EDITORIAL & OPINION: THE IRAQ CONFLICT: Why the Iraqis Are Suspicious of Their Liberators the Allies Have Underestimated Iraqi Nationalism ; ANALYSIS: Saddam Has Ruined Iraq, but His People Do Not Blame Him Alone. They Have Cause to Be Wary of the US and Britain, and Saddam Is Appealing to Their Patriotism
Cockburn, Patrick, The Independent (London, England)
In 1915 a British army led by Major General Charles Townsend advanced north from Basra in what he hoped would be an easy campaign to capture Baghdad. After initial victories he was forced to retreat. After suffering heavy casualties in a battle outside Baghdad the army fell back to Kut, then as now an evil-smelling and tumbledown city on a bend in the Tigris.
After a siege the army surrendered and it was only in 1917 that Baghdad was captured; 40,000 British soldiers died and were buried in the plains of Iraq. I used to visit a sad little cemetery in Kut that had turned into a swamp. The names of the dead on the tombstones were only just visible above the slimy green water.
The analogy with the present war should not be pushed too far. General Townsend's army and the Anglo-American force now fighting south of Baghdad both suffered from overextended communications. But otherwise the military superiority enjoyed by the British and the Americans against Saddam Hussein is far greater than that of the British against the Turks in the First World War.
But there is another, precise parallel between what happened south of Baghdad in 1915 and in 2003. In both cases the invading army and its political masters were grossly overconfident that they would win an easy victory. So far, this has not happened, though the Iraqi army might cave in under the terrible battering from US air power. The difficulties facing London and Washington are not just important in the context of the present campaign, but they are an ominous foretaste of the dangers in establishing any post- war settlement.
Some myths should be disposed of immediately. At one moment it was almost conventional wisdom in Washington that the Iraq post- Saddam would be like Germany and Japan after defeat in 1945, gratefully willing to see their societies remodelled by the US (Britain is not often mentioned here). But Germans and Japanese largely supported their governments' war efforts. Most Iraqis do not identify with Saddam Hussein, as President Bush and Tony Blair never tire of pointing out, and therefore do not see why their future should be determined over their heads by foreign conquerors.
The Iraqi people are not passive spectators in what is happening around them. For instance, a myth that seems impossible to eradicate is that they do not know what is happening minute by minute in the war or the political manoeuvring that preceded it. Iraqis for many years have been obsessive listeners to foreign radio broadcasts such as the BBC in Arabic, Monte Carlo (French Arabic radio), Voice of America and almost every other station. I went to a fruit-growing village on the Diyala river north-east of Baghdad a few years ago where villagers interrogated me closely about a recent change in the stance of Canada in a vote at the United Nations. A few days ago I was in a smugglers' village on the Zaab river just on the Kurdish side of the front line where they had been following every step of talks in Turkey aimed at averting a Turkish invasion.
There is a deeply colonial spirit in which, in the run-up to the war, the US and Britain have treated Iraqis not belonging to the regime, as if they had no thoughts or aims of their own. It is a dangerous stance because, although the majority of Iraqis do not like Saddam - they know that through launching two disastrous wars against Iran and Kuwait he has ruined their lives and their country - - they do not blame him alone. They recall that his Baath party first came to power in a bloody coup that the CIA openly …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: EDITORIAL & OPINION: THE IRAQ CONFLICT: Why the Iraqis Are Suspicious of Their Liberators the Allies Have Underestimated Iraqi Nationalism ; ANALYSIS: Saddam Has Ruined Iraq, but His People Do Not Blame Him Alone. They Have Cause to Be Wary of the US and Britain, and Saddam Is Appealing to Their Patriotism. Contributors: Cockburn, Patrick - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: March 28, 2003. Page number: 19. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.