By Robert FiskIndependent
April 1, 2004
What has happened to the "Coalition Provisional Authority", also known as the occupying power? Things are getting worse, much worse in Iraq. Yesterday's horrors proved that. Yet just a day earlier, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, America's deputy director of military operations, assured us that there was only an "uptick" in violence in Iraq. Not a sudden wave of violence, mark you, not a down-to-earth increase, not even a "spike" in violence â€” another of the general' favorite expressions. No, just a teeny-weany, ever-so small, innocent little "uptick". In fact, he said it was a "slight uptick." Our hands were numb, recording all this, so swiftly did Gen. Kimmitt take us through the little "uptick".
A Marine vehicle blown off the road near Fallujah, a Marine killed, a second attack with small arms fire on the same troops, an attack on an Iraqi paramilitary recruiting station on the 14th July Road, a soldier killed near Ramadi, two Britons hurt in Basra violence, a suicide bombing against the home of the Hilla police chief, an Iraqi shot at a checkpoint, US soldiers wounded in Mosul... All this was just 17 hours before Fallujah civilians dragged the cremated remains of a Westerner through the streets of their city.
When you go to the manicured lawns and villas of the so-called "Green Zone" in Baghdad, you get this odd, weird feeling; that here is a place so isolated, so ostentatiously secure â€” it is not secure of course, since mortars are regularly fired into the compound â€” that it has no contact with the outside world. Here US Proconsul Paul Bremer lives in Saddam Hussein's former palace. There are less than 100 days before he supposedly hands over the "sovereignty" of Iraq to America's own new hand-picked Iraqi government which will hold elections at an unknown date.
And so within the palace walls, the occupying power believes in optimism, progress and political development. When someone asked â€” just a few hours before yesterday's horror â€” about the deteriorating security in Mosul, Kimmit snapped back that this was only "an assessment that you may be making." As for the Iraqis down in Anbar province, where five US soldiers were also killed by a bomb yesterday and where at least four foreigners were murdered, Kimmit stated â€” and here is a quotation to remain in the history books â€” that the US Marines in Fallujah "are quite pleased with how they are moving progressively forward."
Every week, it is like this. From the hot, dangerous streets of Baghdad with their electricity cuts and gunfire â€” and an awful lot of "upticks" which never get recorded â€” we make our way through pallisades of concrete drums, US army checkpoints and searches, into a vast, air-conditioned conference center, a cavernous Saddamite built in 1981 for presidential summits.
Next to Gen. Kimmit always stands the rather more spectral figure of Dan Senor, spokesman for the "Coalition Provisional Authority" who with his frameless glasses, unsmiling demeanor and his occasional, fearful glances at the general when the latter faces a dodgy question, resembles the kind of doctor who clears his throat and quietly advises his patients to settle their affairs. That's how it was when Senor was asked if the editor of the Shiite newspaper "Al Hawza" â€” shut down by dozens of police and US soldiers this week â€” had been warned in advance that it might be closed. Under CPA law, it was not necessary to issue warnings to newspapers, Senor huffily replied. Over 200 newspapers had sprouted up since "liberation" but the CPA would not "tolerate" anyone who encourages "violence against coalition forces." But of course, it was, as usual, supposed to be Good News Week this week.
US Proconsul Paul Bremer had been discussing the Ministry of Education's 2005 budget and been to a "town hall" meeting of Iraqi schoolchildren. The same Iraqi ministry had been holding a symposium of 200 Iraqi civil and religious leaders on the development of the educational system, and 56 km of rail track was being upgraded between Basra and Um Qasr.
In Baghdad, "Coalition Forces"â€” i.e. US forces â€” had conducted 620 patrols, in the northcentral zone 254 patrols, one raid and the arrest of eight "anti-Coalition suspects." US forces â€” this from Gen. Kimmitt â€” were "continuing to conduct precision operations against "anti-Coalition elements and enemies of the Iraqi people." The latter sounded positively Soviet. Didn't the Red Army used to conduct operations against "anti-Socialist elements and enemies of the Afghan people?" But there was an interesting twist â€” horribly ironic in the face of yesterday's butchery â€” in Gen. Kimmitt's narrative.
Why, I asked him, did he refer sometimes to "terrorists" and at other times to "insurgents"? Surely if you could leap from being a "terrorist" to being an "insurgent", then with the next little hop, skip and jump, you become a "freedom-fighter." Senor gave the general one of his fearful looks. He needn't have bothered. Kimmitt is a much smoother operator than his civilian counterpart. There were, the general explained, "former regime elements, perhaps trained in the Iraqi Army" who have "some sort of idea that they can return." These, it turned out were "insurgents". They attacked soldiers and the local police station in Fallujah.
Then there were the "terrorists" who go in for "suicidal, spectacular attacks". These involved Al-Qaeda and Zarqawi â€” the latest bogeyman whom the Americans enlarged for us last month â€” and other groups who attack the Iraqi Army, hotels, mosques, religious festivals, Kerbala, Baghdad... So, it seems, there are now in Iraq good "terrorists" and bad "terrorists", there are common-a-garden insurgents and supremely awful terrorists, the kind against which President Bush took us to war in Iraq when there weren't any "terrorists" actually here, though there are now. The catch, of course, is that Kimmit defined the Fallujah gunmen merely as "insurgents". After Westerners were dragged dead through the streets of that Sunni Muslim city yesterday â€” at least one of them reportedly an American â€” I doubt if he will use that word again.
And here lies the problem. From inside the "Green Zone" on the banks of the Tigris, you can believe anything. When a suicide bomber accidentally slammed his truck into a minibus in Baghdad two months ago â€” he was chasing a US convoy â€” and killed up to 20 people, the occupying power claimed it was a road accident. In fact, US troops had told us on the scene that the bomber had fused his explosives with hand grenades, some of which were still lying on the road.
When two weeks ago, another bomber blew up the Jebel Lubnan hotel in Baghdad, more than 17 people were killed; the authorities then stated that only seven had died. This reporter had counted 11 corpses. Then it turned out that the powers-that-be were only talking about casualties in the hotel, not the surrounding buildings. How far can the occupying powers take war-spin before the world stops believing anything they say? yesterday's Five o' Clock Follies, two armed American soldiers stood guard at both doors â€” watching us, not the approach to the doors â€” while a backdrop carried a vast shield with the words "Equality, Security, Liberty, Justice." When we first arrived, vast screens flashed a series of dire warnings at us.
"Do not attempt to take any photos of this building."
Did I detect, among my colleagues, a quickening of our step as we headed back through the thousands of tons of concrete to the smog and fear of the streets outside? Baghdad may be dangerous. But at least it's on Planet Earth. The trouble is that the real world in which Iraqis live â€” and in which we travel â€” is nasty, brutish and potentially short. When we point this out, we are abused as pessimists, as journalists who want failure.
And when a bloodbath occurs on the television screens, we are asked to censor out the worst carnage. Hence the dragging of the mutilated, fried corpses through the streets of Fallujah yesterday was not shown on Western television; only a truncated, heavily censored version was broadcast because of "images too gruesome to show." But the Iraqis see these scenes. So do we. They looked like Somalia. The best the authorities can say is that they were "particularly brutal". Particularly? They were an outrage.
I was outside one Western office in Baghdad yesterday, observing yet another concrete wall being erected around it. Armed Iraqi militiamen stood at every corner of the compound. If Bremer's palace now resembles the seat of the old British Raj, the office I visited was beginning to look like the British residency at Lucknow during the Indian Mutiny. That is what we have now come to. And still Bremer and the men and women of the "Green Zone" dream on.
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