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Operation Think Freely About Iraq # 1  

Comments about Operation Iraqi Freedom
and about the media

By TFF's Iraq Conflict-Mitigation team & Associates

"It is enough that a lie is believed for three days - it has then served its purpose."
Marie de Medici, 1573-1642, queen consort and queen regent of France

# 1 March 27 - April 8. Start at bottom

# 2 April 9 - April 27
# 3 April 28 till now


 25. Perhaps history will repeat itself?


Day 20 - April 8, 2003 - Yesterday, R. W. Apple, writing in the IHT, points out that it won't be easy for the American and British troops to portray themselves and convince the Iraqis that they are liberators: "But they are walking old and treacherous ground. The British commander who seized Baghdad from the Ottoman Turks in March 1917, General Frederick Stanley Maude, told the local citizenry, "Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators."

The British dominated Baghdad and what became Iraq for decades, Apple comments dryly.

I turn to Said Aburish's marvellous book, Saddam Hussein. The Politics of Revenge (2000) and read:

"What victorious Britain did produce after the First World War was an Iraqi government which controlled the same territory that Saddam Hussein governs today. It confirmed those borders in 1926, five years after it had established the Iraqi monarchy and imported an Arab king, Faisal I, to deputize for it while investing real authority in the British High Commissioner. It is true that the boundaries of modern Iraq were drawn in response to Western interests, in accordance with the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, which divided the Middle Eastern spoils of the First World War between Britain and France, and later in recognition of the British desire to control the city of Mosul and its oil. But the core of Iraq as a place with a people was already in existence under the Ottoman Empire and even earlier.

The British and the new monarchy worsened the historical problems which had always bedevilled the country. The imported king has never been to Iraq before the British appointed him. He belonged to the minority Sunni sect and, above all, he ruled without governing. Faisal himself accepted the paramountcy of the High Commissioner and admitted that he was no more than 'an instrument of British policy';…

In 1920, just before the plans for imposing the monarchy were finalised, the Shias rose up against the infidel British and their plans. Because most Iraqis wanted to be independent and free, the rebellion eventually spread to include those Sunnis outside the small, elite circle whom the British were promoting.. Both Muslim sects turned against the franji, the European usurper, and the result was some two thousand British casualties including 453 dead. The strength of the uprising caused the British to resort to two elements of warfare which have been copied by Saddam in more recent times: they employed their airforce against civilians and they used gas...It was the British conquest of iraq which set the stage for what is happening today." (p.5-6)

What we see these days looks frighteningly as a déjà-vu. Ruthless power interests. Terror against civilians. Almost complete lack of understanding of the complex reality that is Iraq. Playing groups against one other. Militarism combined with 'full-spectrum' dominance over the local subjects. No democracy in sight.

I can't wait to hear that the US also installs Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress as a new King Feisal. Well, there is a difference, of course, he has been to Iraq - but left it in 1958...

Old and treacherous ground, indeed.


24. Arrogantly assessing the 'physical destruction of human beings'


April 7, 2003 - Today's IHT informs its readers that 2,300 Iraqis have been killed in Baghdad fighting, according to US spokesmen. Iraq denies this. This briefing does not mention whether it is civilians, military or both. Well, perhaps the underlying assumption is that if they were killed they were either regular fighters in uniforms, paramilitaries, militaries who had changed clothes or civilians forces put by Saddam to fight as civilians, as human shields?

Just yesterday I read in the same column with "debriefing" notices that 18 allies in the Kurdish north were killed by a "misaimed" US bomb sent off from a US aircraft. It also wounded 45.

But on the next page, we get an evidence of this incredible arrogance and insensitivity of US officials. On Saturday April 6, US forces launched a three-hour dramatic foray, as the IHT calls it, into Baghdad. And then we are told, "Soldiers told reporters travelling with them that it was difficult to differentiate between civilians and soldiers. Brooks [Brigadier-General Vincent Brooks at the US Central Command in Qatar] said about 2,000 Iraqis were killed in the raid during the fighting - which he described as the "physical destruction of human beings."

- "It could be on the order of 2,000," he said. "It could be more than 2,000. It could be somewhat less that 2,000. We know that it was a considerable amount of destruction on all of the force that we encountered."

So, from one page to the next of IHT the figure of Iraqis killed moves up from 2,300 to perhaps 4,300. A little more or a little less - who cares? If I understand correctly, about 2,000 Iraqis were killed in 3 hours! That what comes with war, people say. If so, why is there a war and who wanted it?

I ask myself how many thousands, or tens of thousands, have really been killed by the "liberating" forces? They have plenty of reasons, both vis-a-vis the Western opinion and surviving Iraqis whose hearts they want to convert, to lie about the real figures of what I, more and more strongly, fear must have been a serial slaughter from Day One.


23. No reflection time and no context: the war reporter's problems haven't changed


April 7, 2003 - A new week begins. This is the 19th day of the war, the day when British troops move into the centre of Basra and US troops claim to control all major roads into Baghdad.

All I hear on BBC is descriptive, where troops are moving, what little resistance they meet, etc. I hear no one trying to explain, or at least make qualified guesses, about what happens on the Iraqi side. Shouldn't we be highly curious? It's taken three weeks to get into Basra and about three days to get into Baghdad? I am bewildered at reports that US troops encounter that little resistance.

Is Saddam and/or his leaders dead or incapacitated? Could there be infighting? Are people just running away from a regime "whose days are numbered"? At the same time as Baghdadians are now leaving the capital in their cars?

It's all very confusing, to us all, to BBC's reporters too. But a little more analysis, even speculative, of these mind-boggling events that NO ONE has predicted or even seen as a possibility would be most welcome.

In today's IHT I read a very thoughtful comment on the role of war reporters by Julie Salamon of the New York Times. She writes,

- "Today's television broadcasts unfold not like narratives, edited for sense, context and continuity, but like animated Cubist paitings with sound and multiple images appearing simultaneously." And then she lets Morley Safer of CBS's "60 Minutes" who covered the Israeli-Egyptian conflict in Suez in 1956 and the Vietnam War. "Back in the Middle Ages when I covered wars you had reflection time - you weren't winging it. Now suddenly you are on, and you have to say something. You can only describe what you can see in the very, very narrow field of vision that you have. They have a hell of a lot more people covering these live war than we had. But we had time to check things out."

She continues "in the Iraq war, the US policy of assigning journalists to live with the troops, or "embedding" them, could be seen as carrying on the tradition of Ernie Pyke - or as a method to manage the news and restore the sympathy between reporter and soldier. The policy, some critics argue, is an effort to make the press a cheerleader again for US soldiers and to demoralize an enemy with live pictures of American might....So far in this war, context has often become submerged in a swamp of unfiltered detail."

I share this and feel it is very good that the discussion of "media in war" has also become instantaneous. We discuss the role of the media - and the media discuss the role of the media - while the reporting is being done. It cannot but highten the media consumer' awareness and independent thinking as well as increase the zapping and surfing on many and different, including alternative channels and on the Internet.

