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Mesopotamia. Babylon. The Tigris and Euphrates
by Tizireen
03 April 2003 10:31 UTC
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Mesopotamia. Babylon. The Tigris and Euphrates
By Arundhati Roy

On the steel torsos of their missiles, adolescent American soldiers
scrawl colourful messages in childish handwriting: For Saddam, from the
Fat Boy Posse. A building goes down. A marketplace. A home. A girl who
loves a boy. A child who only ever wanted to play with his older
brother's marbles.

On March 21, the day after American and British troops began their
illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, an "embedded" CNN correspondent
interviewed an American soldier. "I wanna get in there and get my nose
dirty," Private AJ said. "I wanna take revenge for 9/11."

To be fair to the correspondent, even though he was "embedded" he did
sort of weakly suggest that so far there was no real evidence that
linked the Iraqi government to the September 11 attacks. Private AJ
stuck his teenage tongue out all the way down to the end of his chin.
"Yeah, well that stuff's way over my head," he said.

According to a New York Times/CBS News survey, 42 per cent of the
American public believes that Saddam Hussein is directly responsible for
the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. And
an ABC news poll says that 55 per cent of Americans believe that Saddam
Hussein directly supports al-Qaida. What percentage of America's armed
forces believe these fabrications is anybody's guess.

It is unlikely that British and American troops fighting in Iraq are
aware that their governments supported Saddam Hussein both politically
and financially through his worst excesses.

But why should poor AJ and his fellow soldiers be burdened with these
details? It does not matter any more, does it? Hundreds of thousands of
men, tanks, ships, choppers, bombs, ammunition, gas masks, high-protein
food, whole aircrafts ferrying toilet paper, insect repellent, vitamins
and bottled mineral water, are on the move. The phenomenal logistics of
Operation Iraqi Freedom make it a universe unto itself. It doesn't need
to justify its existence any more. It exists. It is.

President George W Bush, commander in chief of the US army, navy,
airforce and marines has issued clear instructions: "Iraq. Will. Be.
Liberated." (Perhaps he means that even if Iraqi people's bodies are
killed, their souls will be liberated.) American and British citizens
owe it to the supreme commander to forsake thought and rally behind
their troops. Their countries are at war. And what a war it is.

After using the "good offices" of UN diplomacy (economic sanctions and
weapons inspections) to ensure that Iraq was brought to its knees, its
people starved, half a million of its children killed, its
infrastructure severely damaged, after making sure that most of its
weapons have been destroyed, in an act of cowardice that must surely be
unrivalled in history, the "Allies"/"Coalition of the Willing"(better
known as the Coalition of the Bullied and Bought) - sent in an invading

Operation Iraqi Freedom? I don't think so. It's more like Operation
Let's Run a Race, but First Let Me Break Your Knees.

So far the Iraqi army, with its hungry, ill-equipped soldiers, its old
guns and ageing tanks, has somehow managed to temporarily confound and
occasionally even outmanoeuvre the "Allies". Faced with the richest,
best-equipped, most powerful armed forces the world has ever seen, Iraq
has shown spectacular courage and has even managed to put up what
actually amounts to a defence. A defence which the Bush/Blair Pair have
immediately denounced as deceitful and cowardly. (But then deceit is an
old tradition with us natives. When we are invaded/ colonised/occupied
and stripped of all dignity, we turn to guile and opportunism.)

Even allowing for the fact that Iraq and the "Allies" are at war, the
extent to which the "Allies" and their media cohorts are prepared to go
is astounding to the point of being counterproductive to their own

When Saddam Hussein appeared on national TV to address the Iraqi people
after the failure of the most elaborate assassination attempt in history
- "Operation Decapitation" - we had Geoff Hoon, the British defence
secretary, deriding him for not having the courage to stand up and be
killed, calling him a coward who hides in trenches. We then had a flurry
of Coalition speculation - Was it really Saddam, was it his double? Or
was it Osama with a shave? Was it pre-recorded? Was it a speech? Was it
black magic? Will it turn into a pumpkin if we really, really want it

After dropping not hundreds, but thousands of bombs on Baghdad, when a
marketplace was mistakenly blown up and civilians killed - a US army
spokesman implied that the Iraqis were blowing themselves up! "They're
using very old stock. Their missiles go up and come down."

