The Tiger of Baghdad

‘There was once a Tiger of Baghdad. He was in a cage, hungry and quite unhappy but at least he was – ALIVE. All that was, till the US armed forces entered his town one day—-’

That would sure make a nice children’s tale in current day Iraq. Unfortunately it is based on a true story and here is the description from my local newspaper last week.

‘Drunk US Soldier tries to feed tiger in Baghdad zoo. Tiger bites soldier. Fellow soldier shoots the tiger dead’.

(‘ Take that! You remnant of the Saddam regime!” I could hear the soldier shout. )

As metaphors describing the US occupation of Iraq go, it does not get richer than this tragic tale of the Tiger of Baghdad.

The United States, drunk with its sense of being the globe’s lone superpower, tries to force ‘feed’ democracy to a captive Iraqi people. People bite the US arm. US soldiers shoot the people.

That’s the obvious parallel, but not the only one. Deconstruct the tale of the Tiger of Baghdad and you can come up with a lot more sub-tales about what the US occupation really represents. The parable-like quality of the episode also offers some lessons on what to do and what not to do when dealing with tigers (of all kinds) in general.

Sub-tale No.1: US occupation as an exercise in monumental ignorance To begin with, anyone who knows anything about tigers (and this was a Royal Bengal tiger from India, so I am somewhat qualified) can tell you that: Tigers don’t like being kept in cages Tigers don’t like being kept hungry while in cages and c) Tigers hate people who smell of liquor and speak in strange accents while trying to feed them in a cage.

Sure, I made that last one up- maybe tigers don’t mind alcohol or even the American accent. It is also quite possible the tiger was not really angry but decided the fellow trying to feed it looked more appetizing than the silly hamburger he was handing out.

Whatever the motives for the tiger’s sudden moves, the simple fact is that the US soldiers who dallied with it had no clue as to what this creature was really all about. (Now, nobody on this planet –with any sense- would put his arm out to feed a hungry tiger) It is an ignorance of tigers that runs parallel to the complete ignorance among US troops of Iraqi society, culture and modern history.

Incomprehension of tigers and Iraqis among young American army recruits is still understandable. For after all, neither of these creatures is commonly found in the concrete jungles of urban America. The problem with these soldiers is they don’t really understand why they are there in Iraq in the first place.

But again, who can really blame them for these deep holes in their general database, when their bosses back home in the White House are not particularly bright men either. Little Bush and his con-men – the would-be Empire builders of our times- display, for example, such colossal ignorance about the history of Imperialism.

They don’t seem to realize that Imperialism itself has become history- not because there is any shortage of wannabe Imperialists – but because there are too many out there who will resist, bite, scratch and claw their way to real freedom. Exactly as the Iraqi people are doing right now.

Sub-tale No. 2: US occupation as an exercise in supreme arrogance Yet another sub-tale emerging from the tragic fate of the Tiger of Baghdad is the arbitrary way in which life and death are determined in Iraq under US occupation. Zuhair Abdul-Majeed, a security guard at the zoo, told Associated Press that the tiger had been summarily executed with three bullets through its head after it had bitten the drunk US soldier. (“I did, because I could” I can hear the soldier say)

Shooting down a defenseless caged creature out of anger, fear and frustration- does that sound familiar? Sure it does, to all those innocent civilians being gunned down every day by US soldiers at checkpoints, during raids in search of the Fedayeen or due to the excessive and indiscriminate use of force against all those who resist. Already at least 10,000 Iraqi civilians (and many more poorly equipped Iraqi soldiers) have died due to the US invasion.

According to that brave British journalist Robert Fisk, the civilian death toll in Iraq since the US occupation began may be running at as high as 1000 per week. Of course, many of these may be victims of family feuds, violent crimes and the plethora of unexploded ordnance left behind from the early days of the invasion. Iraq Body Count, an independent research group, reports that from April 14th to 31st August, a total of at least 1,519 violent deaths have been recorded in Baghdad alone due to a breakdown of law and order.

But in general there is now overwhelming evidence that US troops have been trigger-happy beyond a point attributable to nervousness alone.

There is arrogance, a supreme arrogance on display in Iraq by the US occupation forces. The arrogance of being ‘superior’ to the Iraqis materially (they only sell oil, we are the ones who buy it), morally (the usual ‘civilized’ American versus the ‘barbaric’ Iraqi) and technologically (my gun is bigger and better than yours).

It is an arrogance that is evident in the complete contempt for all forms of life that the average American soldier cannot identify or relate to ( Example – Iraqi men, women, children, tigers etc,). An arrogance that has led the current US occupation regime to commit war crime upon war crime in a land that has already been witness to some of the worst crimes against humanity under the previous one. Between Bush, Saddam and the dead Tiger of Baghdad it is not difficult to spot the only one who will go to heaven.