But then she ends her analysis with a very discouraging statement made by Michael Dobbs of the Washington Post who was in Belgrade during the NATO air strikes in 1999. He says, "You are an antidote to the propaganda. It puts you in a position where you really have to be objective and detached. You are reporting to the country that's waging the war, but reporting among the people who are living in it." So far, so good. But then, "I saw the suffering of Serbian civilians and yet I knew very well the political arguments in favor of the war. I personally couldn't decide between those two things. There are two sides of war, both of which are accurate."

If he had investigatedit seriously he would have known at the time - not the least since he was there - that almost all the political arguments of President Clinton and Madeleine Albright were misleading, propagandistic and embarrassingly black and white. He would have known at the time that the Rambouillet "negotiations" was a game to make the war possible and justify it. If not back then, he would know it today and he would look at today's Kosovo and Serbia and conclude that these political arguments were false to the extent of being absurd.

He also makes the - I think mind-boggling - mistake to see civilians caught in the war between other parties as a party, as a "side". The civilians living in Serbia including Kosovo were not a side in this war, they were the victims, whether ordinary Serbs or Albanians or some other minority.

Whatever Dobbs may have thought then and now, he clearly comes out in this statement as a self-embedded reporter who is unable to distance himself from his country's own militarist policies. That's what an impartial, professional journalist should be able to do particularly when reporting from a war where his country is one of the sides, fighting - then as now - a war for which there was no UN mandate.

In the good old days, Pravda would have been happy to embed a journalist with this little integrity when it is needed the most.

True, there is a certain freedom of the press in the West and in the US. And true, nobody is knocking on my door at night telling me to stop publishing thoughts and views like these on the Internet. But isn't it conspicuous how, repeatedly, so many of the highly influential media people come around, at the end of the day, as cheerleaders for the West in general and for the US in particular no matter how illegitimate and inhuman its policies?

I am pretty sure that, if Iraq falls apart without that much military struggle and a new US-dominated government is installed, they'll try to convince us that - however deplorable the casualties - the outcome justified the means and the (illegal and immoral) policies of George W. Bush and his regime. So will unfold, once again, the utility rationale of the media, the rationalisation of the policies of a leadership that knows only military might but not diplomacy and that, according to Senator Byrd, no longer listens.

No wonder Julie Salamon's analysis carries the headline, Reporters get new tools to cover conflicts, but old problems remain.



22. A little recession on the way to World War IV


Day 19 - April 7, 2003 - Two headlines on the third page of IHT reveals the lack of realism of the Bush regime's foreign policy. The first one says that "Washington hopes war will get message to other nations," written by NYT's David E. Sanger.

It deals with US administration officials who debate which conflict Bush will, or should, move on to when the war is Iraq is over. (And today, judged from other news items, the invasion fighting may be over sooner rather than later).

It offers a little insight into Bush' more or less sadistic mind-set. An aide comes into the Oval Office and tells the President that Rumsfeld has just threatened Syria and Iran. "Bush smiled a moment at the latest example of Rumsfeld's brazenness, recalled the aide. Then he said one word - "Good" - and went back to work."

Good? Good that he is brazen? Good that he has threatened nations # 3 and # 4 in the midst of an invasion of a # 2 and after bombing # 1, Afghanistan? Good that others fear? Good for what, for whom? Sanger explains that Bush sees Iraq as a "demonstration conflict."

There are two lines of reasoning in Washington, according to Sanger. The hawks believe that Iraq will serve as a warning to others who refuse to disarm on the order of the US. The "more pragmatic wing," in contrast, believes that this will compel countries to build fearsome arsenals and make the costs of conflict too high for Washington.

Fearsome, indeed. On April 2, Sanger says, James Woolsey, the former CIA director, said that Iraq was the opening of "the fourth world war" and that America's enemies included the religious rulers in Iran, states like Syria and Islamic terrorist groups. (Some of us missed the Third...)

Those words stand without a comment, ending the first article.

The other article displays the folly and lack of realism of US militarism or, if you have Marxist leanings, tells of the need for the US to conduct wars: "US hovers on brink of another recession."

Alex Berensen, also of the NYT, writes about the abominable conditions the US economy is in. A short war will do less harm to the economy, the seriousness of the impending recession "appears to be rising each week the war continues." He tells us that the US government has swung from a US$ 237 billion surplus in 2000 to a projected deficit of more than US$ 300 billion this year. Whatever medicine has been applied, it doesn't seem to work. So much about Sanger's exposé, as an indirect comment to the Bush regime's childlike "I want more and more and more" policies.

With military expenditures moving beyond US$ 400 billion, anyone should be able to see that militarism and bellicose policies won't help the economic quagmire at home. And if war serves only the Military-Industrial Complex, MIC, then it would have to last longer for the weapons industries to have more live tests made of their new weapons systems. And for them to have orders of new ones instead of those burning up in apartment complexes and palaces in Baghdad these very hours...

By the way, on the same page of IHT we get some interesting statistics; since the war began, 750 cruise missiles and more than 14,000 precision-(or not so precision)-guided munitions have been fired on Iraq. I believe the MIC is deeply disappointed if the war is already coming to an end.

If I was a MIC representative I would side with Mr. Woolsey...And remember, Iraq was considered a threat to the whole world. If its defence collapses after only three weeks, the US may need many enemies to invade in a row to satisfy its militaristic needs!



21. Saddam's former airport, couldn't it be renamed Rumsfeld Airport?


April 6, 2003 - This is the day when IHT's front page is covered with two main, perhaps contradictory, news items; U.S. forces secure most of Baghdad airport, underneath of which is a huge photo from the Iraqi Television showing Saddam Hussein in military uniform visiting a residential area in Baghdad on Friday (April 4).

BBC's correspondent confirms that, to most he has talked with, it is Saddam Hussein. The other headline says that 'Defiant Iraq officials warn of nonconventional' arms' - a reference to the uniquely self-congratulatory Iraqi Minister of Information Mohammed Said Sahhaf's talk about 'some kind of martyrdom' to attack US soldiers at that airport. US commanders are quoted as saying they are surprised of the relative ease with which they have secured most of the airport.

At this moment in the war it seems to me that things are more confused than ever. Three weeks of resistance in Basra and shocking resistance elsewhere on the way to Baghdad. Losing a jewel like the Saddam International Airport must be a psychological blow to everyone in Baghdad. How could it be this lightly defended? Is this part of an Iraqi surprise strategy or the beginning of the end of the resistance?

By the way, I wonder what they will call this airport from now on. When the American forces took control of an airport in the north, there was a report that its name wash changed to Bush Airport. Why not the Rumsfeld Baghdad Airport?



20. The International Herald Tribune - a truly global newspaper!


Day 18 - April 6, 2003 - On p. 4 of the weekend edition, the IHT has an ad for itself, Think IHT. The World's daily Newspaper.

If it wasn't so thoughtless, it would be cute.