If so, may we ask how this squares with the accusation that the Iraqi
regime is a paid-up member of the Axis of Evil and a threat to world

When the Arab TV station al-Jazeera shows civilian casualties it's
denounced as "emotive" Arab propaganda aimed at orchestrating hostility
towards the "Allies", as though Iraqis are dying only in order to make
the "Allies" look bad. Even French television has come in for some stick
for similar reasons. But the awed, breathless footage of aircraft
carriers, stealth bombers and cruise missiles arcing across the desert
sky on American and British TV is described as the "terrible beauty" of

When invading American soldiers (from the army "that's only here to
help") are taken prisoner and shown on Iraqi TV, George Bush says it
violates the Geneva convention and "exposes the evil at the heart of the
regime". But it is entirely acceptable for US television stations to
show the hundreds of prisoners being held by the US government in
Guantanamo Bay, kneeling on the ground with their hands tied behind
their backs, blinded with opaque goggles and with earphones clamped on
their ears, to ensure complete visual and aural deprivation. When
questioned about the treatment of these prisoners, US Government
officials don't deny that they're being being ill-treated. They deny
that they're "prisoners of war"! They call them "unlawful combatants",
implying that their ill-treatment is legitimate! (So what's the party
line on the massacre of prisoners in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan?
Forgive and forget? And what of the prisoner tortured to death by the
special forces at the Bagram airforce base? Doctors have formally called
it homicide.)

When the "Allies" bombed the Iraqi television station (also,
incidentally, a contravention of the Geneva convention), there was
vulgar jubilation in the American media. In fact Fox TV had been
lobbying for the attack for a while. It was seen as a righteous blow
against Arab propaganda. But mainstream American and British TV continue
to advertise themselves as "balanced" when their propaganda has achieved
hallucinatory levels.

Why should propaganda be the exclusive preserve of the western media?
Just because they do it better? Western journalists "embedded" with
troops are given the status of heroes reporting from the frontlines of
war. Non-"embedded" journalists (such as the BBC's Rageh Omaar,
reporting from besieged and bombed Baghdad, witnessing, and clearly
affected by the sight of bodies of burned children and wounded people)
are undermined even before they begin their reportage: "We have to tell
you that he is being monitored by the Iraqi authorities."

Increasingly, on British and American TV, Iraqi soldiers are being
referred to as "militia" (ie: rabble). One BBC correspondent
portentously referred to them as "quasi-terrorists". Iraqi defence is
"resistance" or worse still, "pockets of resistance", Iraqi military
strategy is deceit. (The US government bugging the phone lines of UN
security council delegates, reported by the Observer, is hard-headed
pragmatism.) Clearly for the "Allies", the only morally acceptable
strategy the Iraqi army can pursue is to march out into the desert and
be bombed by B-52s or be mowed down by machine-gun fire. Anything short
of that is cheating.

And now we have the siege of Basra. About a million and a half people,
40 per cent of them children. Without clean water, and with very little
food. We're still waiting for the legendary Shia "uprising", for the
happy hordes to stream out of the city and rain roses and hosannahs on
the "liberating" army. Where are the hordes? Don't they know that
television productions work to tight schedules? (It may well be that if
Saddam's regime falls there will be dancing on the streets of Basra. But
then, if the Bush regime were to fall, there would be dancing on the
streets the world over.)

After days of enforcing hunger and thirst on the citizens of Basra, the
"Allies" have brought in a few trucks of food and water and positioned
them tantalisingly on the outskirts of the city. Desperate people flock
to the trucks and fight each other for food. (The water we hear, is
being sold. To revitalise the dying economy, you understand.) On top of
the trucks, desperate photographers fought each other to get pictures of
desperate people fighting each other for food. Those pictures will go
out through photo agencies to newspapers and glossy magazines that pay
extremely well. Their message: The messiahs are at hand, distributing
fishes and loaves.

As of July last year the delivery of $5.4bn worth of supplies to Iraq
was blocked by the Bush/Blair Pair. It didn't really make the news. But
now under the loving caress of live TV, 450 tonnes of humanitarian aid -
a minuscule fraction of what's actually needed (call it a script prop) -
arrived on a British ship, the "Sir Galahad". Its arrival in the port of
Umm Qasr merited a whole day of live TV broadcasts. Barf bag, anyone?

Nick Guttmann, head of emergencies for Christian Aid, writing for the
Independent on Sunday said that it would take 32 Sir Galahad's a day to
match the amount of food Iraq was receiving before the bombing began.

We oughtn't to be surprised though. It's old tactics. They've been at it
for years. Consider this moderate proposal by John McNaughton from the
Pentagon Papers, published during the Vietnam war: "Strikes at
population targets (per se) are likely not only to create a
counterproductive wave of revulsion abroad and at home, but greatly to
increase the risk of enlarging the war with China or the Soviet Union.
Destruction of locks and dams, however - if handled right - might ...
offer promise. It should be studied. Such destruction does not kill or
drown people. By shallow-flooding the rice, it leads after time to
widespread starvation (more than a million?) unless food is provided -
which we could offer to do 'at the conference table'."

Times haven't changed very much. The technique has evolved into a
doctrine. It's called "Winning Hearts and Minds".

