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Man's deadliest weapon is language. He is as susceptible to being hypnotised by slogans as he is to infectious diseases. And when there is an epidemic, the group mind takes over. Arthur Koestler, Bricks to Babel, 1989.
Dodgy dossiers, dodgy intelligence, misleading statements, illegal regime change, a ruined, devastated country and people - and no weapons of mass destruction but the ones the US and UK have dropped. Saddam 'failed to comply with UN Resolutions' - yet the first UN Resolution relating to Iraq after the 1991 Gulf war guaranteed: 'Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity' and never rescinded - regime change being anyway illegal. The invaders have massively failed to comply and Saddam and his scientific community were telling the truth.
But in the chaos, the turmoil, the thirteen intervening years are forgotten. The illegal, misnamed 'safe havens' the north and fly no fly zones, patrolled by the US and UK (the French pulled out early on in disgust) bombing at will: remote farms, flocks of sheep and child shepherds, repaired power stations ( desperately and inventively cobbled together under the embargoes crippling restrictions) Basra's one remaining water treatment tower, hit each time it was painstakingly repaired with cannibalized parts. Illegal actions in defiance also of the Geneva Convention. And Britain and America lied - and lied again. Ignoring the illegalities, they were bombing 'legitimate targets', 'military installations' - which when visited, turned out to be residential streets, schools, playgrounds, hospitals - sheep and shepherds.
The killing of renowned artist Laila Al Attar and her family in 1993 when her home in the Al Mansur district of Iraq was written off without an apology: 'She was a friend of Saddam Hussein,' was the justification. Well no, untrue - but had she been does that justify killing? But in the petty revenge mindset of the Pentagon perhaps what did, was that she created to mosaic of George Bush Snr's fact on the steps of the Rashid Hotel, which Iraqi's (and not a few visitors) ground their heels into or stamped on with glee, on entering. For once, perhaps, precision targeting worked, artists clearly 'a threat to the coalition'.
Between 1993 and the invasion there were numerous massive bombings and numerous lies, but some exceptionally instructive untruths were uttered by the Prime Minister in December 1998 after a four day Christmas blitz on Baghdad. Saddam's sister's palace had been bombed, thus 'a legitimate target'. What actually was bombed was the Abassid Palace, built in the late twelfth or early thirteenth century, the architecture of the inspired and a museum to wonder at over generations. The Ministry of Defence had been bombed, certainly a legitimate target, Mr Blair assured. Wrong again, hit was the old Ministry from Ottoman rule, unused for decades as Defence Ministry, an evocative ancient building lay broken and ruined on the Tigris banks - with the group of little homes behind it, their inhabitants too, extinguished. The other side of the bridge, the blast blew out every window of the vast general hospital, patients died of heart attacks and were killed by glass shards turned lethal weapons. The father of a baby just born as the bomb fell told me how the midwife, in her shock, dropped her on her head, leaving her permanently brain damaged.
On February 16th 2001 a massive bombing on the outskirts of Baghdad: 'a routine mission of self defense', was to target fiber optic cables (remember them?) which 'considerably enhanced Iraq's air defence and radar systems.' Iraq, as has been woefully proven had no meaningful air defence system.
In September 2002 there were consistent reports that at least one hundred planes bombed 'defense systems' near Rutbah in western Iraq. The US military said there were twelve planes and twenty five bombs had been dropped. 'We've been doing this for ten or eleven years and we'll keep on doing it', said a US military spokesman. When a group of activists were hurt in a road crash a short time later, they were taken to and treated in Rutbah hospital. They found the hospital damaged, clinics demolished along with homes in this quiet, rural town. That there were military bases nearby and along the western road, was no secret, they could be seen by anyone who drove the seven hundred kilometers of the flat desert terrain, their ancient tanks, anti aircraft guns and vehicles from another era, of no possible danger to US and UK military might, flying high beyond the reach of any ordnance fired from the ground.
In November 2002, driving to Baghdad, somewhere near Fallujah, the night sky was lit up with explosion after explosion, what is going on? I asked the driver. ' They are destroying the last of the Scud missiles', he said. Invasion was expected any day and in a desperate attempt to avert war, the regime had ordered that even those were destroyed, so flawed that it was a black joke, that when fired they often did more damage to Iraq than to any enemy, since they so frequently dropped back to earth.
In December 2002 Iraq delivered eleven thousand pages of dossier to the United Nations, accounting for their weapons capability. The US removed it from the UN office of the weapons inspectors and returned just four thousand pages, so heavily blacked out as to be largely 'incomprehesible', said one Ambassador.
Driving down from the northern city of Mosul In March 2003, days before the invasion, there was no sign of military mobilisation, army bases along the road has been bombed, ancient tanks damaged beyond repair. An imminent invasion and simply no military movement, it was surreal. About an hour outside Baghdad we finally passed a convoy of eleven army trucks. They were circa 1948, and ten were strung together, being towed by the one in front. Tyres were down to canvas, the vehicles were near irreperable.
I thought of the desperation of a government that offered ten thousand dollars - a fortune in embargoed Iraq - to anyone who could shoot down British and US bombers, no one could. I remembered Prime Minister Blair's ceaseless parroting that Iraq could launch a strike on far away cities: 'In forty five minutes' and was 'a real and present danger'. I thought of an interview with Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz, who suddenly broke off and said: 'You know, Madam Felicity, we too feel vulnerable, surrounding nations have been sold the most sophisticated weapons on earth ...' I thought of the old Monk at the Christian Monastry, where Saint Mathew is believed buried, perched on a mountain, high above the plains of Nineveh, who said of the bombings: 'Every day we have new widows, new widowers, new orphans, please, when you go home, tell Mr Tony Blair he is a very, very bad man.'
I thought of the five Permanent Members of the Security Council who had the invoices for the arms they had sold to Iraq, all the weapons inspectors had to do what was subtract what was accounted for and investigate further anything which might remain. I thought of the satellites monitoring Iraq which we were told and has been confirmed by experts including one of the most hawkish Inspectors, Scott Ritter, that they could detect any chemical, biological or nuclear material. I thought of the numerous Pentagon briefings with aerial sattelite photographs showing 'new weapons facilities', 'rebuilt weapons facilities', 'mobile laboratories' which all turned out to be either untrue, or the same old sealed facilities wrecked and checked by successive weapons inspectors. I thought of thirteen years of lies in high places and of General Norman Schwartzkopf's boast that the killing fields of the Basra road bombing after the ceasefire in 1991 was: 'a turkey shoot'. This time, the 'coalition' would be bombing a sitting duck. I looked back at the sorry convoy of near sixty year old trucks and I wanted to weep.
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