A quick glance through the issue will reveal that all articles are written by journalists from IHT or New York Times, or the Associated Press. The majority of articles have headlines containing words such as American, US, Bush and carries angles that reflect this bias. On the page with the add, I read headlines such as "US-Kurd alliance...", "US troops fan out...", "US keeps up pressure..." and (US) GIs at [Baghdad] Airport ask: What's next?"

Two of the three feature article authors in this edition have e-mails with the domain. Virtually all the experts giving their views on different matters throughout the paper are - Americans.

"Truly global," as it boasts? The world's newspaper? No, after having been taken over by the NYT alone it has become even more provincial. Selling IHT by such slogans is self-deceptive. Not a good job done by those who are supposed to cover reality, the facts. If this is how the IHT sees itself, how can I believe what it sees in the world. Or do the people at IHT really believe that the US is the world?

No leading daily in, say, Sweden would survive if it was that navel-gazing.

I must turn to more decent, realistic media people like those who run the Financial Times, the Guardian, Le Monde, The Times of India, Al-Ahram etc. You name them - so many are better!



19. The Iraqis ought to be grateful: after having been destroyed by American and British forces, they'll pay with their oil to be reconstructed


April 5, 2003 - We are told these days that ordinary citizens in Iraq often tell journalists that under Saddam, at least they had both food and water and electricity. However, Western media - particularly those "embedded" completely ignore the effects of he sanctions. Whatever problematic situation they find, it is all due to the rule of Saddam Hussein. The lack of every sense of contemporary history with the people covering this conflict is unbrearable. I mean, they have had 12 years to study those effects. Why must something that calls itself the free press deny, by omission, the fact that the problems faced by the Iraqis are caused NOT ONLY by the present regime but also by the west, the UN Security Council and, in particular, the US and the UK, the liberators?

I wonder whether we will soon hear about a new Oil for Reconstruction Programme? Be sure of one thing: the Iraqis will keep on paying for our policies, our sanctions as well as our war. The debt of Iraq is huge and will only grow after the war. The people will have to pay with their oil revenues for Saddam's wars AS WELL AS our sanctions and our war.

You will never hear the word compensation from those who are responsible for the sanctions and for the devastation going on these weeks in Iraq. The Iraqis, of course, are now free to be both happy and grateful that the US and the UK sacrificed and liberated them. Then the bill will be presented.



18. Whose reporting is most restricted and 'embedded'?


Day 17 - April 5, 2003 - I listen to BBC World Service these days. I take note of the fact that when BBC journalists report from Baghdad, we are told that they are subject to monitoring by the Iraqi authorities. That implies censorship. BBC does not, at least not equally systematically, emphasise that their "embedded" journalists are subject to restriction and monitoring as well.

International Herald Tribune of April 5-6, 2003 runs a headline on top of page 2, Reporters in Baghdad are walking a tightrope. Various BBC and CNN journalists maintain that they are likely to only get the official party line when they interview people in the streets and have a "minder" with them. The implicit assumption of the article and the people stating their opinions seem to be this: if someone expresses support for the regime, it's because "no one will give you the truth on the street." The truth they know, of course, is that everyone hates Saddam Hussein and, therefore, everyone automatically loves the invaders, However, unfortunately, they are saying something else, and it's because this is a country of fear and terror, of dictatorship.

Two commentators state different opinions. BBC's Baghdad correspondent, Rageh Omaar, says "I feel confident that people are expressing their genuine feelings when they say "'Well, I'm Iraqi, my country is being attacked."

That is exactly my own experience with the Iraqis I met in May last year and in January this year. Most told me that whatever they thought of Saddam, they would NOT support an invasion by any foreign power in their land.

The other dissenting voice of reason is Reuter's Baghdad correspondent, Samia Nakhoul who hits the point, "Before you could not leave an Iraqi hotel without a minder. Now you can go, they are so busy they have too many journalists to accomodate."

That again is exactly my own experience. Christian Harleman and I could have meetings with Iraqis and talk freely with anyone in the street, bazaars and cafes without having a minder. Sometimes, we did have someone who served as interpreter.

Since it is politically incorrect to have any understanding, let alone sympathy, for the regime or its policies, it is never mentioned that Iraq was a country at war. For years it was being attacked almost daily by British and American planes in the so-called No-Fly Zones and was the object of international sanctions, demonisation and constant threats on its very existence. Would it be so strange if the government felt that it had to monitor who worked in the country, who gathered what information - in times of de facto, if undeclared, war?

Right under this article is an excellent one written by Susan Sachs, In Arab media, war shown as a 'clash of civilisation.

Here one can get an impression of the different focus on the war in Arab media:

1. It is history-related.

"The Crusades and the 13th-century Mongol sack of Baghdad, recalled as barbaric attacks on Arab civilisation, are used as synonyms for the US-led invasion of Iraq."

2. It focuses on innocent victims.

"Horrific vignettes of the helpless - armless children, crushed babies, stunned mothers - cascade into Arab living rooms from the front pages of newspapers and television screens."

3. Acknowledging that war is cruel and should be rejected.

Fahmi Howeidy is a prominent Islamist writer in Cairo who says "War is carnage, the editors have said, so why mute the screams or hide the entrails of the wounded and dead? Arabs, like anybody else, don't like blood or pictures of corpses, but it's a matter of principle that we have a right to know what's happening, said Gasa Mustafa Abaido, an assistant professor of communication at Ain Shams University in Cairo. "What we see in the media is an indirect way for the governments and the public to reject the war."

While the general western media take the winner's perspective (with whom the media are embedded) on the war and thus makes war more legitimate per se and, consequently, systematically underplay the human suffering, Arab media reject war right away and focus on the human suffering.

These fundamental differences go way beyond the individual viewpoint, sentiment and bias. It's caused by structure - the structure of the world, the structure of the war and the structure of media in both.

Perhaps this is the first war where the media topdogs have lost their monopoly and the underdogs fight bravely for their specialty. In the Arab media as well as on the Internet. I wonder when they are going to "inadvertently" bomb Al Jazeera's Baghad offices at the river bank, the humble rooms I visited. They bombed the Serbian Radio and Television Station, Al-Jazeera in Kabul, they have bombed the Ministry of Information here. In times of war, pluralism unwanted. But truth will out!


17. The Council of Foreign Relations is no shock but Orr...


April 4, 2003 - Yesterday the International Herald Tribune carried a feature article by Robert Orr, director of the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington. He argues that the US is weak when it comes to civilian reconstruction, while it is immensely strong in military terms. He backs this up by saying that

a) USAID now has less than 2,000 full-time staff to cover the whole globe, less than a quarter of what President Kennedy had;

b) State Department, where a great deal of the US occupation of Japan was planned, has no operational planning capacity at all today;

c) US foreign assistance budgets have declined steadily since the 1960s, and now constitute a pitiful one-10th of 1 percent of the GDP.

I ask myself, how big the megalomania that rules in the White House? The US is obviously a civilian aid and reconstruction dwarf but its leadership keeps on talking about running Iraq alone or in the most benevolent statement with a little help from selected friends and - to look good - the United Nations as a humanitarian agency.

