25 October 2004
It is not that I am ungrateful for minute mercies. It is a little heartening that some members of the hitherto pusillanimous herd of new Labour MPs have mooed in protest at the latest Blair/Hoon folly - the decision to send 850 British soldiers in to support the much-anticipated US assault on Fallujah. These Labour politicians and most commentators who object to the decision are anxious about "our boys", about what will happen to the soldiers in this volatile area.
As I write this, 49 young recruits to the Iraqi army have been discovered lined up and shot. And don't believe the PR about Basra. Yes, British soldiers are less hated than Americans, but only marginally. I have recently met three people from Basra who are enraged that there is so much censorship of real news from that area. We are protected from learning about the catastrophic injuries, the rising hatreds and the scandalous lack of amenities.
Each time it reports on Zimbabwe, the BBC sanctimoniously announces that it is not allowed to report freely from that country. Why not the same warning when it is covering Iraq, so we know we are only getting partial information? Even the gung-ho Daily Telegraph acknowledged in September that the British, unlike their American friends in the north of Iraq, "have tight control over the press in southern Iraq ... Army chaperones accompany journalists at all times to ensure they hear nothing more untoward than the odd squaddie expletive".
We can all empathise with the terrible dread that must befall the homes of soldiers being sent on duty into this ugly war, particularly now. British soldiers know better than any of us just how complicated and brutal the situation is becoming. But to make them and only them the focus of the growing national anxiety about Fallujah is unforgivably immoral.
Our boys joined up in full knowledge that they could be called upon to take up active duty. British citizens understandably care very much about these lives and the sacrifices the soldiers are making in a war that had no overwhelming mandate from the people. But they are soldiers, well armed and well looked after, unlike most of the people living in Fallujah and Najaf and elsewhere where (courtesy of the allies) there have been merciless bombings and countless deaths.
Like millions of others around the world, I can hardly bear to think what fate awaits Fallujah, just what this post-US-election final solution will be and mean. It is what our boys will inflict that should concern us and that it doesn't appear to is further evidence of what terrorists claim - that Arab lives matter not at all to Western powers embarked on this mission to subdue and obliterate the independent Iraqi soul.
If we cared at all, by now not a single Blair minister would be allowed by journalists to sidestep the central questions. How many Iraqis have died since the war started? How many were blameless civilians? Why don't you know? Why don't you want us to know? Where is your proof that all those you are killing are terrorists?
Some information has come through. We know that in the past six weeks, there have been hundreds of civilians killed in attacks around Baghdad. Voices in the Wilderness (which works for justice in Iraq) claims that in Majar al-Kabir, British troops have been accused of indiscriminate killings and mutilations. In August, in Amara, north of Basra, a British battalion fired more rounds and killed more people than they did during the invasion itself. In Najaf there has been an orgy of killing by the allies.
According to The Financial Times, US soldiers bragged that for every American killed, they took out up to a hundred Iraqis. Official figures show that coalition forces are suffering about 3,000 attacks a month, and the Pentagon now believes there are approximately 25,000 active and violent resisters in Iraq.
We, the electorate, are expected to bless any actions taken by our troops and politicians because the targets are only "insurgents", "terrorists", "fundamentalists", supporters of the previous devil Saddam or the two emerging monsters, Muqtada Sadr and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. How do they know? Why should we believe them, even those of us who fear and despise the beheaders and kidnappers? Only a dozen or so attacks each month are claimed by Zarqawi, who is pitiless but really only in charge of a small, extremely vicious group.
Fallujah is one of the most savagely attacked areas. And the reason is pure revenge. On 31 March, four Americans were killed and dismembered. An "overwhelming attack" was promised and is about to be delivered. At the time, US Lt-Gen James Conway warned that it would be wrong to be seen to be "attacking out of revenge". The intervening months have not managed to subdue the ferociously patriotic area. This is the Sharon method - to kill and maim unfortunates living in close proximity to rebel groups. Kill them before they grow. The UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has called this abomination by its name: he has described US military actions in Fallujah as "unacceptable collective punishments".
Allied troops have been bombing the town every day. The only kebab shop has been turned to dust, a loss felt keenly by those who loved to break their Ramadan fast there with friends. Al-Jazeera has shown residential areas being demolished, entire families being wiped out. On one day this month, 50 houses bit the dust. Most of the Western media has been kept out. Food is running out; people are fleeing to nowhere; hospitals have no medical supplies but the wounded are piled up in there just so families can raise some hope.
Ninety-nine per cent of Fallujans are opposed to the occupation. Ah, but they are Sunnis, we are told, another label, another group that is supposed to hate the war because they love Saddam. Yet most of these Sunnis co-operated with the allies in the early days of the war, and today the ultra-Shia movements, including those who support Sadr, are sending in secret reinforcements to their presumed ideological enemies. One American colonel has described the town as "the Cambodia of this war" and its people as "vipers". Others have promised absolute ruthlessness, a culling if you like, to show the country who is in charge.
Now a poignant letter has gone out from Fallujah to Kofi Annan at the UN. It is from various groups, including the Bar Association, the Centre of Human Rights and Democracy, and the Teachers' Union: "Whenever they destroy houses, mosques, restaurants; when they kill children and women, they say 'we have launched a successful operation against Zarqawi.' We, the people of Fallujah, assure you that this person, if he exists, is not in this city... We simply didn't want the occupation. That is our right according to the UN charter, international law and the norms of humanity."
And for this insubordination, for such outlandish demands, their city is, in a few weeks, going to be flattened, left quiet and sloshing with Arab blood. Bush and Blair will make speeches no doubt and claim it has all been in the name of democracy and freedom. Makes sense doesn't it? We will kill and maim you and yours until you agree to our demands to accept our domination and say you are ecstatic to be given this "freedom" and the right to vote from the grave.