So, here's the moral maths as it stands: 200,000 Iraqis estimated to
have been killed in the first Gulf war. Hundreds of thousands dead
because of the economic sanctions. (At least that lot has been saved
from Saddam Hussein.) More being killed every day. Tens of thousands of
US soldiers who fought the 1991 war officially declared "disabled" by a
disease called the Gulf war syndrome, believed in part to be caused by
exposure to depleted uranium. It hasn't stopped the "Allies" from
continuing to use depleted uranium.

And now this talk of bringing the UN back into the picture. But that old
UN girl - it turns out that she just ain't what she was cracked up to
be. She's been demoted (although she retains her high salary). Now she's
the world's janitor. She's the Philippino cleaning lady, the Indian
jamadarni, the postal bride from Thailand, the Mexican household help,
the Jamaican au pair. She's employed to clean other peoples' shit. She's
used and abused at will.

Despite Blair's earnest submissions, and all his fawning, Bush has made
it clear that the UN will play no independent part in the administration
of postwar Iraq. The US will decide who gets those juicy
"reconstruction" contracts. But Bush has appealed to the international
community not to "politicise" the issue of humanitarian aid. On the
March 28, after Bush called for the immediate resumption of the UN's oil
for food programme, the UN security council voted unanimously for the
resolution. This means that everybody agrees that Iraqi money (from the
sale of Iraqi oil) should be used to feed Iraqi people who are starving
because of US led sanctions and the illegal US-led war.

Contracts for the "reconstruction" of Iraq we're told, in discussions on
the business news, could jump-start the world economy. It's funny how
the interests of American corporations are so often, so successfully and
so deliberately confused with the interests of the world economy. While
the American people will end up paying for the war, oil companies,
weapons manufacturers, arms dealers, and corporations involved in
"reconstruction" work will make direct gains from the war. Many of them
are old friends and former employers of the Bush/ Cheney/Rumsfeld/Rice
cabal. Bush has already asked Congress for $75bn. Contracts for
"re-construction" are already being negotiated. The news doesn't hit the
stands because much of the US corporate media is owned and managed by
the same interests.

Operation Iraqi Freedom, Tony Blair assures us is about returning Iraqi
oil to the Iraqi people. That is, returning Iraqi oil to the Iraqi
people via corporate multinationals. Like Shell, like Chevron, like
Halliburton. Or are we missing the plot here? Perhaps Halliburton is
actually an Iraqi company? Perhaps US vice-president Dick Cheney (who is
a former director of Halliburton) is a closet Iraqi?

As the rift between Europe and America deepens, there are signs that the
world could be entering a new era of economic boycotts. CNN reported
that Americans are emptying French wine into gutters, chanting, "We
don't want your stinking wine." We've heard about the re-baptism of
French fries. Freedom fries they're called now. There's news trickling
in about Americans boycotting German goods. The thing is that if the
fallout of the war takes this turn, it is the US who will suffer the
most. Its homeland may be defended by border patrols and nuclear
weapons, but its economy is strung out across the globe. Its economic
outposts are exposed and vulnerable to attack in every direction.
Already the internet is buzzing with elaborate lists of American and
British government products and companies that should be boycotted.
Apart from the usual targets, Coke, Pepsi and McDonald's - government
agencies such as USAID, the British department for international
development, British and American banks, Arthur Anderson, Merrill Lynch,
American Express, corporations such as Bechtel, General Electric, and
companies such as Reebok, Nike and Gap - could find themselves under
siege. These lists are being honed and re fined by activists across the
world. They could become a practical guide that directs and channels the
amorphous, but growing fury in the world. Suddenly, the "inevitability"
of the project of corporate globalisation is beginning to seem more than
a little evitable.

It's become clear that the war against terror is not really about
terror, and the war on Iraq not only about oil. It's about a
superpower's self-destructive impulse towards supremacy, stranglehold,
global hegemony. The argument is being made that the people of Argentina
and Iraq have both been decimated by the same process. Only the weapons
used against them differ: In one case it's an IMF chequebook. In the
other, cruise missiles.

Finally, there's the matter of Saddam's arsenal of weapons of mass
destruction. (Oops, nearly forgot about those!)

In the fog of war - one thing's for sure - if Saddam 's regime indeed
has weapons of mass destruction, it is showing an astonishing degree of
responsibility and restraint in the teeth of extreme provocation. Under
similar circumstances, (say if Iraqi troops were bombing New York and
laying siege to Washington DC) could we expect the same of the Bush
regime? Would it keep its thousands of nuclear warheads in their
wrapping paper? What about its chemical and biological weapons? Its
stocks of anthrax, smallpox and nerve gas? Would it?

Excuse me while I laugh.

In the fog of war we're forced to speculate: Either Saddam is an
extremely responsible tyrant. Or - he simply does not possess weapons of
mass destruction. Either way, regardless of what happens next, Iraq
comes out of the argument smelling sweeter than the US government.

