Celebration In Iraqi Streets

In the last two weeks, we have witnessed a dampening of mood amongst those who opposed war against Iraq. As we are bombarded over and over again with images of British or American troops pulling down Saddam’s statues, and Iraqis dancing on them, we are told that the coalition’s stance has been vindicated, and that these images represent the reality in Iraq.

How do we make sense of these images of euphoria in Iraq? Was it really a victory for Rumsfeld and company? Were the people of Iraq really ‘liberated’ by the Americans? Were we really wrong to oppose this war?

Far from it! Before digesting uncritically any of the reportage ‘proving’ the wisdom behind the attack on Iraq, we must remember that this is coming from ‘embedded’ or ‘in-bed’ journalists, that events such as pulling down Saddam’s statues and wrapping an Iraqi flag around it are planned, that a few hundred people dancing on Saddam’s statue may be celebrating the fall of a tyrant but not the invasion, that the few dozen people waving to American soldiers hardly form a majority among the 25 million Iraqis, that the reporting has been highly biased, with the most illustrative example being the sacking of a star journalist by NBC for ‘unpatriotic’ reporting, and that we were denied an alternative source of news. .

This would include the bombing of Al-Jazeera’s station in Baghdad after they had notified the Pentagon at least twice of their location and been reassured by the US army. Al-Jazeera has the honour of losing another station to US bombing in Kabul just before the Americans entered that city. It would also include the unprovoked tank attack on Palestine Hotel in Baghdad where several non-embedded journalists were staying.

By critically examining the reportage from Iraq, we are not denying reality. Rather, we are being prudent. After all we can hardly be expected to trust this coalition of The Bought and Bullied, as Arundhati Roy calls it, after they presented fake documents as proof of Iraq’s WMD capability. Seymour Hersh’s investigative article in the New Yorker outlines how both the highest levels of US and UK government are implicated in presenting what has been called a cut and paste job from the internet, as irrefutable proof of Saddam’s evil intentions.

Our understanding of far away events depends upon how they are narrated. Colonizers have long depended upon selective, de-contextualized reporting for maintaining support within their home constituencies. Such reporting is a powerful way of disassociating the present from the past – thus enabling these governments to paint pictures of the colonized societies that are far from actual reality. As soon as we put the images on TV in their proper historic context, a different picture emerges. We remind ourselves that just a few months ago, similar scenes of Afghani joy at being liberated by the Americans and British from the Taliban were relayed to tell us that the war in Afghanistan had ended. But it has become clear that neither the war had ended, nor was the peace sustainable. In fact, a façade had been created, which has since fallen apart, but by then the corporate media had discovered new interests.

An exercise similar to that about to be carried out in Iraq, was carried out in Afghanistan. Karzai was imposed on the country as the people’s choice. It soon became apparent that his government cannot even claim to have full jurisdiction over the city of Kabul, much less Afghanistan. Robert Fisk, is perhaps the only famous English language journalist who has troubled to go back to Afghanistan after the media spotlight moved away. He reports not only increased lawlessness, looting and drug lordism but that Al-Qaeda operates a radio station inside Afghanistan; that US troops have had to retreat from five position of which they have only admitted one; that new landmines have been laid by not just Afghans but a fresh crop of Arab fighters; that, as against the Soviets, Gulbadin Hikmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami has joined forces with other groups including the Taliban.

The devastation wrecked by this on going, un-declared war is even more gruesome if that is possible, than declared war. Children, and adults die of hunger, civilians get blown up by continuously replenished land mines, but worst of all there seems to be no end to it. The past holds only painful memories, the present is unbearable and the future is a void.

Perhaps there were a few people who embraced the American soldiers when they first entered Kabul, but we can be sure that they are regretting that moment today. Just as the Catholics in Ireland today regret the ‘help’ of the British army in the 60s. Continued bloodshed in imperial England’s first colony, Ireland, owes much to their ‘liberation’ by the British.

With each passing day, it is becoming evident that the reality in Iraq is much different from the images flashed on corporate media. The Operation Iraqi Liberation (OIL) is all about enacting an enormous façade, behind which the real war upon the Iraqi people is only beginning. The horrendous assault on their lives by cluster bombs will pale in significance to the wholesale deprivation that is in store for them through the privatisation of not just their oil resources but healthcare, water, electricity, transport, education, drugs and phones. Under the charade of ‘reconstruction’ large corporations are already signing deals to exert control over Iraq.

