guilty of "incitement to murder." That just about says