Sub-tale No. 3: US occupation as an exercise in brazen fraudulence One of the consequences of all this ignorance and arrogance is the peculiar phenomenon we now have of young US army recruits running all over Iraq pretending that they are part of some Hollywood operation to bring ‘freedom’ to the Iraqi people. And when ordinary Iraqis don’t buy this delusionary tale they complain about ungrateful locals biting (exactly like the Tiger) the hand that ‘liberates’ them.

To understand why the locals bite so often and so hard we have to go back to the tale of the Tiger of Baghdad. Now imagine you are the Tiger – tired, hungry and trapped in a war zone for weeks on end. And here come these strange fellows in funny uniforms, drunk and probably singing badly. You expect them to either open your cage and set you free or feed you proper tiger food. Instead what you get is this bloke thrusting his patronizing hand into your cage with some leftovers from his dinner. Aaaaaargh !

The Iraqi people- like the late, departed Tiger- were trapped in a cage and hungry for both food and freedom all these years. A cage initially built by Saddam Hussein, when he was still on the payrolls of the United States in the eighties. A hunger imposed on them throughout the nineties by the US-inspired sanctions. And yet this is a cage and a hunger that the United States has done nothing to remove in all these months of the occupation.

And going by everything that Bush and his men running Iraq now are saying that magic moment is not going to come so soon for the Iraqi people either.

“No, they are not,” said Paul Bremer, the American Viceroy of Iraq, when asked on CBS recently whether he thought the Iraqis were ready to rule themselves. Or in other words ‘ the tiger is not ready to be let out of the cage’.

Of course, that makes sense. Who in his right mind would let a tiger out without taming it properly and turning it into a nice little pussycat? When it bites even from within a cage who knows what it might do without it? The damn tiger might even run off and establish an Islamic republic. Holy whiskers!! (These days the US administration sees ‘Muslim militants’ everywhere- on Earth, on the Moon so why not in the Zoo too?)

The thought of Iraq going the way Iran did a few decades ago is only one of the worries though. Till Little Bush and his conmen also sort out how to steal Iraqi oil for the next few generations to come it is too risky for them to really set the Iraqi people free.

They seem to have a minor ‘problem’ of late with the Iraqi Governing Council, the ‘local trainers’ the US has appointed under Chalabi the Charlatan, to ‘tame’ the Iraqi tigers. They apparently want to see their paymasters out of the country, for purely strategic reasons, of course.

“The Americans are spending money here to secure themselves at a rate that is two to three times what they are spending to secure the Iraqi people,” Ahmad al-Barak, a human rights lawyer and a member of the Iraqi Governing Council told the New York Times. “It would be better for us if we would be in charge of how to spend this money, and, of course, they could monitor how it is spent”.

It is all about who gets to spend the money, you see. And yet, I think, the Iraqi Governing Council is beginning to realize that there is no real ‘training’ of the Iraqi people possible as long as they are constantly distracted by such a large US presence on their soil. (Try teaching a classroom full of tigers anything with lots of red meat running around the place.)

As for the lessons emerging from the Tiger of Baghdad episode there are essentially three that are foremost:

Lesson No. 1: Never walk into a tiger’s den while searching for a snake “We will smoke them out” were the infamous words with which Little Bush launched the US war on Terror over two years ago. The imagery conjured up by the phrase was that of valiant US troops going with their fire torches to smoke out the malevolent, unpredictable, terrorist ‘snakes’ of the Al Qaeda from the caves of Afghanistan. (As things turned out they never managed to get Mr King ‘Bin’ Cobra at all)

In Iraq, for all the claims of ‘foreign terrorists’ fighting US troops, there is no doubt today that what they face is a well organized and spreading popular resistance. It can’t get more foolish or ironic when your search for snakes lands you in a den full of tigers.

Lesson No. 2: Never smooch a tiger while stealing its skin Hey Bushies, if you want to steal Iraqi oil- don’t pretend to do it in the name of `liberating’ the Iraqi people who happen to sit on top of it. Cut that kootchie koo and spare us the bleeding-heart conservative drivel about ‘freedom, democracy, blah, blah, blah’. The world knows that you are just a bunch of thieves and will deal with you as necessary. Remember it’s a strategy that never works- trying to kiss a tiger who knows you want to swipe its only wealth and skin it alive.

Lesson No. 3: Above all, never turn a tiger into a bloody man-eater And here is the ultimate tragedy of the US invasion of Iraq. That it will create many more tragedies in its wake. Maybe an endless series of tragedies. The brutality of the entire enterprise will give birth to more and more of the very same ‘terrorists’ that the invasion claims to be against. It will turn many of those majestic tigers into man-eaters, who once having tasted blood will not know when or where to stop. What we hear from Iraq is not just the firepower of the United States but also the desperate rattling of the cages by a trapped people. Listen to them, liberate them, let them go before it is too late.

End the Occupation of Iraq, Now!

Satya Sagar is a journalist based in Thailand. He can be reached at

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