Two years of "liberation" in Iraq
It is two years ago today that our TV screens were saturated with the footage of a statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled in the middle of Baghdad: supposedly a great day for Iraq. Yet who were this crowd of jubilant Iraqis? According to Anton Antonowicz of the Daily Mirror newspaper, "fundamentally, I think there were only about 40 or 50 Iraqis baying for Saddam's statuesque blood as it were, and then the rest were journalists." A shot of the scene from a different camera angle to that we had originally seen clearly confirmed this. ("The War We Never Saw: the True Face of War." Channel 4, June 6, 2003.) You can see a long-distance photo of the statue being pulled over, which also confirms this observation, here.
Neville Watson, an Australian peace activist also witnessed this 'historic' event. He says: "it happened at only about 300m from where I was and it was a very small crowd. The rest of the square was almost empty, and when we inquired as to where the crowd came from, it was from Saddam City. In other words, it was a rent-a-crowd." (SBS TV Australia: April 17, 2003.)
An article today in The Times assesses how life in Iraq has progressed since that day. The article describes: "The lack of progress is obvious. Two million dirt-poor Shia live in Sadr City, surrounded by rubbish and pools of sewage. Residents say that the Americans who fought a Shia militia there last summer have reneged on their promise to rebuild the area." The wife of Naim Gumar--a former political prisoner in Abu Ghraib under Saddam Hussein--says: "I never imagined things could get worse but, since the war, they have." She complains that her children are underfed and small for their age. This is unsurprising, since according to Jean Ziegler, the UN Human Rights Commission's special expert on the right to food, the war and its aftermath have almost doubled malnutrition rates among Iraqi children. Acute malnutrition among under-fives rose late last year to 7.7 per cent from around 4 per cent in April 2003.
The Times article says that electricity in Baghdad is currently two hours on, four hours off; food prices are double their prewar level and rents have often quadrupled; in sidestreets, flocks of goats graze on piles of stinking rubbish; sewage leaks into drinking water and people cannot afford fuel to boil it clean.
If we cast our minds back two years to the day of the 'toppling' of the Saddam statue, the response of the media at the time now seems absurd. MediaLens describe how British reporters reacted:
The BBC's Nicholas Witchell declared of the US drive into central Baghdad: "It is absolutely, without a doubt, a vindication of the strategy." (BBC News at Six, April 9) The BBC's breakfast news presenter, Natasha Kaplinsky, beamed as she described how Blair "has become, again, Teflon Tony". The BBC's Mark Mardell agreed: "It +has+ been a vindication for him." (BBC1, Breakfast News, April 10) "This war has been a major success", ITN's Tom Bradby said (ITN, Evening News, April 10). ITN's John Irvine also saw vindication in the arrival of the marines: "A war of three weeks has brought an end to decades of Iraqi misery." (ITN Evening News, April 9)
Talk about poor judgement.