This YouTube video shows US soldiers tauting Iraqi children with a bottle of water. It must be wonderful for these pitiful young men, in a country they hate and where everyone hates them, to feel superior by making fools of Iraqi children. Perhaps this is the most benevolent image to come out of the occupation. After all, unlike in so many other incidents, no one was killed:
How can such an occupation possibly help the occupied?
Two articles in the British press provide insight into what has happened in Iraq. In the Times Online they interview six ordinary Iraqis who give a sense of “life” in Iraq today. the title says it all:
“‘In Saddam’s time I never saw a friend killed in front of my eyes. I never saw neighbours driven out of their homes just for their sect. And I never saw entire families being slaughtered and killed’”
One of the six:
Six weeks ago Hamid watched an Opel saloon pull up outside a bakery opposite his own in the al-Bayia district of south central Baghdad. Four gunmen opened fire, killing one employee and two customers.
Hamid knows of at least seven bakers from his area who have been killed by Sunni “Mujahidin”. The reason is simple: Iraq’s bakers tend to be Shia, and so are trusted to supply Iraq’s predominantly Shia security forces and government offices….
It is business he can ill afford to lose. He reckons a quarter of his neighbourhood has left the city. At least 12 regular customers have been killed. The restaurants he used to supply have mostly closed. He used to sell 10,000 breads a day, but now sells fewer than 1,000. He no longer dares to open early or stay open late.
Three of Hamid’s five employees have quit because of the danger. He would like to pack up as well, but has to support his parents, his wife and three young children. His brothers and sisters have fled to Syria, but he cannot afford to join them.
Hamid will not let his oldest daughter, aged 5, attend kindergarten after another child was kidnapped. He rejoiced at Saddam’s fall, but now yearns for the security of that pre-war era. Iraqi society is wrecked, he says. “There is no solution. My children have no future. How can you build a better future for them when you’re struggling to survive each day?”
And the Telegraph has a piece by Boris Johnson, MP for Henley, on the day, about 10 days after the “liberation” of Iraq, when he realized the war had led to disaster: I remember the quiet day we lost the war in Iraq.
I was wandering around Baghdad, about 10 days after Iraq had been “liberated”, and it seemed to me that the place was not entirely without hope.
OK, so the gunfire popped round every corner like popcorn on a stove, and civil society had broken down so badly that the looters were taking the very copper from the electricity cables in the streets. But I was able to stroll without a flak jacket and eat shoarma and chips in the restaurants.
With no protection except for Isaac, my interpreter, I went to the Iraqi foreign ministry, and found the place deserted. The windows were broken, and every piece of computer equipment had been looted. As I was staring at the fire-blackened walls a Humvee came through the gates. A pair of large GIs got out and asked me my business. I explained that I was representing the people of South Oxfordshire and Her Majesty’s Daily Telegraph.
That didn’t cut much ice. Then I noticed a figure begin to unpack his giraffe-like limbs from the shady interior of the Humvee. He was one of those quiet Americans that you sometimes meet in odd places.
He was grizzled and in his mid-50s and with a lantern jaw, and unlike every other US soldier I’d met he had neither his name nor his blood group stitched on his person. I grasped at once that this quiet American was no soldier. He had that Brahmin air, a bit Ivy League, a touch of JK Galbraith. Yes, folks, he was some kind of spook.
I remember how he walked slowly towards the shattered foreign ministry building, stroking his chin. Then he walked back towards us, and posed a remarkable question. “Have you, uh, seen anyone here?” he asked.
Nope, we said. All quiet here, we said. Quiet as the grave.
“Uhuh,” he said, and started to get back in the Humvee. And then I blurted my own question: “But who are you?” I asked. “Oh, let’s just say I work for the US government,” he sighed. “I was just wondering if anyone was going to show up for work,” he said. “That’s all.”
And that, of course, was the beginning of the disaster. Nobody came to work that day, or the next, or the one after that, because we failed to understand what our intervention would do to Iraqi society. We failed to anticipate that in taking out Saddam, we would also remove government and order and authority from Iraq.
We destroyed the Baathist state, without realising that nothing would supplant it. The result was that salaries went unpaid, electricity was not generated, sanitation was not provided, and all the disorder was gradually and expertly fomented until it was quite beyond our control.
And what we had failed to see in advance was that almost from the outset the Iraqis would blame us – and not just the insurgents – for every distress they experienced.