Robert Orr is an excellent soldier for his government when he lists all the things the US must now get in order to be able to finish what it has set out to do. It feels a bit late. The list is long, banal and completely unrealistic given the evolving situation in Iraq. He seems to admit it to the extent that he ends by saying that "until the hollowness of America's post-conflict reconstruction force is recognised and addressed, there will be no real option but to stretch military units to do things they neither want to nor should do."

Three things does not bother the director of the Council of Foreign Relations, it seems:

a) that the US ought to involve countries that have the capacity which the US has neglected so fundamentally the last 30 years;

b) that the US should not undertake a military invasion, and should particularly not do so when it has neither the capacity to contribute to the post-war reconstruction nor the will to involve the UN and other multilateral bodies; and

c) that it should under no circumstance hand over to the military what it neither wants to, should do or is trained to do;

d) that an occupier is obliged to care for the country it has occupied.

The militarisation of humanitarian assistance and of post-war recovery can lead only to a militaristic, undemocratic and deeply authoritarian situation for the country in question. It simply can not lead to a new democratic and secure civil society.

The Iraqis deserve a better fate than seeing one type of domestic militarism and authoritarianism replaced by another one with US roots.

Had he said that much, had he exercised that much criticism and shown that much independent intellectualism he would of course not have been the director of the Council of Foreign Relations in the - formerly - democratic United States.


16. This war's "Why?" is already forgotten - and so are WMD


Day 16 - April 4, 2003 - Into the third week of this war, the Why is completely forgotten. Left is only How the war is fought and battles won and lost. It has been forgotten that during all the debates leading up to this war, the official US position was that this was not about regime change but about weapons of mass-destruction, inspections not being successful, about the risk of terrorism and about preventing Iraq from acquiring a WMD capacity large enough to threaten the world.

The media are surprisingly low-key on analysing why no WMD has been found in any of the cities now under the invaders' control.

Well, we knew that in reality the Bush administration aimed at regime change. The fact that that is what the war is fought for seems to imply that that goal - a clear violation of both international law and the UN Charter - has gained legitimacy through the sheer exercise of brutal force.

It may be true that war is always cruel and that civilians have to suffer. That's the how. Today's media coverage has, by and large, accepted that "the Coalition members have to hurt and kill now they are in Iraq," but that must not explain away the essential question "why did the coalition members have to go to Iraq?"

The "embedded" coverage MUST lose that perspective, precisely to be embedded. You can't be with the US or UK forces and fundamentally question their being there.

How and why the conflict turned into war is totally left out of the media's perspectives. In this war too. Again.


15. Why are there no civlians north of An Najaf? And if there are, why are they all dead paramilitaries?


Day 15 - April 3, 2003 - In International Herald Tribune of April 2, Jim Dwyer who is "embedded" with the 101st airborne division near Al Hillah, reports, "It was possible Monday [March 31] to drive 50 kilometers north from An Najaf toward Baghdad and not see a single, living person other than U.S. soldiers." The road is littered with the hulls of pickup trucks and taxicabs fired on by the U.S. forces. Then he writes - kind of casually - "As for the occupants of several of those cars - targeted as paramilitary forces loyal to Saddam Hussein - their bodies were sprawled on the ground nearby."

This is "embedded" war reporting at its worst. Always take sides, automatically, with the guys of your own country, even if, as in this case, they are also the aggressors.

First, one wonders where civilian farmers and sheep herders have gone over a stretch of 50 kilometers? He also writes that the Iraqi countryside was "all but devoid of ordinary life on this beautiful spring day."

Investigative reporting would ask: where have they disappeared, when and why? Pehaps he does not know that families live on food rations delivered to stores all over Iraq. They can get their monthly ration only at the local shop in the municipality or town where they live and have no right to a ration anywhere else. They must have been extremely frightened when running away.

Embedded with the military he can't jump out and ask the first civilian he sees. But my question is, does he bother or must his perspective be that of the military?

Next, Jim Dwyer takes for granted - in a sentence - that trucks and taxicabs IF TARGETED BY THE U.S. FORCES MUST BE paramilitaries. As a reader I would like to know how the American soldiers identify a taxi in the distance as being filled with paramilitary people only. Dwyer also does not bother to tell us whether he thinks it is true or not that they are paramilitaries - which he could try to assess by telling the age, gender or types of clothes of at least some of those bodies "sprawled" that he passes through.

Well, why do I think they could be mostly civilians? Why do I think the 50 kilometers were devoid of civilians?

There are two bits of texts elsewhere in Dwyer's presumably, objective, impartial, free-press report; read them carefully:

"The Americans have used more and more military power to carry out their missions, often inside Shiite-dominated towns, making for some grim realities in a part of the country where there had been little expectation of strong resistance...It was near An Najaf, the U.S. Central Command said, that seven women and children were killed Monday afternoon by American soldiers..."

"The 101st's artillery strikes Monday gave the air an off feel, almost like the skin of a drum, as hundreds of rounds pounded off the clear, cloudless sky. "I've got 30 cannons, and I am shooting them all," said Lieutenant Colonel Bill Bennett, commander of the 101st's artillery unit. I've never shot so much in my life. I need some more bullets."

Read it again and compare with the opening statement that there were no civilians left 50 kilometres. With these kinds of liberators, would you not try to hide or run away? And if you did, would you not be dead scared that you would be considered a "paramilitary" because you have heard that US forces and officials repeatedly state that wounded or killed civilians are not really civilians but soldiers dressed up as civilians? '

I for one fear that what we hear in terms of civilian casualties is only the tip of the iceberg.


14. Everybody in Najaf gave American soldiers a warm welcome - at least three...


April 3, 2003 - Jim Dwyer of the New York Times reported yesterday in International Herald Tribune that "the battle for the Shiite-dominated city of An not yet over even as U.S. forces have advanced northward."

But the day after, in today's Financial Times, p 2, the forces have already entered: "Warm welcome for US soldiers as coalition forces enter Najaf." Citizens clapped and cheered as a company of US soldiers walked through the center of town, we are told. But the article, written by Charles Clover in Najaf carries only two witnesses of this assertion, Lt Col Marcus De Oliviera who says that the citizens of Najaf "evidently no longer fear the bad guys who were controlling this place." The other is one Hadi, a middle-aged man on a street corner. Clover doesn't bother to ask who he is. Hadi is the witness to the asserted truth about the popularity of the invaders. The only one, unfortunately.

In the report, Hadi is the witness on two accounts. He is the man who asks when water and electricity will come back (Jim Dwyer does not mention why this city too suddenly had no water and no electricity, a disaster that happened when coalition forces advanced). And then he is quoted as receiving the US soldiers with "We welcome you." Clove even tells his readers that the citizens of Najaf have been slow to come around to supporting the US - he seems to actually have met only this one on a street corner. He is quoted as saying that "we were all afraid of a repeat of 1991referring to the fact that this predominantly Shia city had been let down by the US in 1991.

