The world press on the war

Destroying Iraqi civilians in the name of liberating them is an obscenity, one U.K. newspaper says.


Compiled by Laura McClure
March 28, 2003 12:12AM (UTC)

United Kingdom, Robert Fisk in the Independent

It was an outrage, an obscenity. The severed hand on the metal door, the swamp of blood and mud across the road, the human brains inside a garage, the incinerated, skeletal remains of an Iraqi mother and her three small children in their still-smouldering car.

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Two missiles from an American jet killed them all -- by my estimate, more than 20 Iraqi civilians, torn to pieces before they could be 'liberated' by the nation that destroyed their lives. Who dares, I ask myself, to call this 'collateral damage'? Abu Taleb Street was packed with pedestrians and motorists when the American pilot approached through the dense sandstorm that covered northern Baghdad in a cloak of red and yellow dust and rain yesterday morning ...

How should one record so terrible an event? Perhaps a medical report would be more appropriate. But the final death toll is expected to be near to 30 and Iraqis are now witnessing these awful things each day; so there is no reason why the truth, all the truth, of what they see should not be told.

For another question occurred to me as I walked through this place of massacre yesterday. If this is what we are seeing in Baghdad, what is happening in Basra and Nasiriyah and Kerbala? How many civilians are dying there too, anonymously, indeed unrecorded, because there are no reporters to be witness to their suffering?...

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In Qatar, the Anglo-American forces -- let's forget this nonsense about "coalition" -- announced an inquiry. The Iraqi government, who are the only ones to benefit from the propaganda value of such a bloodbath, naturally denounced the slaughter, which they initially put at 14 dead. So what was the real target? Some Iraqis said there was a military encampment less than a mile from the street, though I couldn't find it. Others talked about a local fire brigade headquarters, but the fire brigade can hardly be described as a military target.

Certainly, there had been an attack less than an hour earlier on a military camp further north. I was driving past the base when two rockets exploded and I saw Iraqi soldiers running for their lives out of the gates and along the side of the highway. Then I heard two more explosions; these were the missiles that hit Abu Taleb Street ...

The truth is that nowhere is safe in Baghdad, and as the Americans and British close their siege in the next few days or hours, that simple message will become ever more real and ever more bloody.

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We may put on the hairshirt of morality in explaining why these people should die. They died because of 11 September, we may say, because of President Saddam's "weapons of mass destruction", because of human rights abuses, because of our desperate desire to "liberate" them all. Let us not confuse the issue with oil. Either way, I'll bet we are told President Saddam is ultimately responsible for their deaths. We shan't mention the pilot, of course.

Saudi Arabia, editorial in the Arab News

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As the Iraqi war moves into its eighth day, what is most extraordinary are the absurd and unrealistic expectations that people have had of it. That goes not only for public opinion, the media and politicians in the US, but also for armchair pundits across the world. Regardless of which side people support, if indeed they support either, they have apparently been astonished by Iraq's resistance and the battering the Americans and British have taken. Even those who support Saddam Hussein never really expected the war to be anything but clinical and short. They, too, thought that Iraqi cities would fall like ninepins, that Iraqi troops would desert en masse and that allied forces arrive in Baghdad virtually unscathed. Certainly that is what Americans had been led to think. If truth be told, so did most Arabs, even those who hoped that the US would be humiliated.

That people have been so shocked and amazed by pictures of dead or captured US soldiers and helicopters shot down says much about the unreal world we now live in. We have allowed ourselves to be mesmerized and anaesthetized by the virtual reality of fantasy movies and computer games where the worst that can affect us is mere sensation. We have had a reality by-pass. But this war is for real ... and real wars are never clinical and bloodless, let alone one-sided.

The reality of war is always death and destruction. It always spews out dead bodies ... torn, twisted and charred bodies ... and legions of injured and maimed. It always creates prisoners of war. It always leaves in its wake homes reduced to rubble, lives blighted, families destroyed. It always brings suffering and misery, disease and hunger. It is not a computer game or a movie where, when it is over, we can get up and go and have a meal and a laugh. It is horrible and evil ... which is why it must always be the very last resort ... something that so many governments, so many people, told Washington and London, but something that they ignored ... so convinced were they that it could be played and won with computer-like efficiency.

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In real wars, soldiers bleed, soldiers die, no matter which side they are on. In real wars, nothing ever goes quite to plan. And in this real war, the US made another grave miscalculation: It forgot that for all that the Iraqis fear and hate the regime under which they suffer, they are patriots ... and patriots are always at their toughest when defending their homeland.

But there is no point swinging like a pendulum to the opposite pole and imagining that because the Americans and British have discovered that events are not going quite to plan, that they are going to lose this war. Saddam Hussein's boasts that he will win a great victory have to be treated with the same scorn as his great boasts in earlier wars. Whatever emotion those who back him may invest in the idea of the Americans and British being defeated, the idea is wholly illogical. America's massive military superiority makes Saddam's defeat inevitable. Even now, despite the setbacks, that superiority is taking its toll. Iraqi positions are falling although snipers will remain a problem, now and at any time in the future. Even when the regime becomes history, there will always be sufficient Iraqi patriots who see the British and American soldiers as the prime enemy.

