Comment from Baghdad (DT)

Boris is oblivious to the bombs around him at the convention centre in Baghdad:
Had you told me that four shells had landed only 100 metres away, scattering shrapnel, I expect I would have hurled myself to the floor like any other self-respecting MP, a species widely credited with a cockroach-like instinct for survival.
When he visited one of Saddam's bunkers he discovered a 'security system' that would kill anyone in the premises instantly - even his employees:
...the safety of his employees counted for nothing. And why did they count for nothing? Because they could not vote to punish him for his madness. That is why we need to keep working to make this democracy thrive in Iraq
Even the bombs couldn't spoil this day Baghdad Bombs? I said. What bombs? I heard no bombs. I don't mean to affect any false war correspondent-style nonchalance, but when they mortar-bombed our meeting yesterday, I simply did not notice. Had you told me that four shells had landed only 100 metres away, scattering shrapnel, I expect I would have hurled myself to the floor like any other self-respecting MP, a species widely credited with a cockroach-like instinct for survival. Had the crump not been drowned out by other noises in the room, I would certainly have been scared, and I would like to reassure the poor, incompetent, deluded terrorists on that point, because they must, today, be feeling very disappointed. However many mortar bombs they fired at the convention centre in Baghdad, they totally failed to disrupt the event. For days we had been told to expect fireworks; and in the end the terrorists fizzled. There took place yesterday morning on the banks of the muddy Tigris a ceremony that was in many ways beautiful and moving, and deeply consoling for anguished souls like me who voted for a controversial war. Shias, Sunnis, Kurds, Assyrians, you name it: speaker after speaker stood up to hail the birth of a new democracy in the Middle East. Surrounded by vast sprays of plastic gladioli, reminiscent of a banqueting hall in Ceausescu's Romania, the party leaders celebrated a free Iraq. There were smooth émigré businessmen, returned in the search of power, and ancient caramel-coloured Bedouin in traditional headgear. There were angry Kurds, who insisted that every syllable be translated in their language, with all the passion of a Plaid Cymru man on a speeding charge, and above all there were the men of God. One man, a key figure in the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, began with the words, "We praise Allah and thank him that he has accomplished the ambitions of the people", and ended with: "You are the best lord and the creator of our destiny and we praise you lord of the world, peace be upon you." In between, he attributed almost everything to the beneficence of Allah, foreign, domestic, monetary, fiscal. And as the many Shias on his list gave tongue in response, and answered his Koranic invocations, we could see the difficulties ahead. First they have to form a government, which will be difficult enough, with the Kurds and the Shias jockeying for possession of the oilfields of Kirkuk, and then, before August 15, they must draw up a constitution. There is a risk that the Shi'ites will try to grab the steering wheel, and turn Iraq into an Iran-style theocracy, complete with restrictions on female education. Then there is the continuing risk to the security of every person in this room, the fury of the rejectionists and insurgents who make so much of Iraq a no-go area for foreigners and democratic politicians. Yesterday the Italian government of Silvio Berlusconi - formerly a fervent supporter of the war - announced that it was pulling the 3,000 Italians out, in response to the killing of an Italian security operative at the hands of American troops. I think that is sad and regrettable. Something very remarkable is happening in Baghdad, and whatever the rights and wrongs of the war, those of us who were involved in it should stay until this nascent democracy is safe. As I poked through one of Saddam's bunkers yesterday morning, I came across a reminder of how much has been achieved, and why it was right to do it. It was a fantastic bunker, built by the Germans, with three-ton steel doors supplied by the Swiss. There were map rooms and war rooms and huge untouched generators, machines built by Siemens of Germany and Bobinindus of Belgium, so colossal that they had defeated even the looters. There were emergency operating rooms, and places where corpses were allegedly stored. But as we poked around with our torches, the spookiest detail we discovered concerned the security system. Saddam cared so much about his bunker, and so little about the loss of human life, that he had installed a system to combat fire. As soon as there was the risk of losing the premises, they were automatically programmed to fill with halon gas, suppressing oxygen - and killing any human being left in his creepy passages. That is the kind of man he was, and the kind of regime he ran: where people could not only be tortured and killed, but where the safety of his employees counted for nothing. And why did they count for nothing? Because they could not vote to punish him for his madness. That is why we need to keep working to make this democracy thrive in Iraq, and that is why it is so wrong of the Italians to retire. As it happens, Mr Berlusconi was wrong in his whole handling of the rescue of Giuliana Sgrena. By paying a huge ransom to the kidnappers, he merely added incentive to the nutcases to kidnap others; he raised the risks for the hundreds of British, among others, who are struggling to help rebuild the country. Efforts to provide water, sewers and electricity are already being hampered by the need for every Western worker to be accompanied by his or her own private security detail, composed of hugely competent Ulstermen with shades and pistols on their thighs. The security problems are not only frightening; they are frighteningly expensive. We need Western troops to remain here until the Iraqis are capable of fighting the terrorists themselves. The day may not be far off, but in the meantime I did not meet a single person here who wanted us to leave - far from it - or who regretted the change we have brought about. Having started this operation, whatever its faults, we have a moral duty to help see it through. If that means sending more British troops to make up for the Italian deficiency, we may have to do it - and there would be many brave Brits in Iraq who would agree.

