Tuesday 1 April 2003

The monster of Baghdad is now the hero of Arabia

This is now a nationalist war against the most obvious kind of imperial power

by Robert Fisk in Baghdad

So it's a "truly remarkable achievement'', is it? General Tommy Franks says so. Everything is going "according to plan'', according to the British. So it's an achievement that the British still have not "liberated" Basra. It is "according to plan" that the Iraqis should be able to launch a scud missile from the Faw peninsula – supposedly under "British control" for more than a week. It is an achievement, truly remarkable of course, that the Americans lose an Apache helicopter to the gun of an Iraqi peasant, spend four days trying to cross the river bridges at Nasiriyah and are then confronted by their first suicide bomber at Najaf.

One half of the entire Anglo-American force – still called 'the coalition' by journalists who like to pretend it includes 35 armies rather than two and a bit (the "bit" being the Australian special forces) – is now guarding and running the supply line through the desert. And Baghdad is bombed but not besieged.

The military "plan" is so secret, according to General Franks, that very few people have seen it all or understand it. But his plan he says, is "highly flexible''; it would have to be, to sustain the chaos of the past 12 days, and, of course, we hold the moral high ground. The Americans bomb a passenger bus close to the Syrian border and don't even apologise. An Iraqi soldier kills himself attacking US marines and it is an act of "terrorism''. And now Secretary of State Colin Powell announces – to the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the largest Israeli lobby group in the US who of course support this illegal war – that Syria and Iran are "supporting terror groups'' and will have to "face the consequences''.

So what's the plan? Are we going to forget Baghdad for a few months and wheel our young soldiers west to surround Damascus? Where, for heaven's sake, is all this going? We were going to "liberate" Iraq. But the war could be "long and difficult'', Bush now tells us – he didn't tell us that before, did he? – and, according to Tony Blair, this is "only the beginning.'' Really?

Strange, isn't it, how all that fuss about chemical and biological warfare has been forgotten. The "secret" weapons, the gas masks, the anti-anthrax injections, the pills and chemical suits have been erased from the story – because bullets and rocket-propelled grenades are now the real danger to British and American forces in Iraq. Even the "siege of Baghdad" – a city that is 30 miles wide and might need a quarter of a million men to surround it – is fading from the diary.

Sitting in Baghdad, listening to the God-awful propaganda rhetoric of the Iraqis but watching the often promiscuous American and British air attacks, I have a suspicion that what's gone wrong has nothing to do with plans. Indeed, I suspect there is no real overall plan. Because I rather think that this war's foundations were based not on military planning but on ideology.

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