April Issue 2003
Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
Urgent message from Tommy R. Franks, Commander-in-Chief US Central Command, to 1-800-FLOWERS: “Please cancel delivery of 5 million roses to Baghdad.”
After an American general hurled a ‘bunker-buster’ on what was only a faint glimmer of hope for a peaceful settlement in Iraq, the mantle of destruction was passed onto the Goliathan Anglo-American army. It came as no surprise then, when the forces, which Tony Blair repeatedly told us were meant to “keep the pressure on Saddam,” suddenly transformed into a ‘liberation’ army.
Operation Iraqi Freedom, we were led to believe, was going to be short and swift, and the ‘liberators’ would be met with flowers and song. In fact, this was to be one of the factors crucial to the success of this war. According to Time magazine’s Joe Klein, one of the factor’s critical to judging the success of this war is “whether there is going to be dancing in the streets.”
As the invasion completes its second ugly week, I seem to have missed the Iraqi version of Gene Kelly’s “Singin’ in the Sandstorm,” on CNN. Could Aaron Brown — an icon of America’s journalistic objectivity — kindly replay the sequence for this viewer’s benefit?
But, in all fairness, the Iraqi chorus line, predicted by the oracles of the Pentagon, was in fact witnessed by one reporter. In Safwan, ABC’s John Donovan, testified that, “Residents danced in the streets last week as a U.S. Marine tore down a poster of Saddam Hussein.” But, as is inevitable with any media supposition, a refutation immediately followed. “But, on the day we were there — with no U.S. troops in sight — the atmosphere was very different,” continued Donovan. “We learned that just because the townsfolk don’t like Saddam, this doesn’t mean that they like the Americans for trying to take him out. They were angry at America, and said U.S. forces had shot at people in the town… they saw the U.S.-led invasion as a takeover, not a liberation.”As the ABC crew prepared to depart, “Children were banging on our car windows, demanding money and food. They had already stolen some radios, a telephone and a camera from our cars. They weren’t dancing in the streets.”
Even so, die-hard supporters of the war may argue that the objective of the ‘winning the hearts and the minds of the Iraqi people’ is being achieved. After all, didn’t David Corn of the Nation observe a frustrated Iraqi banging a shoe on a partially damaged wall portrait of Saddam Hussein?
“It was the closest the world has come so far to viewing joyous Iraqis dancing in the street, before their American liberators,” writes Corn. “But if the dancing does not happen soon, the war planners can expect to have a tougher time securing Iraq and creating the environment necessary for reconstruction and democratization.”
Judith Kipper of the Center for Strategic and International Studies agrees: “Even if it goes well — short, quick, with Iraqis dancing in the street — it will nevertheless be known as a U.S. war against a Muslim country.”
This total absence of flower power has not escaped the attention of the Arab world, where newspaper editorials mince no words in deriding the temerity of the US-UK attack. “They are blind,” states the Arab News. “The US may see this as a step forward; Arabs see it as rank imperialism. And so do the Iraqis. Little things like the Iraqi flag ripped down in places in southern Iraq and replaced with the Stars and Stripes only convince them that once the war is over, they will be even less free than at present.”
US planners appear to have been ‘shocked and awed’ by Iraqi resistance. Haaretz correspondent Zvi Bar’el quotes commanders as saying they “were surprised by the degree of opposition put up by the Iraqis.” And with the US and British troops still miles away from Baghdad, the war promises to be anything but brief or swift. This is certainly no blitzkreig.
It appears that the exiled Ahmed Chalabi of the so-called ‘Iraqi opposition’ wove a well-made web of deception by convincing war planners that US troops would be facilitated by a general uprising against Saddam. In Washington, Richard Perle, the erstwhile chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Advisory Board, added to the fantastical chorus, when he said: “There are more anti-war demonstrators in San Francisco than Iraqis willing to defend Saddam Hussein.”Chalabi, who last visited Baghdad in 1956, and Perle, only succeeded in leading the planners up the garden path. The notable lack of revelry at being ‘liberated,’has proved louder than the deafening sounds of bombs, sirens and screams of innocent Iraqis.
The Washington Post reports instead, the very inhospitable reception afforded to the army that came to dinner and oil with Iraqis. “They call it the Turkey Shoot, and they [American soldiers] are the targets. Every day, Marines trying to keep critical supply lines open to forward units heading toward Baghdad run a gauntlet through the strategic crossroads city of Nassiriyah — over one bridge, up a few miles and then over another bridge. If they make it without getting shot at, they’re lucky.”
In this hapless war, destruction blazes down upon perpetuator and victim alike. Robert Fisk of The Independent tells of images that chill the very marrow of my soul. “Two British soldiers lie dead on a Basra roadway, a small Iraqi girl — victim of an Anglo American air strike — is brought to hospital with her intestines spilling out of her stomach, a terribly wounded woman screams in agony as doctors try to take off her black dress. He writes of “The partially decapitated body of a little girl, her red scarf still wound round her neck. Another small girl was lying on a stretcher with her brain and left ear missing. Another dead child had its feet blown away.”
“From my rotting body,” wrote Edvard Munch, the German expressionist painter of The Scream, “flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity.”
Of course, there will be bouquets. A large part of the tab will be picked up by US’s ally and bastion of democracy, the Amir of Kuwait, whose kingdom was twice saved from the ‘Butcher of Baghdad.’ But how does one explain the slaying of two Americans by a Kuwaiti national. Or the even more recent injuries of 13 US soldiers by a Kuwaiti pickup driver who plowed his vehicle into them as they waited in line at Camp Udairi?
The war planners say we may see flowers yet. Of course there will be flowers. The Americans have their Northern Alliance in the Kurds of the North. ‘Citizens for a Free Iraq’ is ready and waiting to provide the world with its version of Afghani Karzai. If all else fails, Hill & Knowlton — the PR firm who masterminded Nayirah’s story, a girl who ‘testified’ that the Iraqi regime murdered hundreds of babies after forcibly removing them from hospital incubators — will be glad to provide footage of Iraqis dancing in the streets.
And then, there is always another type of prancing to look forward to — of the sort referred to in David Smith-Ferri’s commentary in Pravda ,entitled “Dancing with the Devil.”He comments on Secretary Rumsfeld’s “Four lies about Iraq,” but the essay should have covered a fifth one — the illusion of dancing denizens.
Last night I watched Rumsfeld continue his song-and-dance before a spellbound Senate committee, assuring them of an upcoming uprising of ‘two to three million’ Shias in Baghdad when the ‘liberation’ forces enter the city.
When will they ever learn? Perhaps they should start singing Bruce Springsteen’s, “Can’t start a fire, can’t start a fire without a spark, this gun’s for hire, even if we’re just dancing in the dark.”