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Goodman Interviews Fisk


* Robert Fisk, Middle East correspondent for the London Independent. Speaking from Baghdad.


AMY GOODMAN: Well, John Hlinko, we have just reached Robert Fisk in Baghdad. We want to thank you for being with us, cofounder of the DraftWesleyClark.com campaign. Zoltan Grossman, thanks for being with us from the University of Wisconsin.


We’re going not to the break right now, which we usually do, but because we have Robert Fisk on his satellite phone at this moment. we want to go directly to him.


Robert Fisk, we’ll get your comment at the beginning, hearing that Wesley Clark is now running for president as the antiwar warrior. Then we’d like to get your observations of what’s happening right now on the ground in Iraq.


ROBERT FISK: I have to say first of all about General Clark, that I was on the ground in Serbia in Kosovo when he ran the war there. He didn’t seem to be very antiwar at the time. I had as one of my tasks to go out over and over again to look at the civilian casualties of that have war.


At one point NATO bombed the hospital in which Yugoslav soldiers, against the rules of war, were hiding along with the patients and almost all the patients were killed.


This was the war, remember, where the first attack was made on a radio station, the Serb Radio and Television building. Since then we’ve had attacks twice on the Al Jazeera television station. First of all in Afghanistan in 2001, then killing their chief correspondent, and again in Baghdad, this year.


This was a general who I remember bombed series of bridges, in one of which an aircraft bombed the train and after, he’d seen the train and had come to a stop, the pilot bombed the bridge again.


I saw one occasion when a plane came in, bombed a bridge over a river in Serbia proper, as we like to call it, and after about 12 minutes when rescuers arrived, a bridge too narrow even for tanks, bombed the rescuers.


I remember General Clark telling us that more than 100 Yugoslav tanks had been destroyed in the weeks of that war. And when the war came to an end, we discovered number of Yugoslav tanks destroyed were 11. 100 indeed.


So this was not a man, frankly whom, if I were an American, would vote for, but not being an American, I don’t have to.


AMY GOODMAN: Robert Fisk speaking to us in Iraq. And then you have the time that the British general, Michael Jackson, Wesley Clark had told him to get his British troops to the airport before the Russians got there, so it wouldn’t be perceived that the Russians were liberating and General Michael Jackson responded to him, ‘I’m not going to start World War III’.


ROBERT FISK: Yes. Jackson did indeed say that. One member of Jackson’s staff confirmed to me that the quote is true. I think the words–I think the verb is wrong, but World War III is correct.


It was a very strange atmosphere to that war, over and over again when NATO has bombed the target, it was clearly illegitimate. Or when they killed large number of civilians, they were either silenced, or they lied.


We had the very famous occasion, infamous occasion when American aircraft bombed an Albanian refugee convoy in Kosovo, claimed later or NATO claimed later it was probably Serb aircraft. It was only when we got there and found the NATO markings on the bomb, that NATO fessed up admitted that they had done it themselves and had been confused.


When I went to the scene months later and tracked down the survivors, it turned out that although they were confused, NATO aircraft had gone on bombing that convoy for 35 minutes even though there were civilians there, because mixed in among them, most cruelly, this was an act of Milosevic’s regime, were military vehicles as well.


We shouldn’t be romantic about the Serb military or the Serb security police they were killers and murderers. But NATO, in its war against the Serbs, committed a number of acts which I think are very close to war crimes, and General Clark was the commander. So this is a man who wants to be the president, democratic president of the United States of America. Well I don’t interest myself in what he thinks about the last war in Iraq. I watched it first hand and had my own opinions. But I sure as hell know what it was like to be under the bombs of his war in Serbia.


AMY GOODMAN: Robert Fisk, I want to ask you about General Powell’s visit, Secretary of State General Powell’s visit to Baghdad. But we still have Steve Rendall in the studio who is leaving in one minute as we listen to this description of what’s happening in Iraq. We were wrapping up the discussion of Wesley Clark whether or not he was for this war. Your final comments, Steve?


STEVE RENDALL: I’d like to just say that politicians would like to be all things to all people. Our problem is not with Wesley Clark’s campaign, it’s with the media’s portrayal of him.


One point I’d like to say, your listeners should go look at the daily column that Clark wrote for the Times of London, right around the time of the fall of Baghdad. He wrote there, for instance, the day after the fall of Baghdad he wrote “Liberation is at hand. Liberation, the powerful bomb that justifies painful sacrifices, erases lingering doubts and reinforces bold actions.” He also wrote that George W. Bush and prime minister Tony Blair “should be proud of their resolve in the face of so much doubt”.


This is the day after, this is on April 10, the day after the so called fall of Baghdad. He was cheering this event, and it’s very hard for us to see reporters casting him as antiwar candidate.


AMY GOODMAN: Steve Rendall, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. Robert Fisk, nothing succeeds like success. It sounds like people who didn’t know how it was going to turn out wanted to make sure they were on the side of the winning forces, which makes me think of the piece you wrote where you said that Thomas Friedman was in Iraq, he asked a U.S. soldier, he was looking for something, for directions and they said to him, ‘that’s on the enemy side of the bridge’.


ROBERT FISK: You have to be reality wise, Amy. Here in Baghdad, American troops are attacked I’m told up to 60 times a day, just in Baghdad, and they’re losing an average of a man a day. If you’re an American soldier, you’re 20 years old, you didn’t think it was going to work out like this, you were conned into believing the war was a great thing for democracy and liberation, and you’re being shot every day, you regard an Iraqi as a potential enemy. So of course the guy said ‘enemy side of the bridge’. That’s a very telltale remark, because it shows how terribly wrong everything has gone for military, for the U.S. administration, our own prime minister Tony Blair.