The democracy being imposed upon them by the US is hand picked to legitimise this control. The Pentagon’s favourite candidate, Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, definitely has the right kind of experience. He was convicted in 1992, by a Jordanian court of embezzlement, theft, misuse of depositor funds and currency speculation regarding his role in the $200 million scandal at the Petra Bank. All these skills will, no doubt, stand him in good stead in the Iraq that the Pentagon envisions.

Meanwhile corporate media is flooded with statements of sages like Geoff Hoon, British Defence Minister. He has asserted that Iraqi mothers will thank the cluster bombs in later years. Tony Blair similarly claims that the loss of life is less than it would have been under Saddam’s regime, without revealing the complex formula through which he has arrived at this result. Finally, Jack Straw has interpreted the looting of the national treasures of Iraq, and medical supplies from hospitals as the expression of newfound freedom on the part of Iraqi people.

And thus no wonder that to some extent this media coverage of Iraqi people welcoming the Americans and British has had the effect desired by Bush and Blair. Many who demonstrated against the war on Iraq are feeling disheartened, almost let down by the Iraqis. More than that, the images of jubilant Iraqis have provided post fact justification for the attack, since none is forthcoming on the much-touted WMD front. Those who were unsure or against the war are now convinced that it would help Iraqis build a better future without Saddam. According to a poll carried out by ICM between April 11 and 13th, support for war has risen in UK from 38% in March, to 62% of respondents in April.

These images of cheering Iraqis, the drama of the Iraqi boy (whose limbs as well as family were blown off by the Shock and Awe Circus) being helped by the liberators, and other such machiavellian tricks have also saved Blair’s government, while putting France and Germany on the back foot. Above all, far from imposing sanctions on the coalition for a war, that Kofi Annan explicitly termed as an act of aggression, the UN is priming itself once more to act as the US government’s very own janitorial service.

Rather than being disheartened by this media circus, all those who opposed the war should use this occasion to realize the progress that has made by the anti-war movement in their struggle against global imperialism. They have exposed the unrepresentative nature of so-called Western democracies, the conflict between corporate and public interests, built awareness of the globalization agenda which requires wars to fuel economies, and brought together disparate groups ranging from Muslim fundamentalists to trade unions around the world to unite in their struggle against a common enemy.

The politicisation of the diverse groups assembled to protest the American incursion into Iraq and Afghanistan represents a giant leap forward. This is the first time that many Muslims have been exposed to the non-Muslims who are opposing the war on Iraq not because they feel persecuted as a group, but because they understand that this war is an imperial undertaking motivated by corporate interests. Similarly, many of the left groups that had paid lip service to minority rights and issues are now learning to respect Muslim activists for their work.

Rather than Blair or Bush, it is becoming apparent that it is these activists, whose stance is being vindicated in Iraq. Every day now, we hear of protests in Iraqi cities and the US forces’ brutal response to those protests. We hear of so called pockets of resistance where Iraqis are still fighting the invaders. We find out that while the US administration stationed large number of troops to protect the offices of the Ministry of Petroleum in Baghdad, none were available to protect the Ministry of Education, Interior or Agriculture. No troops could be spared to protect the hospitals that were being looted of vital supplies as people lay dying.

Ultimately, news from Iraq, emerging despite the attempts at media clamp down and spin doctoring is bound to fuel the anti-US feeling already running high in the world, especially the Muslim world. The anti-war movement needs to harness the power of this information and it is aided in this respect by the fact that the movement has drawn people in to a much wider discussion about the fundamentals of international and local politics. The Bush/Blair governments have underestimated people’s intelligence, their ability to see through the images of celebration in Iraqi streets and to continue to organize themselves better in order to take on the might of the Imperialist establishment.

On April 12th there were demonstrations again around the world. In the US there was a demonstration of several thousand people in Washington demanding that the troops be brought home. Also in the US more than 10,000 people have decided to withhold tax that would go to support the war, (which is a far more dangerous act of civil disobedience than in Pakistan!). The London demonstration, which I attended, had around 200,000 people who marched in defiance of their government’s continued support of the carnage in Baghdad. Many of the speakers at Hyde Park, where the march ended, focused on this very issue, on the incongruity of a nation welcoming its slayers. That there were 200,000 people protesting in London in April rather than the 2 million in February is less a testimony to the dissipation of anti-war movement and more a guide to the breadth of its support in the face of a relentless barrage of lies through mainstream media.

This article will also appear in DAWN.

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