25 thoughts on “Comment from Baghdad (DT)”

  1. Halon gas fire supression systems were used for years in the UK, mainly in computer rooms.

    It took an EU regulation (3093/94) to enforce their removal 🙂

  2. Oh, and halon was banned for environmental reasons, not because it smothers people. The replacement systems are just as bad from a people safety point of view.

  3. A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.
    – G. K. Chesterton Everlasting Man, 1925

    What a fascinating first draft, Boris!

    Keep on stroking against the rivers of madness … It will take a generation or two before the people of Iraq are healed.

  4. Israel? Iraq?

    I’m sure it’s tense at home at the moment but bullets and bombs are generally more deadly than the frying pan. Go home Boris.

  5. To insist that Saddam was mad is not, I feel, to be advised, since this is the the possible foundation of his future defence. Someone found guilty of a crime , during a war or otherwise ,but being found as not of sound mind , will not feel the full and absolute force of the Law .His madness, if indeed madness it was, was of megalomania : a condition attributed to an incalculable number of despots and murderers over the ages. Foul murder , and indeed attempted genocide, cannot be excused or diminished by the casual description of evil as “madness”. Jozef’s( as always) apt quote goes to prove that a dead voluble hero cannot live to tell the tale. It’s the hero who steadfastly and silently bides his time , who bears witness and seals the villains fate. Head down Boris. Keep us in the picture.

  6. I remain unconvinced that the occupation forces are really helping the situation, instead of continuing to antagonize large sections of the people.

    I’ve never been to Iraq, but foreign armies with different cultures/languages from the local people normally can’t handle any kind of protracted occupation. Communication skills are needed and the foreigners just don’t have them.

    Maybe Boris can tell us: how many of the American and British officials can really speak and read Iraqi Arabic? What nationality are the interpreters? Are they all Iraqi? Do the British have any of their own interpreters? The answers may be indicative.

    No doubt the British and the Americans understand the military situation up to a point, but do they really know what is happening in the political arena?

  7. The ” peace keepers” are caught between a rock and a hard place at this time.They are damned if they stay and damned if they don’t. The Italian withdrawal is an example of this. The Allies are condemned to try to be referees in a deadly game where the political/religious differences set the rules. This is especially difficult when one faction, if enabled, would adopt the theistic approach; including the restrictions on women’s rights and freedoms as in Iran. Hardly what the coalition stands for. Language, and its translation has little to do with this, since there are sufficient Iraqi English speakers in the ranks of the intelligentsia of all political persuasions.
    The various factions, all nominally of the same religion all have different ends / expectations. The only way toward solving the overall political argument is for the newly elected Parliament to come to an agreement as to what the majority wants, and see to it that it is delivered. Meanwhile we must beware hawks; hovering , waiting for an easy meal. Iraq is after all a fledgeling democracy, and as with all fledgelings, Iraq will have to learn to fly alone. Only then will the job in hand be complete.