Hamid is another "bystander" who says to Clover that "we hope this time you will be serious about getting rid of Saddam. Until now everything you have done has helped him stay in power." Words of wisdom from a "bystander" indeed.

But, tells Clover, "not everyone was welcoming" as if Hamid's statement was that welcoming. Ali, a Shia clergyman, watching from a mosque along the soldiers' route said: 'We lost all trust in America in 1991. Saddam is evil. America is evil. We trust only Allah.'"

We are finally informed that citizens looted the local Baath party HQ shouting "Bush, Bush, Bush" carrying off gasoline cans, telephones and weapons.

We trust only Allah...This is a deep statement, but Clover doesn't hear or understand it. The so-called coalition will be forced to replace Saddam Hussein's power structure and behave as undemocratically, simply to hold it all together AND achieve its own interests in oil, strategic gains and dominating control of post-Saddam Iraq.

Totally disillusioned with Saddam, the people of Iraq also sees no real hope in the US. Where do you turn to when every identity is lost, your rights repressed, when your life has been ruined by 12 years of sanctions and you can see no hope in any direction? You turn to God, to Allah. In the worst of cases, you turn in the direction of fundamentalism in spite of the living in a secular society.

Several international heads of missions told Christian Harleman and I exactly that as the scenario they feared most in the wake of a war on Iraq. They had not met Hadi, the bystander to tell them otherwise...

(Above this article, on the very same page of Financial Times, Human Rights Watch is quoted as saying that "it was evident from television pictures that US forces were using artillery projectiles and rockets containing large numbers of submunitions, or cluster munitions, in Iraq."

No doubt, that's the kinds of things that makes Iraqi citizens welcome US forces "warmly". Does anyone think of the fact that a Iraqi soldier has a family, perhaps a mother, a father, sisters and brothers and relatives who will, no matter what they ever thought of Saddam, for ever remember that the boy was killed by the US or the UK, due to Bush' and Blair's decision to invade they country? Remember, a solider is a civilian, a human being, who by his own will or by threats wears a uniform and carries a gun.


13. Where are the Democrats in the US? Is it as much of a one-party system as Iraq, or more?


April 3, 2003 - Today's International Herald Tribune quotes a Democratic Party consultant, Jenny Backus as saying "Democrats don't need to do any criticism of the Bush administration right now. The unnamed generals are doing that job for us." Here is another report.

The article mentions Tom Daschle "who went almost overnight from being a leading critic of Bush's war policy to being, by all appearances, a strong supporter. "I think our troops are doing an absolutely superb job," Daschle says and adds that he is "struck by the extraordinary professionalism that is demonstrated every single day."

Quite a statement - that is, until you see that he made it on April 1, All Fool's Day.

Seriously speaking, American generals now substitute the Democratic Party, i.e. the opposition. And Democrats praise a war that lacks legality and US forces that distinguishes itself by killing civilians, almost by mistake of course, and by repeated friendly fire as we've seen.

There is no principled criticism, there is just an evaluation as to whether this - illegal - war is going well or not from the point of view of the US. I am not sure that there is more real political debate in today's US than there were in yesterday's in Iraq. There for instance, the People's Assembly could vote against the idea of getting the inspectors back and the President and his Revolutionary Command Council could overrule it. In the US, Congress has abdicated all responsibility and the only opposition party has handed over its opposition to the military. Is this the country that exports freedom of speech and considers the tacher par excellence of democracy?



12. How Europe can win without war: learning from the US how not to do it


Day 15 - April 3, 2003 - This is the title of a comment in Financial Times by Andrew Moravcsik, professor of government and director of the European Union programme at Harvard University. By no means a radical, the author offers what ought to be food for thought to EU leaders.

To match military spending of the US, the Europeans would have to increase their military spending from the present roughly 2 pct of GDP to more than 4 pct. They won't accept that, he concludes and goes on to say that the European defence schemes distract us from seeing the real comparative advantage of Europe in world politics: the cultivation of civilian and quasi-military power. Europe is the "quiet superpower" that wields influence world wide as great as the US, because:

1) EU accession holds the promise to help formerly authoritarian states into democratic structures.

2) Europeans provide more than 70 pct of all civilian development assistance, four times more than the US.

3) European troops provide peacekeeping, usually under multilateral auspices, in many and different trouble spots. EU members and applicants contribute 10 times more peacekeepers as the US.

4) Monitoring by international institutions, supported by Europe, builds global trust. "The Iraqi crisis might have developed very differently, Moravcsik maintains, "if the Europeans had been able to offer the option of sending, say, 10 times as many weapons inspectors in, 10 months earlier."

5) The Iraqi crisis has shown the extraordinary effect of multilateral institutions on global opinion. He means the UN, of course, while the US-led war lacks legitimacy.

"Americans are not just unwilling but also - for complex domestic, cultural and institutional reasons - unable to deploy civilian power effectively. That is the true weakness of US strategy today, for without trade, aid, peacekeeping, monitoring and legitimacy, no amount of unilateral military might can stabilise an unruly world," says Moravcsik. And concludes in a manner one would hope EU leaders would listen carefully to:

"Rather than criticising US military power, or hankering after it, Europe would do better to invest its political and budgetary capital in a distinctive complement to it."

While I don't think Europe should be a complement (only) to US policies, particularly not when illegal and aggressive, I do believe Andrew Moravcsik hits the essential point for the forthcoming discussion about a stronger EU military capacity. We, not the Americans possess - at least potentially - the main building block, the main components of security and conflict-resolution, namely a civilian, early warning, conflict-analytical and violence-preventive conflict-management capacity. We are also far more experienced peacekeepers and think in line with the UN, still the most important framework at humanity's disposal. But will European leaders be able to see their own comparative strength?

And if we are not good enough at it yet - and we certainly were not in the Balkans, in Afghanistan or in this case of Iraq - Europeans, I am convinced, would be more than happy to pay a bit more to see those civilian capabilities come true.

But, he is right, they will not pay for anything that would seek to match the military Dinosaur, the Muscle-but-little-Brain-and-Heart of the Bush administration.

A voice of common sense in these otherwise militarist times!


11. Water as a weapon: thoughtlessness, human rights violations and misinformation in one


Day 14 - April 2, 2003 - The front page of today's International Herald Tribune carries a headline that catches my eye, "Thirsty population begs coalition troops for water." It's about Umm Qasr. "The taps have been dry since the U.S.-led invasion began two weeks ago, and the trucks that delivered drinking water from Basra, a city now besieged by British forces, have stopped arriving."

There are interesting points here. The word used is invasion; good, a spade is finally called a spade. Second, the local people turn to the invaders for water - the supply of which the invaders seem to have destroyed. Third, Basra - a town we have heard now for two weeks desperately lacking water itself, is delivering water to Umm Qasr?

The article continues, "American and British officials blame Saddam Husseuin for sabotaging the electrical supply that kept Basra's water pumps running." But, if that was the case, how could Basra deliver water to Umm Qasr?