So here's Iraq - rogue state, grave threat to world peace, paid-up
member of the Axis of Evil. Here's Iraq, invaded, bombed, besieged,
bullied, its sovereignty shat upon, its children killed by cancers, its
people blown up on the streets. And here's all of us watching. CNN-BBC,
BBC-CNN late into the night. Here's all of us, enduring the horror of
the war, enduring the horror of the propaganda and enduring the
slaughter of language as we know and understand it. Freedom now means
mass murder (or, in the US, fried potatoes). When someone says
"humanitarian aid" we automatically go looking for induced starvation.
"Embedded" I have to admit, is a great find. It's what it sounds like.
And what about "arsenal of tactics?" Nice!

In most parts of the world, the invasion of Iraq is being seen as a
racist war. The real danger of a racist war unleashed by racist regimes
is that it engenders racism in everybody - perpetrators, victims,
spectators. It sets the parameters for the debate, it lays out a grid
for a particular way of thinking. There is a tidal wave of hatred for
the US rising from the ancient heart of the world. In Africa, Latin
America, Asia, Europe, Australia. I encounter it every day. Sometimes it
comes from the most unlikely sources. Bankers, businessmen, yuppie
students, and they bring to it all the crassness of their conservative,
illiberal politics. That absurd inability to separate governments from
people: America is a nation of morons, a nation of murderers, they say,
(with the same carelessness with which they say, "All Muslims are
terrorists"). Even in the grotesque universe of racist insult, the
British make their entry as add-ons. Arse-lickers, they're called.

Suddenly, I, who have been vilified for being "anti-American" and
"anti-west", find myself in the extraordinary position of defending the
people of America. And Britain.

Those who descend so easily into the pit of racist abuse would do well
to remember the hundreds of thousands of American and British citizens
who protested against their country's stockpile of nuclear weapons. And
the thousands of American war resisters who forced their government to
withdraw from Vietnam. They should know that the most scholarly,
scathing, hilarious critiques of the US government and the "American way
of life" comes from American citizens. And that the funniest, most
bitter condemnation of their prime minister comes from the British
media. Finally they should remember that right now, hundreds of
thousands of British and American citizens are on the streets protesting
the war. The Coalition of the Bullied and Bought consists of
governments, not people. More than one third of America's citizens have
survived the relentless propaganda they've been subjected to, and many
thousands are actively fighting their own government. In the
ultra-patriotic climate that prevails in the US, that's as brave as any
Iraqi fighting for his or her homeland.

While the "Allies" wait in the desert for an uprising of Shia Muslims on
the streets of Basra, the real uprising is taking place in hundreds of
cities across the world. It has been the most spectacular display of
public morality ever seen.

Most courageous of all, are the hundreds of thousands of American people
on the streets of America's great cities - Washington, New York,
Chicago, San Francisco. The fact is that the only institution in the
world today that is more powerful than the American government, is
American civil society. American citizens have a huge responsibility
riding on their shoulders. How can we not salute and support those who
not only acknowledge but act upon that responsibility? They are our
allies, our friends.

At the end of it all, it remains to be said that dictators like Saddam
Hussein, and all the other despots in the Middle East, in the central
Asian republics, in Africa and Latin America, many of them installed,
supported and financed by the US government, are a menace to their own
people. Other than strengthening the hand of civil society (instead of
weakening it as has been done in the case of Iraq), there is no easy,
pristine way of dealing with them. (It's odd how those who dismiss the
peace movement as utopian, don't hesitate to proffer the most absurdly
dreamy reasons for going to war: to stamp out terrorism, install
democracy, eliminate fascism, and most entertainingly, to "rid the world
of evil-doers".)

Regardless of what the propaganda machine tells us, these tin-pot
dictators are not the greatest threat to the world. The real and
pressing danger, the greatest threat of all is the locomotive force that
drives the political and economic engine of the US government, currently
piloted by George Bush. Bush-bashing is fun, because he makes such an
easy, sumptuous target. It's true that he is a dangerous, almost
suicidal pilot, but the machine he handles is far more dangerous than
the man himself.

Despite the pall of gloom that hangs over us today, I'd like to file a
cautious plea for hope: in times of war, one wants one's weakest enemy
at the helm of his forces. And President George W Bush is certainly
that. Any other even averagely intelligent US president would have
probably done the very same things, but would have managed to smoke-up
the glass and confuse the opposition. Perhaps even carry the UN with
him. Bush's tactless imprudence and his brazen belief that he can run
the world with his riot squad, has done the opposite. He has achieved
what writers, activists and scholars have striven to achieve for
decades. He has exposed the ducts. He has placed on full public view the
working parts, the nuts and bolts of the apocalyptic apparatus of the
American empire.

Now that the blueprint (The Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire) has been
put into mass circulation, it could be disabled quicker than the pundits

Bring on the spanners.
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