  8. How do you know there wasn’t simply a stash of breathing apparatus for the employees? Those are portable, and would have been looted. As others have noted, halon extinguisher systems are or used to be pretty standard.

    There aren’t that many ways of making a fire go out – you can put water on it to cool it down, or you can use some other gas to exclude the oxygen. You can’t take the first option where there are electrics around.

  9. I hate to disagree, but, I don’t blame the Italians one bit, esspecially after what happened with their agent being killed by more ‘friendly fire’ maybe if America could learn to stop killing its allies it would help… I can’t understand why they even went in in the first place.

  10. Macarnie: ” Language, and its translation has little to do with this, since there are sufficient Iraqi English speakers in the ranks of the intelligentsia . . . .”

    I agree with your analysis, but you misunderstand my point about the occupiers lacking communications skills. Sure there lots of Iraqis speaking English, but how many Americans speak Iraqi Arabic? There is huge scope for manipulation here.

    If we look back to Vietnam, the Americans demonstrated much less skill in choosing their friends than their enemies. They didn’t really understand what was going on.

  11. Simon: – I take your point about the Americans demonstrating less skill Etc. I believe , that in their role of self appointed world policeman( as we the British ,were, in our heyday, )they have no need to pick their enemies, enemies of a super power are everywhere , and manifold. As for friends,there are two main kinds of friends: fair weather and those, like us, for the duration. I am with you in doubting the wisdom of this continued “peace keeping” exercise, with no sign of the atrocities letting up. When we depart the theatre, are we to see that today’s terrorist is tomorrow’s freedom fighter? If asked the question of how many Iraqi Arabic speakers there were on the staff of the American Army Intelligence arm; the answer which given would probably be, ” Enough”. As for Vietnam,(Chinese backed) that should have been a lesson in how not to win a war, as indeed was the previous expensive excursion into the Orient, Korea( backed by China and indeed , even though , at the time less openly, Russia).I understand there was a dearth of non native local language speakers employed in both conflicts, .However these two , later mentioned wars, were essentially different from Iraq, in that there was , in both cases an invasion of the South of one Country, by forces of the North of that same Country.
    A similar excursion of Saddam’s Iraqi army into Kuwait( not a province of Iraq)was successfully countered,…… but then, you know the story as well as I do.

  12. Oh, give it up, Boris.

    First one way, then the other, now back to the original line. A weathercock’s got nuttin’ on you, m8.

    What’s it all about? Are you struggling to keep up with events, or shifting your ground to try to keep in step with Joe public?

    The 2nd option there seems more likely – reckon you’ve an eye to the main chance. 😉

    But give it up. Why pretend to be concerned about these issues when you’re not? The constant chopping and changing shows that.

    Write about sump’n else. Foxhunting, itchy vests, how Keanu Reeves was crapola in the Matrix. ANYTHING else, m8. The conerned Boris act is BORING – and frankly we know too much about you now to believe you’re concerned about anything other than Boris any more.

  13. Neo, I think thats a bit overdoing it! Unless of course you have also been to Iraq and seen first hand, then know whether or not there is cause for concern. Sure, debate the issue, but why use it just as a personal attack? Boris over Blair anyday.

  14. Boris

    Was very interesting post today, I actually linked to it on my webpage

    also how long is boris in iraq, will he be getting to go anywhere else (Dubai for shopping)

  15. Macarnie: “Vietnam . . . Korea . . . were essentially different from Iraq, in that there was , in both cases an invasion of the South of one Country, by forces of the North of that same Country.”

    Well, not really! In both cases arbitrary lines were drawn through the middle of the country and both sides were told (unrealistically) not to interfere with each other.

    Do you know the Robert McNamara film, ‘The Fog of War’? This explains American realpolitik even better than Fahrenheit 9/11. McNamara was the Secretary for Defence during the Vietnam War. In the film he candidly admits “we didn’t realize it was a civil war”. He dropped the claims about ‘North Vietnamese aggression’.

    Of course Iraq is different because there are big ethnic and religious difference, unlike Vietnam and Korea it is not a ‘natural’ nation state, but what makes the different wars similar is the approach of the Americans and the reaction of local people.