"But," the article by Craig S. Smith of the New York Times continues "many Iraqis here believe the power and he pipes that brought them water were deliberately damaged by the United States and Britain during the allied invasion. Water, it seems, has become yet another weapon in the war."

Indeed! Why should we, for a second, believe British and American propaganda? The infrastructure was exactly what they destroyed during the first Gulf War, and have we have not heard that the people were thirsty before the invasion. I was in Basra in January and I met no one who was thirsty and although there were occasional problems with the electricity, a few minutes here and there, there was no power cuts of this permanent nature and no need for the ICRC to come in and restore water to Basra.

So, why is water and electricity destroyed by the invaders? The answer is simple, to starve out the people, to wear down their resistance psychologically and physically; then the gallant invaders can move in as humanitarian agents with a big heart. This is humanitarianism at war - a thirsty population "begs" the merciless invaders, the merciless aggressors, who use civilians in their warfare and humiliate them in their struggle for the most essential of all human needs: water!

The article author is sensitive enough to not mention how the US destroyed Basra's and Baghdad's water and electricity system in the first Gulf War and it is equally silent about the effects the sanctions have had on precisely these sectors in precisely these cities, the last 12 years.

The author continues to tell us that British soldiers - remember: they have forced out all the UN and the real humanitarian organisations to conduct their war - had completed a water pipeline from Kuwait. "In an awkward public relations effort, American and British forces trucked journalists across the border from Kuwait on Monday...the coalition, however, cancelled a planned tour for a small group of reporters to see the water distribution point in town, "We're still trying to win the local population's trust', an embarrassed British public affairs officer said."

Indeed, there may be Iraqis who are too proud to beg - which of course comes as a surprise to soldiers who are sent by governments who have absolutely no idea about the culture and the people whose land they invade and whom they profess to "liberate.". All they know is that this Saddam is a bad guy. He is, yes, but that is kind of not enough…

As is this ignorance was not enough, here comes the statement of the day: "another British soldier said that the coalition was not charging the Iraqis for the water." We now understand how British generosity knows no limits, like it never did in - say- Iraq in 1920 or India in 1940…

A Kuwaiti humanitarian officer comments matter-of-factly that the Kuwaitis are paying for this water.

Finally, the article ends with a catastrophic piece of misinformation. It tells that some truck drivers actually do charge the Iraqis for the water "selling it for 5 Iraqi dinars, about $15 a litre at the official exchange rate." Well, either the source or Craig Smith ought to do some solid mathematics. 1 Iraqi dinar is not 3 US$, until the war started, it took a little more than 2000 - two thousand! - dinars to buy a single US dollar. How could the NYT get things that wrong?

The entire article exemplifies how difficult and contradictory war reporting is. Does it have to be? Is it meant to be?

Is it in some parties' interest that a leading serious newspaper conveys so much thoughtlessness to its readers?

Oh yes, almost forgot to point it out: it's a violation of the Geneva conventions to deliberately destroy facilities needed by the civilian population caught in war. Of course, no mainstream Western media care to mention that today, while they all gave wide coverage a few days ago to US officials who were upset that American prisoners of war had been shown on Al-Jazeera!



10. War as usual? Serial killing must never become a serial story


Day 13 - April 1, 2003 - This is an early warning! We must take care that this war does not become business, or rather war, as usual. It must not become a standard news item, a part of "situation normal". It must not turn into a serial story, soap opera, or reality show. The ongoing coverage could do something dangerous to us, also because the pictures are so heart-breaking that we have to protect ourselves from this terrible reality.

As time goes by, we could get used to it, stop being enraged by what we see. Stop protesting and marching, or do so less and less. The war could blunt us.

The last few days, I've noticed how news of the war has begun to fade a bit and other news gain attention. Admittedly, other things do happen in this world, perhaps it is only natural. But since this war has gone so remarkably wrong both before it started and now, it could well serve the perpetrators of this cruel invasion. But we must keep a sharp focus.

Anger and protest is necessary for three reasons:

a) Our compassion, empathy and respect for the Iraqi civilians as well as for the young Western soldiers who risk and, in some cases, sacrifice their lives in this stupid and immoral war.

b) For keeping sane in these dark times. Denial of war's reality implies a harsh wake-up later.

c) And, it is absolutely essential for our human ability to be constructive in these dark times, to find ways to stop it and, when it is all over, help the Iraqis and help foster reconciliation between the Muslim and the Christian world, indeed heal the world after this terrible mistake.

Never get used to war.


9. The West's media monopoly has been broken - by the aggressors


March 31, 2003 - This is a really interesting war. Never before have we seen journalists so close to - embedded with - the military, flak jacket, helmet , and all that, at the front. But never before has there been so much "alternative" coverage and coverage of the Arab media, news and commentary. Al-Jazeera is well-known, of course, but there are now many other and - great !- they are being invited into and used by Western media, not the least by CNN.

It's become much more difficult to fool people around the world, also because there is the Internet (see the Transnational News Navigator, TNN, as an example).

Many criticise CNN International for being just an extension of the US State Department. I do not think that is fair. Saying that does not not mean that I think CNN is free, unbiased or very critical. But it does offer a broader spectrum of pespectives than it did during the first Gulf War and during the bombings of Bosnia and Yugoslavia.

Western media should also be commended for featuring facts and discussions about the role(s) of media in war: the "media in the media," the conditions of war reporting, the roles of independent channels. It is now fairly easy to come by deliberate contrasting of views and news that the media consumer is left to judge about by her- or himself.

Why is that so?

Well, one would like to believe that media people in general have learned something from their earlier failures. And why not? Second, way before this war started public opinion around the world was skeptical or outright negative, and it remains so. Media that would try to present the war as unproblematic or 'right' would be counted out by reading and watching audiences who have become more politically aware. We all can - and do - know more about the world out there these days, although the coverage in many media of foreign and global affairs has shrunk. Zapping channels and surfing the Internet, you see - real time - that things are not simple. You experience how propaganda and lies are shot down almost instantanously.

In addition, the pre-war propaganda by the United States and the few political leaders who tried to convince the rest of us about it, did not exactly succeed. As a matter of fact, many see Bush and Blair as pathetic, intent on not listening to any evidence or other voices - and repeating themselves to an embarrassing extent.

Third, the war itself has gone so madly wrong. A journalist who believed seriously in all statements made by uniforms about this war going according to plan, would be considered an amateur by his or her peers.

I was delighted that a jounalist from the New Yorker magazine, attending the CentCom press briefing on the 28th, said something to the effect that "at the end of the day what you tell us at these briefings doesn't help us to know anything. What is the purpose, really?" - after which all in the room applauded. Mr. Shea had an easier task when the bombs rained down over Yugoslavia.

Something has indeed happened. The military strongest does not stand a chance to win the media war. He could well win the military victory but only after having destroyed what is today known as Iraq. Then he will lose the third battle, that for democracy and freedom in Iraq. Hardly anyone wants occupation, forced democracy or forced freedom.