To have imagined anything else is Washington's and London's biggest miscalculation.

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India, C. Rahul Singh in the Times of India

A week into the Iraq war and a feeling of deep unease is spreading over the Arab world. American and British troops, painfully making their way towards Baghdad, are being looked upon as invaders, rather than liberators. That is not how the script written by George Bush and Colin Powell had read. They had imagined that their "shock and awe" tactics of a massive bombardment of Iraq's capital would have "decapitated" the Iraqi leadership.

The advancing coalition troops would then be welcomed with flowers and open arms by the Iraqi public, leading to the installation of a new government ...

Washington has grossly miscalculated ...

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The nightly bombardments of Baghdad are sickening the civilised world. The so-called "smart" bombs have killed and injured hundreds of civilians. For the first time, three Arab TV channels are operating from Iraq: Al Jazeera, and two new ones, Abu Dhabi Television and the recently set up Al Arabia channel. They have been beaming terrifying images of women and children horribly burnt and maimed by the US bombings.

Washington has got worked up about the coverage by these Arab TV channels of American prisoners of war (PoWs), citing violation of the Geneva Convention. An American commander called the coverage "disgusting". But what about the US treatment of PoWs in Afghanistan at Mazar-e-Sharif and the 650 PoWs being held in Cuba's Guantanamo Bay? it is being asked. At Mazar-e-Sharif, American and Northern Alliance troops fired on .. and killed ... a large number of PoWs. Mary Robinson, the then high commissioner for human rights, had called for an inquiry, which was angrily rejected by the USA. The PoWs in Guantanamo Bay have been blindfolded, shackled, chained and held in what can only be described as cages. No Geneva Convention for them ...

The Americans came to Kuwait's help in 1991, not out of any great love for the Kuwaitis but because of oil. And they want to take over Iraq ... the second biggest producer of oil, after Saudi Arabia, in the world ... for the same reason. Few people, even outside the Muslim world, dispute that contention. There are also juicy contracts for American industry to be had in the "reconstruction of Iraq". But, Mr Bush, and those close to him, have a deeper, more sinister strategy planned. The first step in that strategy was Afghanistan. Iraq is the second. All in the name of fighting terrorism, after September 11, but actually intended to ensure US domination of the world.

Germany, Article in Der Spiegel

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Other than the basic idea, the new peace movement today has little in common with the activists who managed to get 200,000 demonstrators to assemble in the Bonn Hofgarten during the last Gulf War. Missing are the slogans thought up weeks before, the banners professionally designed for maximum effect. Ideology is replaced by spontaneously expressed feelings, sometimes also by a naive belief in "good." It's got to be enough "if you volunteer your body," says an office worker in an industrial firm, Sascha Goretzko, one of 70,000 Berliners who demonstrated against Bush that evening.

The effects of ideological disarmament on the new protest culture vary. Even though there were far more than a million demonstrators in the streets, security officials recorded only 108 Iraq-related criminal acts up to the middle of last week, "including several incidents where bags filled with paint were thrown," as a surprised BKA [Federal Criminal Investigation Department] officer reported. The problems with the demonstrators are different. In Leipzig where 30,000 people are once again routinely coming to the Monday Demonstrations, Pastor Christian Fuhrer had to explain to the newcomers that one does not make telephone calls or applaud in a House of God. And in Hamburg, demonstrators, their faces still covered with hand-painted peace symbols, went to a McDonald's for a Big Mac amid laughter from the veteran protesters ...

Professional guidance and support is only requested from the organizers. Groups like Attac or the Humboldt University Anti-war Committee become a sort of service industry. The basic data can be accessed on their Internet Web pages -- the rest is done through the demonstrators' own means of communication. This new form of mass movement would be inconceivable without the Internet, cell phones, or SMS. And when like-minded people from Tokyo, Sydney, and Rome penetrate the Berlin youth scene via e-mail chain letters, you get the feeling they're helping turn the political setscrews on an international level.

Though it may sound a bit pretentious, Tillman even thinks that in a way they "backed up Schröder so that he could appear in a better light against the Americans." On the other hand, Anna, who has a Che Guevara flag draped around her hips, "because he fought for freedom," doesn't have any grand illusions about the effect her protest had on Bush. "But at least we didn't just accept it." Anna, 20, a history student who had already taken to the streets against the right, is fighting -- with a bottle of Coca-Cola in her hand -- "the kind of helplessness which you have to defend yourself against" ...

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High school student Christian, 18, unknowingly describes the kind of events that give rise to a protest impulse. After he found out that the war had started, he asked himself, "How do I feel" -- and immediately thought of September 11th. His thoughts after the terrorist attacks were "of course different but just as intense" as his feelings are now. "And they won't let go."

He found September 11th "incomprehensible"; this time he was "simply completely sad." Of course you had to count on war breaking out for quite a long time, "but you're still horrified when it happens." And because he now thinks of America "not with greater hostility, but more critically" he is demonstrating in front of the US Embassy.

