March 27, 2003

War-rant

A week into the 'liberation' campaign and the media coverage still continues to astound me. This, by far, is the lousiest coverage of any war that I have seen in my time. Call it the first war of the electronic-age or not, the sheer number of statements that are made and carried without proof virtually unchallenged or ones that are just plain lies is nothing short of inducing shock and awe.

To cite a few:

According to the coalition, the Iraqi administration has been starving its people and diverting the money from the oil for food program. This has been told over and over again, by anyone and everyone connected with them. On Wednesday, they interviewed an official from the UN who was handling the program before the campaign started. In quite an embarrassing three minutes, he went on to say how the country was well stocked for a month or so with food and it was the cancellation of the program that is now causing shortages and the chaotic scenes that were seen when the first of the relief convoys reached southern Iraq.

At each and every press conference, the men in uniform go to great lengths to explain how the people of Basra are being denied drinking water by the administration. And in other separate reports they mention that there is no water there because of a lack of electricity, which incidentally was taken down by the coalition. There is hardly any mention of the fact that the most serious problem affecting the Iraqis is a lack medicine for children that was blocked due to sanctions, but there is constant mention of the regime that has ruined the country.

The day the troops moved into Umm Qasar, the port city, there was the rumour that the Iraqis might have mined the entrance to the port. The "might" was picked up by the 'embeds' as a fact and within a day or so we had Tony Blair exclaiming how this was yet another example of how ruthless the administration was in denying the port facilities to the local people.

By late Wednesday evening, it was reported that the port was open for traffic and no one bothered to ask how was such a heavily mined port demined in such a short time? The secret of that rapid progress was hidden in three sentences in an interview with an 'embed', who said there was not a single mine found laid in the port. All they could find was a vessel with mines that had sunk. Yes, they might have been planning to lay them, but journalists are not supposed to be on the US Army's payroll, they are meant to ask questions and very few are doing that.

Another instance was the so-called chemical weapons factory which was discovered by the coalition troops on their way to Baghdad. When asked, they said they had no definite clue that it was a chemical factory, but since it was defended by some high ranking Iraqi soldiers, who apparently did not even put up a fight, it had to be a chemical weapons factory. Fox News even went forward with the assumption, only to sink the story later when even Centcom refused to say it was true. Of course, no one asked about the story or did a follow up on it.

Then comes the great story of the nuclear weapons program. This is important because the case for attacking Iraq has been made out a lot based on this bit of information that was brought out by the CIA, saying the Iraqi administration had aimed to buy enriched uranium from Nigeria. Upon scrutiny by the IAEA, the documents were found to be so shamefully fake that, it was quoted that their "jaws dropped". Of course, this also does not count because when Bush and Blair says Iraq has WMD's, even if there is considerable proof that makes those statements questionable, the press would not question it.

In the past three days or so, none of the press briefings are mentioning the body count on the side of the coalition. The Centcom spokesman once even said they would not comment on it. The statement was allowed to go just like that and no one even asked why the case was so. This is especially curious since there has been a pitched battle going in Najaf for four days or so and according to the coalition the toll on the Iraqi side is about 650, as reported by the BBC today morning. It is a bit incredulous that they managed to kill 650 fanatics who were armed to their teeth without taking even a single causality. So what is the actual story? Only if the people who are supposed to ask them would ask.

There might be two reasons why the figures are not coming out. Other than the obvious reaction to the body bags back home, if the figures are true there is a chance that they were bombed to shreds when the air support was called in. Now, that is not a pretty sight and not really clean combat, which would 'win many hearts' in the country to be liberated.

Why this coverage is lousy is because of the 'embeds'. When you side with a particular side in a confrontation, the truth naturally goes for a toss. Of course, you will only hear from the BBC about how what Rageh Omar had to report from Baghdad was monitored by the administration, while nothing would be said about how all the footage from the 'embeds' were done according to strict rules and cleared by the authorities. In the end, both are cases of censorship, what matters is just which side you happen to be and journalists are not supposed to take sides, at least not this blatantly.

What is certainly noticeable though is the shift in the stance that BBC has made from the initial days of the attack. There was virtually no difference between it and CNN in the first few days, when it was assumed that Gen. Tommy Franks would be running Iraq just in matter of days. As the story shifted from "shock and awe", to "long and protracted", the Beeb made a slight skeptical turn in its view of things. Now, it has slightly more unnerving questions to ask and often they end up getting their own kicks from extracting the riot of an answer "We do not have any reason to not expect that they would not use chemical and biological weapons" from the the defence analysts. Of course, it is an inconvenient fact that in the past 12 years the only state to have used depleted uranium in its weapons is the US.

In all honesty, the war has a foregone conclusion. It was evident in November 2002 itself that the strike would come around end of February 2003 and here we are. Now, it is just a matter of making it palatable to the people of the 'civilised and free' world. Bush really cannot afford to have Saddam do an Osama, no matter how many contracts he many hand out for the 'reconstruction' of Iraq and Tony Blair also needs a success at whatever cost it has to come. Even though, they have all bases covered as to why they had to hit (primarily with the unproven terrorist angle) with WMD and democracy, it would be quite a huge dent in the collations's image to make all this noise and let Saddam go.

But what is unnerving is the lack of enthusiasm among the 'liberated' people. Even in the Kurdish autonomous region, there is not much of a welcome they are getting and whatever little footage they manage to extract out of the populace celebrating has a maximum of a few curious children looking and clapping on and an even lesser number of adults. And if this is an indication that if Baghdad falls and Saddam flees to fight the more and more visible guerilla war, then it would really be a tragedy to have gifted a whole new breed of 'freedom-fighters' to an already wrecked country.

Something that most Americans do not seem to understand is that no one likes to be told what they should do. Liberators or not, they are foreign troops in a country with people who are terribly sensitive about their pride and already it is contributing a lot in the form of nasty dents to the Islamic psyche. A psyche that is being hunted down and victimised a lot from the jobless and helpless teenager in the West Bank to the the ones who are getting screened compulsorily in the US. These are where the mind seeds of the next perpetrators of 911 are sown and the grounds are already uncomfortably fertile.

The main call to action to attack Iraq is the existence of WMDs that threatens the US. One, even the theoretical best WMD that Iraq has, cannot be delivered ot the US and a Scud is not small enough to be carried in a suitcase to LA and and sent straight into Hollywood. Two, the only weapon in 911 that converted the 747s into lethal killing machines was the same psyche mentioned above. If the US is aiming to stop that, then it is failing miserably in it, for it is only adding to it by already making a dictator, with no external assistance and antiquated weapons, look like a hero by holding out against the world's only superpower.

Three, the so-called democratisation program has never worked till date. The only place where the person they opposed was thrown out was in Yugoslavia, but it was not the missiles that did the trick, but the people themselves. The most recent example where lots of reconstruction was promised and nothing has happened is Afghanistan. The government there (not democratically elected incidentally), even with the Western forces backing it, does not have any effect beyond the capital and the neighbours (including India) are slowly carving out pockets of influence for themselves. That bomb is ticking once again.

So, where do we go from here? I honestly do not know. The whole war is real game of cards, where even victory is no guarantee of success in the long-run. It is simply amazing to watch as a strategy game as it unfolds and scary to imagine it ever happening to you and really lousy to watch on the television, where you are supposed to get great thrills watching grainy pixelated images and black and white shots of missiles thudding into buildings. The real fun, though, will start once it all ends, when the finger pointing and the rush of the vultures to feed on a dead nation would start. The only question that would remain then is: How meaty a bone will we get?