The media stands between the events on the ground and the rest of us who are at a distance. They will have an even greater challenge in front of them when the weapon fall silent - as they must at some point.


8. "Coalition" or "Gang of Four"?


March 30, 2003 - Western media call it a "coalition". Of course, 47 countries, one-fifth of the world's countries. sounds like a lot. Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Mongolia, Palau, Rwanda, Solomon Islands, you name them! You'll find all about them here.

However, 98,50 per cent of the soldiers come from only the US (300.000+) and the UK (45.000+). Then comes Australia with 2.000 and Ukraine with 500. That makes almost 350.000, and today the US announced that it is going to send 100.000 or 120.000 more into this war zone.

It would be more appropriate to call the aggressors the Gang of Four, wouldn't it?



7. Humanitarian aid for Western media consumers - or whose bad conscience are they soothing?


March 29, 2003 - Are there any limits to Western hypocrisy these days? The countries that have chosen to invade, bomb and destroy Iraq and kill its soldiers and civilians suddenly profess to be concerned about the living conditions and basic human needs of the Iraqi people. They had no qualms about supplying Saddam Hussein with the weapons he used to fight wars and "gas his own people." I suppose they also sold him the technology for the torture chambers, the cars, phones and revolvers for his security forces.

During the last 12 years, the United States and the United Kingdom have been in the forefront of maintaining the economic sanctions that have devastated the living conditions of the people, virtually destroyed the school and health systems and brought Iraq, one of the world's richest countries, down to the socio-economic level of Lesotho , to 15 per cent of the GNP it enjoyed at the end of the 1980s. These sanctions have crippled and suffocated the civilian Iraqi society, humiliated the people to become beggars for food packages, deprived them of their basic human rights and need satisfaction, and caused gross de-development throughout what used to be a welfare state not far behind Europe.

I refuse to believe that the humanitarian aid being brought in now is anything but an attempt at "selling" this disastrous war to naive or innocent people watching television. It's both disgraceful and cynical.

It's humanitarian aid for Western media consumers.

Sadly, the US in particular seem hit by a "President" ("" since he was not elected but selected) and secretaries and advisers who seem psychologically unable to empathise with individual humans waiting, including on death row, as well as with masses of innocent civilians. Believe none of their humanitarian concerns! If they had any left of it, they would have listened and never started this particular war.

Have you heard one journalist ask, why this sudden concern about humanitarian issues in the midst of war? After all, it's easier to bring in humanitarian aid when there is no war, isn't it? Why now, a few days after the US forced the UN and all its humanitarian agencies to leave Iraq and to abandon its staff's truly noble commitment to help the Iraqi children, men and women?


6. To President Bush, cruelty defines kindness, respect and justice


March 28, 2003 - Today President Bush spoke to American war veterans. He said "We care about the human conditions of those in Iraq. In every way Allied forces are showing kindness and respect to the Iraqi people." Later he also stated that "every Iraqi atrocity has confirmed the justice and the urgency of our cause." A few hours before two Allied 4,700-pound 'bunker busters' struck a communications tower in Baghdad. A few ours later, Reuters brings two stories on its front page:

Iraqis die in Baghdad market
Fri March 28, 2003 03:55 PM ET
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqis said more than 50 people were killed on Friday in an air raid they said targeted a popular Baghdad market after the United States unleashed some of the heaviest air strikes of the war on the capital.

Half a Million Iraqi Children May Suffer Trauma
Fri March 28, 2003 01:52 PM ET - By Karen Iley
GENEVA (Reuters) - Half a million or more Iraqi children caught in fighting may be left so traumatized they will need psychological help, the United Nations children's agency said on Friday.
"I suspect that some half a million children in Basra, Najaf Kerbala and Baghdad would possibly be in need of psycho-social rehabilitation once we go back in," Carel de Rooy, UNICEF's Iraq representative told a news briefing.

I have met Carel de Rooy twice in Baghdad. He is an extraordinary Head of mission of an extraordinary organisation. He would not exaggerate the consequences of this war.

President Bush is commander-in-chief of the US forces. From today we know what it means when he talks about kindness and respect. And about justice.



5. Today is not a good day for war
Today is not a good day for war,
Not when the sun is shining,
And leaves are trembling in the breeze. 

Today is not a good day for bombs to fall,
Not when clouds hang on the horizon
And drift above the sea.

Today is not a good day for young men to die,
Not when they have so many dreams
And so much still to do.

Today is not a good day to send missiles flying,
Not when the fog rolls in
And the rain is falling hard.

Today is not a good day for launching attacks,
Not when families gather
And hold on to one another.

Today is not a good day for collateral damage,
Not when children are restless
Daydreaming of frogs and creeks. 

Today is not a good day for war,
Not when birds are soaring,
Filling the sky with grace.

No matter what they tell us about the other,
Nor how bold their patriotic calls,
Today is not a good day for war.

Santa Barbara, March 28, 2003



4. Blaming Saddam for our mistakes #2 - He bombs his own


March 27, 2003 - In that 200 mill dollar CentCom's press briefing room, brigadier-general Vincent Brooks states that the missiles that killed at least 15 civilians and wounded many more in a poor market area of Baghdad yesterday could either be one of "their own" falling down as they have no guidance systems or a "deliberate attack" by the government on its own people.

I have no way of knowing whether an Iraqi anti-air missile has dropped down, but Robert Fisk's on-site report and the pictures broadcast during the day from that terrible scene makes me believe that this was hardly cause by the free fall of an anti-air missile.

Common sense tells me otherwise. Saddam Hussein's regime can not win this war by military means. Iraq can survive - or make the war very costly to the invaders - only if the people staunchly defend their homes, villages, towns as well as their culture and pride. Without this struggle Saddam would be finished quickly and it is exactly this resistance and cultural pride the US and the UK has miscalculated. Bombing your own civilians would serve no purpose. If it was a deliberate attack and it became known, people would rise against the regime and join the US/UK forces.

But could it not be in the interest of the regime to make it look like the Americans are killing civilians rather than soldiers? Well, it could, but the Iraq Body Count project tells me today that between 232 and 312 civlians have already died and Iraq's Health Minister tells that ten times as many civilians have been wounded. In addition we have witnessed 8 days with series of "friendly fire" accidents and busses and schools and apartment houses being bombed by the invaders. So there would be little reason to cause such events deliberately. No, I believe instead that the brigadier-general was trying to create confusion - deliberately. Read Robert Fisk's heart-breaking account here. I trust him more than you, Mr Brooks!


3. Blaming Saddam for our mistakes #1 - He, not sanctions, caused suffering


March 27, 2003 - At today's press conference at Camp David Tony Blair argued that 450,000 children have died the last five years from preventable diseases and malnutrition due to the character of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime. Donald Rumsfeld said about the same yesterday. Unfortunately, not one UN report supports this argument.

If Blair believes what he is saying, he must have extraordinarily incompetent advisers. Alternatively, he acts in collusion with mendacious spin doctors. See the facts about the sanctions here. And be prepared for repeated blaming of Saddam for all the political and military mistakes the so-called coalition makes.