  16. Simon,
    Though I agree in principle with what you say;the lines you alluded to, were not quite so arbitrarily drawn as one might think. In both cases, a distinct difference of political allegience was the root cause for these lines being drawn, and in fact seem to have been drawn where the antipathy of the one for the other was least obvious: a sort opf no-man’s land. At the risk of being accused of stretching a point too far,excepting for the absence of American servicemen. one might also bring in the case of N /S Ireland.There are or were similarities.
    A thought: why is it there is an innate dislike; distrust, or fear present between North and South, in many countries: Prussians / Bavarians, And Flemish / Walloons , for example?

  17. Macarnie: “the lines you alluded to, were not quite so arbitrarily drawn as one might think. In both cases, a distinct difference of political allegiance was the root cause for these lines being drawn”.

    Imagine a line drawn from Liverpool to Nottingham to the Wash: the new frontier between north and south England. You are in the Democratic Republic of North England but you have property and family in the south. You particularly dislike the government in the south (authoritarian Blairite Monarchist?). When you hear the news that the ‘Liverpool Line’ has been agreed by the UN, the border has been closed, and your property in the south confiscated, do you shrug your shoulders and get on with the gardening?

    However we are discussing Iraq here and I was only using Vietnam as an example. (Vietnam helps me understand the Americans because I have worked there, and I haven’t been to Iraq.)

    Macarnie: “one might also bring in the case of N /S Ireland’

    Yes indeed. Another example of an artificial border that hasn’t worked.

    Macarnie: “why is it there is an innate dislike; distrust, or fear present between North and South, in many countries: Prussians / Bavarians, And Flemish / Walloons , for example?

    Cultural differences – but isn’t it in EVERY country (of any size)! England, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, USA, Japan, China – but this is off topic.

  18. Simon,
    There is, as far as I can see, no divergence of opinion, either on or off topic, between us. Iraq is still a viper’s nest, and will remain so for the foreseeable future, at great cost, both in resources and loss of human life, unless there is a solution to the insurgent problem.

  19. Macarnie: “Iraq is still a viper’s nest . .”

    Yes indeed, the chances of the various groups putting aside their ethnic and religious differences, and all being good democrats, really don’t look that good. The Sunni have not been included much in the political process, while the wider Kurdish problem has not been addressed.

    Up to the beginning of the war, I was convinced that the US/UK were bluffing, that they were trying to lever Saddam Hussein out, even if it cost a fortune putting an army on his doorstep, but they were not mad enough to try to occupy the country.

    The degree of brutality exhibited by Saddam Hussein indicated just how difficult the country would be to govern. Any power that attempted to take over would be drawn into using similar methods of control.

    I am not suggesting that the US army is anything like as bad as Saddam, even though they have killed huge numbers of civilians, but both in Iraq and Afghanistan the behaviour of their troops has been much lower than we would expect from a western democracy. In Afghanistan, judging by recent reports, they are operating very much like the Russians in the 1980s, terrorizing the local population with whom they come into contact.

  20. Is Boris back safely? I think we should be told. I have visions of his being arrested and incarcerated indefinitely by the Americans, or joining a fundamentalist Sunni sect. I trust that he has been chaperoned.
    Let me make it quite clear – and I accept that it is not in the best of taste to speculate on his bad fortune – that I am quite happy in my position as village idiot in Kingsley, and will not seek to replace him as the Westminster equivalent.

  21. Simon,
    Logical thought, in the case of the Iraqi conflict, is precluded by the obfuscation of the real issues concerning Politics or Religion. Adherents of such Politics or Religions have unshakeable faith in the immortality of the tenets of that belief, and therefore, common sense, as understood by the Western liberal mind, can find no place in the hearts of such adherents. Fanaticism, for any cause at all, is the real enemy of the human race, since you cannot slay the dragon you are unable to see.
    Fear of an unseen enemy makes for the stuff of nightmares,( I know, I was in Korea) and some of the allied forces must suffer from them as much as anyone else. Despite any such fears however, acts of inhumanity towards a surrendered enemy have no place in the third Millenium.

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