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September 28, 2005

Sinister Events in a Cynical War


by John Pilger

Here are questions that are not being asked about the latest twist of a cynical war. Were explosives and a remote-control detonator found in the car of the two SAS special forces men "rescued" from prison in Basra on Sept. 19? If true, what were they planning to do with them? Why did the British military authorities in Iraq put out an unbelievable version of the circumstances that led up to armored vehicles smashing down the wall of a prison?

According to the head of Basra's Governing Council, which has cooperated with the British, five civilians were killed by British soldiers. A judge says nine. How much is an Iraqi life worth? Is there to be no honest accounting in Britain for this sinister event, or do we simply accept Defense Secretary John Reid's customary arrogance? "Iraqi law is very clear," he said. "British personnel are immune from [the] Iraqi legal process." He omitted to say that this fake immunity was invented by Iraq's occupiers.

Watching "embedded" journalists in Iraq and London, attempting to protect the British line was like watching a satire of the whole atrocity in Iraq. First, there was feigned shock that the Iraqi regime's "writ" did not run outside its American fortifications in Baghdad and that the "British-trained" police in Basra might be "infiltrated." An outraged Jeremy Paxman wanted to know how two of our boys – in fact, highly suspicious foreigners dressed as Arabs and carrying a small armory – could possibly be arrested by police in a "democratic" society. "Aren't they supposed to be on our side?" he demanded.

Although reported initially by the Times and the Mail, all mention of the explosives allegedly found in the SAS men's unmarked Cressida vanished from the news. Instead, the story was the danger the men faced if they were handed over to the militia run by the "radical" cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. "Radical" is a gratuitous embedded term; al-Sadr has actually cooperated with the British. What did he have to say about the "rescue"? Quite a lot, none of which was reported in this country. His spokesman, Sheik Hassan al-Zarqani, said the SAS men, disguised as al-Sadr's followers, were planning an attack on Basra ahead of an important religious festival. "When the police tried to stop them," he said, "[they] opened fire on the police and passersby. After a car chase, they were arrested. What our police found in the car was very disturbing – weapons, explosives, and a remote-control detonator. These are the weapons of terrorists."

The episode illuminates the most enduring lie of the Anglo-American adventure. This says the "coalition" is not to blame for the bloodbath in Iraq – which it is, overwhelmingly – and that foreign terrorists orchestrated by al-Qaeda are the real culprits. The conductor of the orchestra, goes this line, is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian. The demonry of al-Zarqawi is central to the Pentagon's "Strategic Information Program" set up to shape news coverage of the occupation. It has been the Americans' single unqualified success. Turn on any news in the U.S. and Britain, and the embedded reporter standing inside an American (or British) fortress will repeat unsubstantiated claims about al-Zarqawi.

Two impressions are the result: that Iraqis' right to resist an illegal invasion – a right enshrined in international law – has been usurped and delegitimized by callous foreign terrorists, and that a civil war is under way between the Shi'ites and the Sunni. A member of the Iraqi National Assembly, Fatah al-Sheik, said this week, "There is a huge campaign for the agents of the foreign occupiers to enter and plant hatred between the sons of the Iraqi people and spread rumors in order to scare the one from the other. … The occupiers are trying to start religious incitement, and if it does not happen, then they will start an internal Shi'ite incitement."

The Anglo-American goal of "federalism" for Iraq is part of an imperial strategy of provoking divisions in a country where traditionally the communities have overlapped, even intermarried. The Osama-like promotion of al-Zarqawi is integral to this. Like the Scarlet Pimpernel, he is everywhere but nowhere. When the Americans crushed the city of Fallujah last year, the justification for their atrocious behavior was "getting those guys loyal to al-Zarqawi." But the city's civil and religious authorities denied he was ever there or had anything to do with the resistance.

"He is simply an invention," said the Imam of Baghdad's al-Kazimeya mosque. "Al-Zarqawi was killed in the beginning of the war in the Kurdish north. His family even held a ceremony after his death." Whether or not this is true, al-Zarqawi's "foreign invasion" serves as Bush's and Blair's last veil for their "war on terror" and botched attempt to control the world's second biggest source of oil.

On Sept. 23, the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, an establishment body, published a report that accused the U.S. of "feeding the myth" of foreign fighters in Iraq, who account for less than 10 percent of a resistance estimated at 30,000. Of the eight comprehensive studies into the number of Iraqi civilians killed by the "coalition," four put the figure at more than 100,000. Until the British army is withdrawn from where it has no right to be and those responsible for this monumental act of terrorism are indicted by the International Criminal Court, Britain is shamed.

First published in the New Statesman.


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  • John Pilger was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been a war correspondent, film-maker and playwright. Based in London, he has written from many countries and has twice won British journalism's highest award, that of "Journalist of the Year," for his work in Vietnam and Cambodia.

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