No journalist asked what Mr. Blair based his statement on.


2. Constructive lessons from the war - Nonviolence Security Council


March 27, 2003 - One thing we might learn from the military is an "after action evaluation "of what we all did, what worked, what didn't work, and how in future we may improve. Activists are impatient with basic research (and rightly so, people are being slaughtered or about to be and what are we going to do about it?)

It's a major task even to find out what knowledge is available that might help us. Then it has to be put into education and training for action. And when in action the difficulties have to be relayed back for new knowledge or new training to be successful. And some kind of discipline action units have to be organised.

One approach would be a standing Global Nonviolence Security Council --a civil society parallel to the UNSC-- at work all the time with an intelligence organisation no less knowledgeable than the Intelligence Unit of the Economist Magazine.

It's easy to come up with ideas like this but incredibly difficult to spend a lifetime to bring them about. If you want to see excellent practical legislation for a proposed U.S. Department of Peace that, if in action would very likely have prevented the war on Iraq. Please see the site of U.S. Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio, who is now running for President in 2004. and click on "Peace."

You'll find seven assistant secretaries working on most things the peace movement considers important--including one that focuses on Domestic Peace from violence in the family to all aspects of American society. Another interesting provision is that the Secretaries of State and Defense by law would have to convince the Secretary of Peace that all nonviolent alternatives have been exhausted before they could make a recommendation for war to the President.

This research-education-training-action- institutionalisation-problem engagement approach is, of course, the bias of my book Nonkilling Global Political Science ( It is a long-range task, including asking what would have made even our beloved hero Gandhi and heroine Kasturba and their supporters more successful.

The task is just too big right now. But I just feel that we are rushing from one awful conflagration to another with a bucket of water to put out raging fires. Yet if millions of people throw their buckets we can make progress, but we also have to find a way to concentrate on how to prevent the people who are starting the fires in the first place. In the present Iraq case, concentrating on 10 people around Bush and 10 people around Hussein, what did we do, what could we have done, what should we have done? And what should we be doing now to stop the war and to restore human dignity among all the victims including ourselves?

I admit failure. But also claim we need to keep steady on course in whatever we are doing with decades and a century of nonkilling scientific, educational, and applied institutional development ahead. It cannot be done alone or only with good will.

Neither Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Ghaffar Khan, King, Kelly, Galtung, or thousands of martyrs have succeeded in abolishing war, genocide, homicide, and other crude or ingenious ways of annihilating human life. Or the Christian Pope with all the resources of the Church to stop the Christian Bush-Blessed Nation's Holy War on Evil…

We need to keep calm, keep focused, share and very importantly seek adequate resources for the enormous tasks before us. Is it not somewhat ridiculous that we peace people beg and borrow from each other while the war machines command billions of dollars and buy hundreds of millions of human lives for multiple forms of service?


1. Basra - a handy little public relations uprising?


March 27, 2003 - Few outside Basra would know for sure whether there was an uprising. And what defines an uprising? I believe there are reasons to doubt it:

Fighting had gone on for quite some time with no progress for the British troops. With its 1,3 million people, Basra seemed to be a pretty big "pocket of resistance." Presumably frustrated with the situation, the commanders on March 25 declared Basra a "legitimate military target."

I take that to mean that it could be pounded in a more robust manner. That again means accepting the risk of causing more harm and death to civilians. Now, the people in the city were already suffering; whether on purpose or not, the invasion and its bombardment had hit the electricity and water system.

From my visit to Basra this January I know very well that there were problems now and then with both water and electricity. Basra was a sad view in many ways, a consequence of the first Gulf War plus 12 years of sanctions. On March 25 we heard that the poor citizens were into their 3rd day and night without both. Something must have happened, but no journalist asked what. Did they believe that the citizens of Basra had no water and electricity since the war with Iran in the 1980s or since the sanctions began?

To pound a city of 1,3 million suffering people you need a good public relations (PR) reason. I began to understand what it was all about when a spokesperson for the British Army called the local Baath party members "fundamentalists" and when reports simultaneously stated that regular Iraqi forces had moved around pushing civilians in front of them as "human shields" to protect them from British fire.

So, three public relations reasons were rapidly emerging:

a) we fight and honourable war for liberation of civilians against cowardly Iraqi soldiers and fundamentalists;

b) we want to bring in humanitarian aid to the people of Basra and avoid a humanitarian catastrophe (that we forget for the moment that have caused by our bombing and invasion);

c) we fight for and with the people rising up; by that we help them in their liberation from Saddam Hussein; we have a common cause in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Quite predictably, BBC World reported just a few hours after Basra was declared "legitimate military target" that British forces "are firing on Basra in support of uprising" and in order to facilitate humanitarian aid being brought in.

Night was falling and I couldn't help thinking of the proud, good-hearted men and women I met in Basra and took pictures of.

What would their night be like, how would they feel about the assistance they would get and the promise of humanitarian aid from those who invaded their country, bombed their city and the day before seem to have hit a girls' school? For 12 long hellish years no British or American leaders had cared a bit about the consequences of their sanctions on the people of Basra. Now, as part of an invasion, they did.

As the media told us, it was the day when the humanitarian aspects of the war came into focus. Indeed

On the morning of March 26, all media mentioned the battle for Basra. But none mentioned the uprising. Unfortunately, no one seems to have been able to confirm that there was one and what it was like, how big and what made people rise up. And some 500 had died - civilians, soldiers, or both? - in battle in and around Nasiriyah; and 15 innocent civilians were killed in a poor residential area in Baghdad later that morning by a stray missile.

On the 26th, CNN and others have been able to show us pictures of soldiers delivering humanitarian aid. ICRC has bravely brought water back to 40 per cent of its inhabitants. They repair the damage done by the British and American invaders who profess to be deeply concerned about the plight of civilians under Saddam Hussein and about avoiding civilian casualties.

I was watching and surfing to find an interview with witnesses to the uprising or anybody who took part in it. In vain. I see one Shia representative outside Iraq say there was an uprising, another saying there was none and a third saying there ought to be one. I see a headline that Al Jazeera has reported that there was no uprising. Reporters on different channels now begin to say that if there was one, it was a "limited" uprising.

I am not saying there could not be reasons why some people in Basra wanted to rise against the regime in Baghdad. Perhaps some did and perhaps it was brutally stopped.

All we know is that all information is now biased. Most of the immediate news on our screens come from journalists "embedded" with the invading forces. That can't be free media, but they will be the basis on which many decision-makers operate from now on. Virtually every information could, at a later stage, turn out to be false, mistaken, propaganda or only part of a larger truth. And it goes without saying that neither are Iraqi media free.

So, if truth is at all possible, it lies somewhere out there on many and different satellite channels and on the Internet. Each one of us must search many and different printed and electronic sources and employ our critical common sense. Because, after all, in situations like this, every single news bite serves a set of interests, not a larger truth.

The media too are now at war…



© TFF & the authors 2003  


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