But individually you find American soldiers here who can be very sympathetic and who realize it’s gone wrong. I talked to U.S. troops in the streets of Baghdad, and they do not want to vote for the Republican party, if they ever did before in the next election in the United States.


You also find soldiers who behaving very badly with lack of fire discipline, lack of discipline of every kind. I was town in Fallujah a few weeks ago where American soldiers saw a man sitting in a chair in the street said, ‘you get up and I’ll break your fucking neck’. Well, that is not the kind of language that is going to win hearts and minds. When I complained to his sergeant about the way he had spoken, he made excuses and said ‘well the guy got up at 3:00 this morning, he’s been shot at every day, he’s been here since March or whatever’. So I said well, you know, I understand all that. One has to have sympathy as a human being for another human being in a predicament. But it was your country that wanted to invade this place. You were desperate to come in, you didn’t want the arms inspectors, you haven’t found any weapons of mass destruction. Now you’re here, and you don’t like it.


And this is the big problem over and over again, I’m finding soldiers who say, ‘yes, we believe we can help the Iraqi people’. Then you find many, many officers below that who say, ‘I want to go home’. And this is an Army that is tired, low morale, low fire discipline, low discipline all around. The number of shootings of civilians is skyrocketing. I’ve just been talking to you about today. If you go into the hospitals here in the afternoon..


JUAN GONZALEZ: Robert, I want to ask you about the issue of low morale. Those of us who remember the Vietnam War understand that the major turning point was when those soldiers there realized that they were not engaged in a war of liberation, they gradually began to build up resistance and enormous morale problems with soldiers going AWOL and shooting their own officers at times. Are you seeing any signs that this demoralization among the troops may possibly even lead to resistance within the ranks of the soldiers?


ROBERT FISK: Well, I’d say we haven’t reached Vietnam stage yet. No one is fragging their own officers. There was one incident, I think it was in Kuwait, where a grenade was thrown by a U.S. soldier at other U.S. soldiers.


We haven’t reached the Vietnam point, and after all America was losing thousands of troops in Vietnam. And it’s only in the hundreds in Iraq since the war began. As I say when I talk to ordinary soldiers, there’s a great difference, for example, between units that were here during the war and haven’t left and actually fought in the war, lost quite a few people for them anyway, and are still here and feel that they have been lied to because they were supposed to have gone home after the victorious, wonderful war in which they were liberating people.


And the newly arrived troops, for example the 101st Airborne up in Mosul whose morale seems to be a lot higher, although frankly, their attitude to house raids, breaking down doors and screaming at people doesn’t seem to be much better than say, the Third Infantry division, who clearly don’t have the same morale problems. But we’re not at the Vietnam stage, and we shouldn’t pretend that we are. What we should compare it to is Lebanon in 1982, when it was six months before anyone threw a stone at an American soldier. But now within six months they killed scores of American soldiers here in Iraq. And what has happened is that there is a real guerilla army working increasingly sophisticated. I was very interested to note, when I met the U.S. general who was in charge of prisoners of war at the former prison outside Baghdad three days ago, she actually referred to a resistance force. She didn’t talk about terrorists. not once did it cross her lips.


What you find is that the real soldiers, I’m talking about non- reservists, full time U.S. soldiers, they know they’re involved in a guerilla war. They know it’s not working. They know the place is falling to bits. What they tell me is when it gets up to the generals on your side of the lake, they don’t want to admit it.


I have colleague of mine on the State Department Press Corps, which arrived with Colin Powell, I was present at Powell’s very strange press conference here. And my colleague told me they still don’t realize in Washington how bad it is. That’s the impression I get on the ground here.


AMY GOODMAN: Why was it strange? We only have 30 seconds, your phone probably has less, but I just want to get to Fallujah, to the U.S. soldiers who apparently came a day before, who killed something like eight Iraqi policeman and a Jordanian guard this month.


ROBERT FISK: I went down there. What obviously happened is the policemen, once they were on under fire screamed ‘we are the police, we’re the police’, and the shooting went on. They then fled into the Jordanian Army hospital compound, and the Americans then opened fire at the compound for up to 30 minutes, setting several of the buildings on fire. This is a hospital run by America’s Jordanian allies. These were soldiers without fire discipline.


You told me for the first time, I haven’t learned this here, that they just arrived in Iraq. Well clearly have a lot to learn, don’t they.


AMY GOODMAN: The report is American soldiers just arrived in Fallujah, the day before. But finally, the Powell press conference.


ROBERT FISK: The extraordinary thing was, Powell presented everything as upbeat. He suggested that journalists were concentrating on negative things. He wasn’t trying, he said, to persuade us how we should tell our stories or what our agenda should be, but we should concentrate on all the goodwill towards the occupation forces or the C.P.A., the coalition.


Ambassador Bremer, the pro-counsel here, the American pro- counsel stepped forward to say there were more than 1,600,000 barrels of oil produced the previous day. That doesn’t change the fact that Iraqi is still importing oil, even though it’s one of the richest oil countries in the world. But you simply couldn’t get Powell in any question to talk about the fact that so many things are going wrong. You wondered had he brought the fantasy from Washington, or was he being fed the fantasy here in Baghdad by Bremer and his staff at the C.P.A.


A fact is that months after the war was officially supposed to be over, there were hundreds of people dying in this country every week by violence. I’m just watching two Apache helicopters as I speak to you now just flying over the buildings in front of me, on ‘antiterrorist patrol’, as it’s called. There is a real guerilla war underway here, and when you are on the ground you realize it’s moving out of control. Washington is still trying to present this as a success story and it’s not, anymore than Afghanistan.


AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank I very much, Robert Fisk for being with us. Robert Fisk is correspondent for the Independent newspaper based in Beirut right now in Iraq. returning as he has so many times.


Thank you for joining us. You are listening to Democracy Now!


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