Israel, Zvi Bar'el in Haaretz

The strategic decision to make Iraq's second city Basra a legitimate military target, and to try to conquer the city rather than simply lay siege to it, could, over the next few days, develop into the first test of the power of the civilian Iraqi population against the allied forces.

For the first time in this conflict, a huge Iraqi population center -- over one million in the city itself and a further two million in the outlying region -- will see the allied armies on its streets, and not just on its television screens.

This will also be the test of the biggest unanswered question of the war: to what extent will the Iraqi populace quickly surrender to American and British troops, just to rid itself of the dread of the Iraqi command.

Thus far, it appears that the coalition's basic assumptions were wrong, and that the population is not in any hurry to wave the white flag or to rise up against the Iraqi army. There is a two-fold explanation for this: the iron-fisted control the Iraqi forces have over the actions of the general population, and the strength of the Iraqis' national aversion to the foreign conquerors, a feeling that transcends sect and religion.

On Tuesday, there were initial reports of a civilian uprising in Basra (the veracity of which is hard to ascertain). Basra, much of which has been without electricity and water for the past several days, is likely to be a test of Iraqis' behavior ahead of the battle for Baghdad. This is the Iraqi home front, which, so far, has not been made a part of the war. The reaction of this home front will determine the future tactics of both the coalition forces and the Iraqi army.

Philippines, Conrado de Quiros in the Philippine Daily Inquirer

I looked up the Geneva Conventions and saw no part there that forbids the showing of prisoners on TV. The Conventions in any case were written long before media intruded on everything, including wars, and became a weapon of mass destruction or creation, depending on how you look at it, all their own. What is there, which is what Rumsfeld himself quoted (his staff at the Pentagon must have scrambled for the appropriate passage on short notice), is 1.c. of Article 3 on the Treatment of Prisoners of War. It forbids "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment." A case could be made for the fact that the circumstances in which the prisoners were shown were humiliating and degrading. But it is at least a contentious point.

What is not so, indeed what makes Rumsfeld's comments downright hypocritical, is his sudden discovery of the virtue of something he and his government have scorned for so long. At the very least, it cannot do him and his government a favor that he should invoke the principles of international law after so brazenly flouting them. His fulminations only serve to remind the world that their adventure on Iraq has absolutely no blessings from the international community, represented by the United Nations, the only body in which international law reposes. You break the rules when it suits you, you cannot count on those same rules to protect you.

But it goes beyond general principles. Rumsfeld and company have in fact themselves been openly violating the Geneva Conventions. Early last year, Jamie Fellner, director of Human Rights Watch's US Program, complained about the treatment of Taliban prisoners who were being kept in small cages with chain-link sides and metal roofs that offered little protection from wind and rain. "The Secretary (Rumsfeld)," said Fellner, "seems unaware of the requirements of international humanitarian law. As a party to the Geneva Conventions, the United States is required to treat every detained combatant humanely, including 'unlawful combatants.' The United States may not pick and choose among them to decide who is entitled to decent treatment."

And there is of course the United States' infamous, and for the Arab countries at least, grating, coddling of Israel in its open defiance of civilized conduct. In 1988, the UN Security Council twice condemned Israel for grossly violating the Geneva Conventions. In S/19466, it noted the oppressive treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories and affirmed "that the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War ... is applicable to the Palestinians." It reiterated this in S/19780, after noting Israel's persistent refusal to comply with the Geneva Convention. In both cases, the vote was 14-1. The lone dissenter, which vetoed the resolution, as it had all UN resolutions on Israel, was the United States.

Some people call it karma. Others just say, what goes around, comes around.

Australia, Alan Ramsey in the Sydney Morning Herald

There are about 600 Western journalists covering the United States invasion of Iraq and 2000 Australian military involved in fighting it. One reporter for every three of our soldiers/sailors/pilots/whatever. The Americans have 200,000 military personnel there and the Brits 40,000. The numbers say everything. Nothing has changed from Vietnam 40 years ago, a war Britain refused to join.

We're there only for political window dressing. The contest in patriotism is just as nauseating.

John Howard concluded his national television address last Thursday night: "Can I say something I know will find an echo from all of you, whether or not you agree with the Government? That is to say, to the men and women of Australia's [military] in the Gulf -- we admire you, we are thinking of you, we want all of you to come back home safe and sound. We care for and anguish with your loved ones here in Australia. Our prayers and hopes are with you."

Labor's Kim Beazley was almost as gushing. "Our hearts are with the allied soldiers and the Australian troops," Beazley told Parliament. "May the Lord hold them in his hands until this is over, and bring them home safely. That is where our hearts lie" ...

When we learnt this week, however, that Britain's first battle deaths were two pilots disintegrated by a missile from a US ground crew, and that American marines shot up a CNN television crew, killing at least one and most likely three journalists, Howard's and Beazley's appeals to the Almighty assumed greater meaning for this irreverent cynic. God protect our troops from our "friends".


Compiled by Laura McClure

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