As Tony Blair flies to meet British troops in
the Gulf, there is growing chaos and resentment in Iraq
Robert Fisk, in Baghdad
Two Americans shot dead and another nine wounded by
unidentified gunmen in Fallujah, two US military policemen badly
wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade at a north Baghdad police
station, a grenade thrown at American soldiers near Abu Ghurayb.
That was yesterday's little toll of violence - not counting the
Muslim woman who approached American troops with a hand grenade in
each hand, was shot before she could throw the first and then, as
she tried to hurl her second grenade from the ground, was finally
killed by the Americans. Isn't it time we called this a resistance
war in Iraq?
Tony Blair flies out to Kuwait today as part of a six-day tour
that will see him become the first Western leader to visit
post-war Iraq. George Bush is also expected to make a triumphal
visit to "liberated" Iraq in the next two or three days. In Kuwait
today, Mr Blair will meet British troops and congratulate them on
But both leaders would do well to keep the rhetoric to the
minimum. I know, of course, how the official briefings will go.
Fallujah was a Saddam stronghold where the Americans could expect
"remnants" of the old regime to fight on - "remnants", like the
"remnants" of the Taliban and al-Qa'ida who are flooding back into
Afghanistan and who appear to be arriving in battalion strength.
More troops are on the way, Messrs Blair and Bush will be told.
Order is being restored.
Most people in Baghdad get only two hours of electricity a day.
The petrol queues - in a country whose oilfields have already been
corralled by the US military, with the lucrative clean-up
contracts given to American companies - stretch for up to two
Driving down some streets necessitates a journey over solid
garbage, muck crunching between the tyres. In some parts of
Baghdad, the stench of open sewers is overpowering.
Children are being withdrawn from newly opened schools after
reports of child kidnapping and rape. The police stations, now
guarded by US troops, look like the RUC's old blockhouses in
Andersonstown and Derry: surrounded by armour and guards with
heavy machine-guns and netting.
Yes, there are free newspapers in the streets. Yes, electricity
workers are now being paid. Yes, there's a little economic miracle
in internet cafés. Yes, political parties are issuing tracts and
claims and threats. Yes, you can even buy booze in the streets
although Shia clerics are promising to burn down every shop that
sells it. Prostitution - the most obvious free-market symbol in
town - is back (the Saddam Fedayeen had a propensity for chopping
off prostitutes' heads). And you can say what you like about
anyone. Isn't that freedom?
But three days ago, near the site of one of Saddam's mass graves,
I asked directions from a group of men in a car. Only when I leant
through the window did I see that two of them nursed Kalashnikov
rifles on their knees. Why the guns, I asked innocently? "Because
we're not going to let thieves steal our car," one of them
replied. Was this the only reason? They were sitting in their
vehicle alongside the American army's main supply route to
A week ago, two American soldiers were shot dead in Baghdad. It
was reported in the United States as if they were victims of some
natural disaster, such as an earthquake or a minor traffic
There is a willing suspension of disbelief in which all here have
to live. Caged inside the marble halls of Saddam's finest palace,
thousands of American officers and civil servants - utterly cut
off from the five million Iraqis around them - battle over their
laptops to create the neo-conservative "democracy" dreamed up by
Messrs Rumsfeld, Perle and the rest. When they venture outside,
they do so in flak jackets, perched inside armoured vehicles with
heavily armed troops as escorts.
In Iraq, the anti-American attacks have begun within a month of
the arrival of US forces who are now being assaulted almost daily.
It was like this back in Beirut in 1982. First came the US Marines
and the French and Italians to protect the Palestinians and
support the new right wing Lebanese government. The first little
hint of trouble came about six months later when Shia Muslim
school children began throwing stones at American troops along a
disused railway line. Then "Death to America" was painted on the
walls. It was almost a year before the first Americans were shot
at, the first grenades thrown. It was more than a year before the
US Marine base was blown up by a suicide bomber with the loss of
What, does that tell us? "Death to America" can already be seen on
walls of Baghdad.
The Fallujah shooting yesterday was about the most serious to
date. The Americans said they came under fire from many
directions, including a mosque, although witnesses spoke of two
men climbing from a pick-up truck and opening fire on the troops,
all from the US Third Armoured Cavalry Regiment. The soldiers
returned fire with machine-guns mounted on Bradley Fighting
Vehicles, one of which - in the chaos of the battle - smashed into
a helicopter that had arrived to evacuate the wounded. Fallujah
has been the most dangerous town in Iraq ever since soldiers fired
on a crowd of protesters last month, killing 18 Iraqis and
wounding 78. On that occasion, the Americans claimed they were
shot at from the crowd, though not a single bullet appeared to hit
the US position.
American forces now drive through Baghdad ordering motorists to
stay away from the military vehicles and make no attempt to
overtake them into the same lane. But it's other features of their
behaviour Iraqis don't like. Yesterday, for example, I found a
Bradley Fighting Vehicle parked on Yasser Arafat Street with a
crowd of children in front. On top stood an American soldier in
shades, staring over their heads, hands on hips and puffing on a
huge cigar while his colleagues pointed their guns at passing
cars. What was the message here supposed to be? I know how it can
be made to look different.
There's even a story that the new US ambassador to Iraq took a
helicopter flight to the south of the country last week and asked
to view the archeological sites of Mesopotamia from the air. When
they saw an army of looters at one of the locations, the
ambassador's guards allegedly fired warning shots. And what did
the looters do? They fired back.
"Just because you don't take an interest in politics doesn't mean
politics won't take an interest in you." Pericles, 430 BC
Member: AFSCME Local 444 Oakland CA